They built it. Will you come? Planners of reimagined Military Park planted lots of flowers. Now they want to plant people.

Pictured above: The “Wars of America” statue at Military Park on the eve of the park’s “soft opening”. The statue is by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who also created Mount Rushmore. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

As of this morning, the fences around historic Military Park were whisked away on a flatbed truck, and the “soft” opening of the refurbished park, so named because of its use as a pre-Revolutionary to Civil War-era military training ground, is officially underway. The official ribbon cutting will take place on June 13th.

Newark residents, nearby office workers, and visitors will be treated to a redesigned park that offers well-manicured lawns, newly planted trees, colorful flowers, and a subtly reconfigured layout. But according to George Roberts, director of programming and events for the park’s developer and operator, the Military Park Partnership (MPP), the most exciting new feature of the park won’t be the flora. It’ll be you.

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Designers changed the layout in subtle but meaningful ways to create a more people-friendly park. Above, more space for portable chairs, made possible by repositioning trees from the middle of the walkway closer to the street. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

“We’re excited about the redesign,” said Roberts, as he gave me a walking tour of the park on the eve of its soft launch. “But where we really excel is with programming. We’re even more excited about that.” Free public activities will begin this coming Monday, May 19th.

Peopling the park is the top priority for MPP, as they look to make it a locus of year-round daily activity. Its operators envision an active, engaging public space with activities occuring end-to-end.

What can visitors expect? The northmost lawn will host an eight-week outdoor movie series that will begin in July, and also be the site of live music performances. The verbally inclined can sign up for poetry open mics, as well. The first one is scheduled for May 21st. And those who crave locally sourced produce can take heart: the park will host farmers’ markets.

There will be fitness programming, including Zumba, workouts with Newark newcomer Mad Cool Fitness, yoga with Newark Yoga Movement, tai chi with Kazi, and collaborations with the nearby YMCA. Visitors can also hone their ping pong skills, and face off with other enthusiasts in a ping pong tournament to be hosted by MPP on May 23rd.

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Workers assemble ping pong tables on the north lawn of Military Park on the eve of its soft launch. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

The Newark Chess Club, a mentoring non-profit that teaches chess to Newark youth ages 10 to 13, will be on hand for chess instruction, and visitors can look forward to chess and board game tournaments in the park.

And same as midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park which, like the redesigned Military Park, was conceived and developed by Biederman Development Ventures, the park will offer an outdoor reading room. The MPP purchased books from used book sales.

There will be plenty of opportunties for kids to connect with the park, as well. They include arts and crafts sessions and “Imagination Playground”, which will enable kids to create their own play environments using large, portable cubes.

“There are lots of programs around here that serve kids,” Roberts explained, citing programs that draw nearly 50,000 children a year to nearby NJPAC alone as one example. Newark Public Library and Newark Museum are both within walking distance of the park, and the proximity can be a great marketing opportunity to get out the word to parents about kid-friendly activities in the park.

The emphasis on using diverse programming and partnerships with community organizations and small businesses to activate the park puts Military Park on “a short list of parks around the world,” according to Roberts, whose mission is to be a truly accessible and user-friendly public space.

The park looks to attract both residents and nearby workers (there are a number of office towers in the immediate circumference around the park). MPP is also working with the New Jersey Historical Society and the Greater Newark Visitor’s Bureau, both conveniently located directly across the street from the park, to offer history tours – the first one is May 23rd – and other park-based experiences.

The park will also play host to BURG: Jersey Burgers & Taps, a new restaurant from chef Chris Siversen that will offer burgers, salads, local craft beer, wine and other fare seven days a week, starting later this summer. The hope is that the restaurant will both draw a consistent happy hour crowd out to the park, and help sustain a weekend crowd.


