Newark Bound VG 2014 Summer | Fall : Page 33

Setting the Standard Veteran Newark Galleries and Artists Laid the Foundation for Newcomers By SoNya KimBle-elliS Newark has long been a center for great music and architecture. But emerging and established visual artists were hard-pressed to find outlets to showcase their work. That started to change in the 1970s and ‘80s when galleries such as City Without Walls and Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art opened their doors. which is celebrating its 30 th anniversary this year, was co-founded by Victor Davson and Carl E. Hazlewood. The word “Aljira,” in Australian Aboriginal culture, means “dreamtime.” Davson, who is the gallery’s executive director, and Hazlewood originally opened the studio as a workspace for their art. (Hazlewood left the organization in the late 1980 s.) During its growth, Davson and Hazlewood envisioned Aljira as Aljira, Photo: Arthur PA xton an exhibition space for artists who weren’t in the mainstream. They also wanted the gallery to be an important part of changing Newark’s image and to expose people in the community to various kinds of art, Davson says. Much of Aljira’s development took place in a fourth-floor walk-up on Washington Place in downtown Newark. Later, it moved to its current location at 591 Broad Street. The 2,000 -square-foot gallery is a cultural meeting place, attracting art lovers from New Jersey, New York, and beyond to its exhibits, readings, book signings, and more. Davson attributes Aljira’s longevity to the high quality of its exhibiting artists and curators and its artist development programs. “We’ve always tried to set very high standards in terms of quality, our branding, and the kinds of artists that we bring to this community,” he says. “We also take pride in the way Above: Victor Davson, founder and Executive Director of Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art NewarkBound | SUMMER . FALL . 2014 | 33

Setting the Standard

Sonya Kimble-Ellis

Newark has long been a center for great music and architecture. But emerging and established visual artists were hard-pressed to find outlets to showcase their work. That started to change in the 1970s and ‘80s when galleries such as City Without Walls and Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art opened their doors.

Aljira, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, was co-founded by Victor Davson and Carl E. Hazlewood. The word “Aljira,” in Australian Aboriginal culture, means “dreamtime.” Davson, who is the gallery’s executive director, and Hazlewood originally opened the studio as a workspace for their art. (Hazlewood left the organization in the late 1980s.)

During its growth, Davson and Hazlewood envisioned Aljira as an exhibition space for artists who weren’t in the mainstream. They also wanted the gallery to be an important part of changing Newark’s image and to expose people in the community to various kinds of art, Davson says.

Much of Aljira’s development took place in a fourth-floor walk-up on Washington Place in downtown Newark. Later, it moved to its current location at 591 Broad Street. The 2,000-square-foot gallery is a cultural meeting place, attracting art lovers from New Jersey, New York, and beyond to its exhibits, readings, book signings, and more.

Davson attributes Aljira’s longevity to the high quality of its exhibiting artists and curators and its artist development programs.

“We’ve always tried to set very high standards in terms of quality, our branding, and the kinds of artists that we bring to this community,” he says. “We also take pride in the way we try to nurture. We have and continue to launch and nurture a lot of artists.”

A number of artists, including Hazlewood (who is a photographer, visual artist, and writer), painter Luis Cruz Azaceta, and Newark-born photographer Wendel A. White, have had solo exhibitions at Aljira. The gallery is also responsible for introducing many young people to careers in the arts through internships.

City Without Walls (cWOW), since 1975, has showcased and promoted the work of new artists. The studio, on Crawford Street in Newark, displays the work of emerging and better-known artists in thematic, group exhibitions. Its educational programs have inspired thousands of students in Newark schools.

“We’ve always liked to work with artists who are starting off in their careers and need that stepping stone,” says Jackie Cruz, cWOW’s Gallery and Program Manager. “Some of these artists haven’t really shown a lot or are artists who are just graduating from school.”

Artists who have received widespread recognition since exhibiting at cWOW include sculptor and visual artist Willie Cole, sculptor and painter Kevin Blythe Sampson, and photographer Manuel Acevedo.

According to Ebony T. Simpson, the gallery’s newly-appointed executive director, City Without Walls has done a great deal to make sure that individuals who come through its doors are knowledgeable about the various aspects of the art world and can excel at their roles in the field.

Simpson wants to get artists to the point where they can exhibit solo shows. “We’re also cultivating the whole process—meaning that we work with those who want to be the manager, curator, or artist,” she says.

The gallery’s annual Metro show features works from artists throughout the metropolitan area, and travels throughout New Jersey. Metro 31, which will take place December 13, 