Workers continue construction on the site of the first-ever restaurant in Military Park. The space will be inhabited by BURG: Jersey Burgers & Taps. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

In fact, the park could add a new, more vibrant dimension to the whole of downtown Newark. Notwithstanding its burgeoning, but still small, residential population, the handful of business that remain open and their customers, and weekend commuters, weekend foot traffic downtown is still notoriously low.

Roberts said that parks generally draw a significant share of their traffic from people who live, work, or otherwise happen to be present within a half-mile radius. As a result, drawing out residents from Eleven80, the high-rise apartment just across the street from the park, and other nearby residents would be key to establishing it as a weekend draw, since they’re already within that key radius on weekends.


Eleven80, a residential high-rise, and the National Newark Building, a commercial highrise, are across the street from Military Park. The park is looking to draw Newarkers from all over the city, but nearby residents and workers can be a reliable source of nearby repeat visitors. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

The MPP is a public-private partnership created by Prudential, the City of Newark, and the MCJ Amelior Foundation, which was founded by Newark native and philanthropist Ray Chambers. While the city assisted with capital improvements in the park, it won’t fund programming and other ongoing operations.

Its redevelopment has been a bit of an odyssey. After original approval in 2004, the park lost funding in 2009. Today’s soft launch is the result of the project’s 2011 reprisal.

Military Park will operate year-round, though it anticipates that activity will slow down in the winter. Its keepers will make seasonal changes to the park’s accoutrements, such as sparkling lights during the holiday season. MPP will employ groundskeepers and 24/7 security to maintain the park for visitors.

The park’s visitors can also expect wi-fi – “a strong, sustained wi-fi connection”, Roberts emphasized – in the coming months. It will also eventually host vendors, similar to the vendors that dot the perimeter of Bryant Park during their holiday marketplace.

More details about the park are available on its website (

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Newark-area entrepreneurs to ‘Converge’ on new pop-up coworking space downtown

Pictured above: Entrepreneurs work on business ideas at Lean Startup Newark, which took place last fall at SEED Gallery

Starting May 29 and continuing each Thursday this summer, entrepreneurs in and around Newark will be able to work on their businesses and collaborate with like minds at a new pop-up coworking space at SEED Gallery downtown Newark. The space, to be called "Converge", will be open from 9am to 10pm Thursdays, and is free for entrepreneurs. It will be able to accomodate up to 30 people.

Coworking spaces like The Alley, The Fueled Collective, We Work Labs, and Projective Space have been taking off in New York and other cities around the country for a number of years now. The goal of the spaces is not only to provide entrepreneurs with a physical place to build their companies, but also to allow them to meet each other, trade on each other's energy, share knowledge, and possibly partner on projects.

The pop-up coworking space at SEED Gallery can be seen as a pilot run to test whether there is enough demand to sustain a more permanent space downtown. SEED Gallery was the site of Lean Startup Newark, a three-day startup workshop that attracted a couple dozen aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout the region. A permanent coworking space to launch in historic Lincoln Park is also in the works. Named =Space, it will be tricked out with wiring and renovations in time to receive the entrepreneurs who will set up shop there. 

In addition to the space itself, Converge will offer free wi-fi, coffee, and events throughout the summer. The space is an initiative of Build in Brick City, which is itself an initiative of Brick City Development Corporation (BCDC), and is being underwritten by both BCDC and Capital One. A launch party celebrating the launch of the space will be held May 29 from 6pm to 8pm.

More information about the space can be found at its website,

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Walkabout: Scenes of life and culture from the Ironbound

Pictured above: A woman grins outside Peter Francisco Park, near Penn Station.


The Ironbound is a locus of Portuguese culture in Newark. This photo series explores scenes from daily life in the culture, including many photographs of the religious iconography that can be found there. All photos by Caroline Ballard.


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The Ironbound Station Plaza at the entrance to the Ironbound District in Newark.


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Phil the fishman holds up fresh octopus – or polvo – in the local fishmarket.


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Pasteis de Natas fill the display case at Alvaro's Bakery. The custard-filled pastry is a national delicacy in Portugal.


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Ligia Borges works behind the counter at Alvaro's bakery in the Ironbound District.


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St. Stephens Church was built in 1874 for a German-speaking congregation. Now it services English and Portuguese parishioners.


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Religious pendants like these are found in many storefronts in the Ironbound District. Catholic iconography is prevalent in Portuguese culture.
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A figurine of the pope stands next to a lion mascot of the Portuguese soccer team Sporting. Catholicism and Soccer are deeply rooted in Portuguese identity. 

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Azulejo tiles adorn the Teixeira Bakery's walls in the Ironbound. The traditional blue-glazed tiles can be found on churches, palaces, and government buildings, in Portugal.

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Our Lady of Fatima, the community's Roman Catholic parish.


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Entrance to the community's Roman Catholic parish, Our Lady of Fatima.



Fish for sale at an Ironbound market.


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A garbage truck shuttles down Ferry Street as a bird swoops in to photobomb the foreground.

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Anatomy of a great day in Newark: The Unusual Suspects

The invitation called for Newark-area men and spectators to show up to the Essex County Hall of Records this past Saturday at 10am for what was billed to be an historic photograph. Jerry Gant had created a public art show in the storefronts of Gallery Aferro and other RBH-owned properties on Market Street. Linda Street had directed the art exhibit. Now, Gant wanted to press the theme of his exhibit, titled The Unusual Suspects, even further.

a gathering of unusual suspects

So he asked black men to assemble on the steps of the hall, and called on Akintola Hanif, founder of Newark-based Hycide Magazine, to shoot the photograph. It would recall Art Kane’s A Great Day in Harlem, the seminal photograph taken on Harlem steps in 1958, and mimmicked countless times all over the country.


On Saturday morning, men of all ages and shades started massing at southeast corner of Market Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard. The men included visual and performing artists, businessmen, politicians, educators, and schoolchildren. I noticed a man who I’d seen walking around downtown Newark – from Penn Station to City Hall – since I was in high school, just passing through the crowd. A half hour later, I looked up and was happy to see him among the men in the photograph. I found out in a conversation with him later that his name is Gary.



Back on the corner, I interviewed about two dozen of the men about why they chose to show up, and what they wanted people to take away from the photograph. They gave a lot of the same answers: they showed up because of loyalty to Jerry Gant. Some said they foresaw that some day, people would back at the photograph and see notable face after notable face among those assembled. Still others said they wanted people to see the diversity in the faces of black men.


As the time approached 11 PM, the group of participants and spectators crossed the street and started gathering on the steps to take the photograph. Gant and Hanif started composing the group on the steps, first as a square block, and then in a “V” shape. A lot of us spectators spent our time halfway in the streets, taking photographs of the scene and dodging cars as they whizzed across Market Street.

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The photo shoot itself took about a half hour, with several stragglers hopping into the carefully composed photograph just in time to make some of the final shots.  About 40 minutes in, a squad car showed up and alerted the organizers that the men needed to move: they hadn’t asked permission to take photographs on the steps. About five minutes later, the police officer came out again and reemphasized the need to shut things down, just as Hanif was wrapping up the shoot.


There were a few mild protests among the men, but I also heard a lot of reasoning: the call to take pictures hadn’t been made. The cop had given them a warning. Some noted the irony that a photo that had been posed for this reason ended because law enforcement forced it.


But mostly, the men just took some additional photos in small groups at the end, and headed down the block to Aferro Gallery for a closing reception of orange juice, orange slices, grapes, and pastries.

great day participants


Corrections: This location of record for this photo shoot was the Essex County Hall of Records, not the Essex County Courthouse, as previously noted. The exhibit is titled “The Unusual Suspects”, not the “Usual Suspects”

A Traveler’s Newark: You’ve never seen Branch Brook Park’s cherry blossoms quite this way before

These photos of Branch Brook Park’s cherry blossoms were taken almost exactly at the trees’ peak bloom. If you thought there was only one way to look at a cherry blossom, think again. All photos by Heather Martino.


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Newark’s artists help spur its development, but will they benefit?

Pictured above: Artisan Collective co-owner Jae hangs an Open Doors Arts Festival banner outside her Halsey Street store, October 2013. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

For decades, Newark has been synonymous, in the popular imagination, with urban decay and crime. Now the city is experiencing its largest period of economic growth – as measured by the pipeline of current and pending development here – since the 1950s.

The arts are playing a crucial role in rebranding the city, attracting creative people here, and helping to spur investment. But it remains to be seen whether the artists who’ve helped facilitate that development will benefit from the cultural context they helped create.

“Artists have been a big part of the reemergence of the city as a place that is attractive to people, and creating an identity for the city,” explained Linwood Oglesby, executive director of the Newark Arts Council. Founded in 1981 as an advocacy organization to promote and expand the artistic and cultural resources of the city, the Newark Arts Council sponsors arts education programs, gives grants to local artists, and hosts the annual Open Doors Studio Tour, which is a citywide arts tour and community celebration of the arts in Newark. 

“[The art scene] really became an attraction for people outside the city. It gives the city a new light. It has helped to brand Newark as a really hip and happening place,” Oglesby said. 

When the Newark Arts Council held its first Open Doors in 2002, there were only twelve galleries in the city. But Oglesby credits that first studio tour with galvanizing the Newark art scene: “I think that became a rallying point for the artists who were in the city at the time, but also to the artists who were being attracted into the city at that point,” he said.

After that, Olgesby explained, “More galleries began to crop up. More artists began to move in. Artists began to work together and to collaborate and to create their own spaces and their own galleries, and through the process, more people began to be attracted to the city. So it kind of fed itself: the more artists who came, the more artists came.”

The 2013 Open Doors featured roughly 40 galleries and pop-up spaces, and showcased the work of approximately 300 artists. As the arts community in Newark continues to thrive, Open Doors gets bigger every year. Oglesby calls it “the centerpiece of this new emergence of the arts in Newark.” 

This community of artists is what attracted Brendan Mahoney to Newark. A practicing artist and trained architect, Mahoney, 31, left Jersey City two years ago to move to a loft in Newark’s Ironbound district. “I came here specifically as an artist, making artwork and wanting to engage in a community that really had a sense, from an art standpoint, that there was a community, and the community was really building something,” he said. 

Mahoney hosts community events and potlucks in his loft space, which he calls Apartment 16. He is currently doing a residency at the Newark Print Shop, and has showcased his work in three Open Doors so far.

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Brendan Mahoney at Newark Print Shop. Photo by Caroline McCaughey.

And it’s not just Mahoney who’s moving to Newark. As rising rents are pushing artists out of traditional artistic strongholds like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Hoboken, and even Jersey City, some are starting to move to Newark. Just a short PATH train ride from the center of the art world in Manhattan, Newark’s raw industrial spaces and cheaper rents are proving a lure. “There has been a steady influx of artists coming into Newark and choosing to make it home,” Oglesby said.

But Newark wasn’t always a regional destination for the arts. In fact, when New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean proposed building a world-class performing arts center in downtown Newark in 1986, many of his critics and supporters thought the idea was crazy, that no New Jersey suburbanite would choose to spend an evening in Newark when they could drive a little further to Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, or to Broadway.

But Governor Kean pushed ahead with the proposal anyway. After receiving major federal and state economic development funds, as well as corporate sponsorships, most notably from Prudential, construction of the $187 million New Jersey Performance Art Center (NJPAC) broke ground in 1993. The concert hall opened in 1997 to great fanfare and rave reviews of the space.

A major claim of then-Governor Kean and other NJPAC advocates was that building a major arts complex in downtown Newark would spark more development and a revitalization of the city. In fact, explicitly stated in NJPAC’s mission is just that: “Help drive Newark’s revitalization.” But would a performance center be enough to spawn real development in Newark’s downtown? Maybe not single-handedly, but it has definitely helped. 

Gizem Bacaz, 32, a painter and founder of Seed Gallery on Market Street, first thought of moving to Newark after seeing a show at NJPAC. “I had this experience walking around and looking at the architecture. And that kind of planted a seed in my head,” Ms. Bacaz said, adjusting her thick, black rimmed glasses and lighting a stick of incense inside her gallery. In 2005, she moved to Newark. Two years later, she opened Seed Gallery. She recently moved her gallery to Market Street, a hub of the Newark scene, and the focus of much of the 2013 Open Doors.

“I could have just moved to Brooklyn and gotten a spot and had all of these artist friends around that were all doing the same thing. But instead, I thought it would be much more valuable to be in an environment where it is a blank canvas…If you really want to do something, it’s better to go to a place like Newark, where it isn’t developed. It’s just a blank slate,” said Bacaz. 

In fact, Newark’s art scene is nothing new, and it well preceded the gravitational pull of anchor institutions like NJPAC. The late Amiri Baraka, a Newark legend and former poet laureate of New Jersey, is widely reputed to be the founder of the Black Arts Movement; Arts High School has been a fixture in Newark for over eight decades; Newark School of the Arts has educated tens of thousands of people in all forms of artistic expression; and individual artists – renowned Newark native Jerry Gant is one who continues to make waves – have been contributing to the city’s art context for years.

(We reached out to Mr. Gant via email for comment, but were unable to reach him as of this publishing.)

Still, there is a renewed energy around the arts in Newark, with relative newcomers like Bacaz injecting fresh energy into the scene, and collaborations birthing exciting projects and exhibits. Aferro, one of the larger Newark galleries, is also located on Market Street. Recently, Aferro partnered with RBH Group, a large property owner and developer, to fill vacant storefronts on Market Street with art. They call the project “Activate: Market Street”. Jerry Gant’s art fills several storefronts on Market Street right now. Of course, both Aferro and RBH benefit from this partnership: Aferro gets increased exposure, and RBH profits from increased property values. 

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Boris Bernard, artist and member of Newark artist collective Poor Kingz, poses outside Jerry Gant exhibit on Market Street. Photo by Caroline McCaughey.

The Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District (LPCCD) is another example of the arts driving revitalization in the city. Founded in 2000, the LPCCD is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to transform the once-blighted Lincoln Park neighborhood into an arts and cultural district. The organization has purchased swaths of vacant properties and built sustainable mixed-income residential and commercial units for artists and, mainly, minority-owned businesses. They also host the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival featuring hip-hop, jazz, and house music, and do green jobs training, cultural programming, and urban organic farming.

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Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District church façade, where concerts are held and organic vegetables grown. Photo by Caroline McCaughey.

“[We’re] using creative models to deal with economic issues,” explained Josiah Johnson, 26, an artist and native Newark resident who works for LPCCD. “The neighborhood was depleted. Most of the community, the residents, were either low-income or below low-income…As a little kid who grows up in this area, instead of walking around and only seeing crack vials on the ground, they can see art.”

But some Newark artists fear that while they’re making the city more attractive for investment and development now, they’ll soon be priced out, as happened in SoHo and, more recently, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

“The city has become more aware of the value that artists bring, so even developers have begun to open up more spaces for galleries, for workshop spaces, for studios for artists throughout the city, “ explained Oglesby. “So we can only hope that that continues. But there is clearly a need for some permanent development spaces for artists to ensure that artists have a long-term future in this city.” 

Oglesby’s hopes are rooted in a by-now well accepted theory of urban gentrification: artists make neighborhoods feel more welcoming by renovating and reusing old spaces for studios or dwellings, and investment soon follows. Eventually, rents rise so much that the artists can no longer afford to live there. Creative people are “the storm troopers of gentrification,” explains Steve Englander, director or ABC No Rio, a nonprofit arts space in Manhattan’s once-seedy Lower East Side, where rents now rival some of the city’s toniest neighborhoods. So although Newark is actively courting the arts to help reinvent the city, the artists themselves are also trying to stake a claim now to ensure their place in a more prosperous Newark’s future.

“The conversation going on in New York [City] is very relevant here,” said Mahoney. “There are lots of spaces owned by larger scale developers, and I think they see the arts community as an asset in some ways. And they’re trying to utilize the artists to fill the spaces, probably so that they eventually sell them or rent them out at market rates. It’s beneficial to the arts community now, but artists are aware of that.”

Recently, Mahoney held “meet and greets” with mayoral candidates Shavar Jeffries and Ras Baraka at his loft space. “It’s just a conversation,” Mahoney said. But one he wants the next mayor to hear. 

Mahoney continued: “Hopefully we can work with the city government or with the developers to perform partnerships that allow Newark to develop in a way that allows for a lasting arts community in greater Newark. Whether that’s possible is yet to be determined.”

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In the shadow of the Prudential Center, a restaurant row struggles to attract locals

Pictured above: New Jersey devils fans mill around outside Brick City Bar and Grill.

Seven years ago, the opening of the Prudential Center in Newark gave high hopes for the continued revitalization of the city. Instead, local businesses that rely on the arena’s patrons are not feeling the benefits.

Located right across the street from the Prudential Center is a small restaurant row comprised of three restaurants – Edison Ale House, Loft47, and Brick City Bar and Grill. Fans enter and exit the arena almost right in front of all three restaurants. But even with such proximity, both have struggled with a lack of consistent patronage.

“We moved in one year after the arena was built, and have felt the affects of the arena’s NHL New Jersey Devils lockout, [the] New Jersey Nets moving, and lack of events,” said Edison Ale House general partner Ray Levy. “They need to have more concerts and events, because we struggle to attract tourists and locals.”

The 2012-2013 National Hockey League lockout caused troubles for the trio of restaurants after the typical 82-game season was shortened to just 48. For restaurants in the area, hockey night patronage doubles and sometimes triples their business. But on non-game and event nights, staffs are cut and the restaurants struggle to keep doors open.

“When the lockout happened, waiters and waitresses lost shifts, and it was hard to stay in business,” Levy said. “The Nets leaving didn’t affect us that much, but when the lockout hit, then it hurt. We needed local patronage but never got it. I don’t even think locals know we’re here.”

One block away from the Edison Place restaurants is the Gateway Center, an office complex that has many commercial businesses, and connects to Newark Penn Station. Thousands work in and commute through the center daily, but few venture just a block away to restaurant row.

“If there are no events at the arena, we rely on locals to come have a drink after work. But honestly, commuters would rather go home,” Brick City Bar and Grill manager Dan Wasama said. “We make $3000 to $4000 on an average night, but during hockey nights, [we make about] $15,000.“

The nearby Broad and Market Street intersection has a reputation as being a dangerous area in Newark, and that has affected perception of the radius around the intersection. Wasama thought security in the area had been improved by the city, but still felt tourists and nearby employees and commuters didn’t completely feel safe.

Penn Station commuter Amy Stewart echoed that sentiment. “I don’t like to be on Broad Stree," she said, adding that she thinks there's illegal activity going on near the intersection. “I literally come to work and go home. I trust the restaurants in my city to be safer.”

– Loft47 patrons adopt Irishman, who says insults of Newark are "a load of rubbish" –

Wasama spoke about how tourists walk directly to the stadium and then Penn Station, avoiding Broad Street completely. “Newark has a reputation for being a bad and dangerous place to visit,” Wasama said. “New Yorkers don’t want to come over here for anything. It takes literally 15 minutes by train to get here, but people won’t even do that.”

Newark is the last stop on the World Trade Center to Newark Path train, and Wasama’s statement seemed to resonate among commuters in New York. Outside of the World Trade Center memorial, tourist Mark Shilton said, “I’m not making a trip to New Jersey at all, I’ve heard too many negative things about that state and don’t want to get caught up.”

Management at both Edison Ale House and Brick City Bar and Grill agree that the Prudential Center needs to host more events and that the city should continue to revitalize the area, both of which they think will help to improve business and the community.

Norman Rockwell American Chronicles At Newark Museum Until May 26

The traveling exhibition of Norman Rockwell, America’s most famous illustrator, will show until May 26 at the Newark Museum, before it goes to Italy for it’s next stop. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a traveling exhibition of 363 illustrations and 50 paintings.

Rockwell is considered the best illustrator of the 20th century, and yet you won’t see any of his work at the MoMa or the MET.  In the 1920’s, Rockwell became famous for capturing American life through his illustrations, at a time when the most respected artists were doing abstract art. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Joyce Schiller, a curator of the Rockwell Center for American Art, the institution responsible for the exhibition, gave a lecture on Rockwell at the Newark Museum to a modest crowd of about 30 people.  

“This exhibition is important for Newark because you won’t see the art of illustrators in the museums in New York City,” said Dr. Schiller in an interview after the lecture. “Rockwell was the best illustrator of the time, but he wasn’t considered an artist.”

Rockwell’s illustrations for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, the magazine with the largest subscriptions in the U.S. at the time, could be easily mistaken for real photographs due to his precision and detail. His first cover, “Boy and The Baby Carriage”, which appeared in 1916, has a playful look and feel and vivid characters.  The painting illustrates a well-dressed boy pushing what was considered a fancy baby carriage at the time, and two other boys in less formal clothes on their way to a baseball game. All three boys in the painting were recurring characters in Rockwell’s art.

In his biography, My Life As An Illustrator, Rockwell writes, “The most difficult problem is thinking up the ideas which a majority of the readers will understand and is damn hard to be universal to find some situation which will strike the housewife, the farmer and the gossip and be understandable by all.” For Rockwell, painting the same characters in different situations helped overcome part of that challenge.

In the beginning of Rockwell’s career, he wanted to capture life as he wanted it to be, excluding the ugly parts of it, but his goal changed overtime, especially during the Civil Rights era.

Another high point in the exhibit is Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings, which were inspired by a speech from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After publishing the illustrations on the Post, the paintings were commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II to raise money and persuade the public to favor the war. The four freedoms paintings – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom of fear – were scenes of American life capturing each one of those themes.

After gaining popularity through his work on the post, Rockwell began doing work for other magazines like Lady’s Home Journal and Life magazine, and worked on ads for clients like Colgate.

“All the elements in his illustrations tell the same story,” said Dr. Schiller, in reference to the collection. “He often used furniture and clothing to tell the story about the characters.” 

While Dr. Schiller’s lecture generated a lot of positive reactions from the audience. A man approached Dr. Schiller to ask a somewhat controversial question during a coffee and snack reception after the talk. “Was Norman Rockwell a racist?” asked the unidentified man. It was a fair question given that there are very few people of color in his illustrations.

Dr. Schiller explained that Rockwell had been asked not to paint people of color in the covers for the Post unless they were in service roles, and that he became increasingly frustrated with the Post and their censoring of his political views. 

Rockwell eventually left the Post to work for Look magazine, where he published, “The Problem We All Live With,” an illustration of Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school. The partnership between Rockwell and Look magazine made it easier for Rockwell to express scenes from the civil rights movement. 

The American Chronicles exhibition attracts anywhere between 10,000 to 70,000 people at each location, said Dr. Schiller. The Newark Museum curators declined to respond to our questions about admissions, or why they chose to showcase the Rockwell exhibit work. 

But what is without question is that the exhibition is  one of a kind and won’t be found anywhere else outside of Newark. At least not until May 26.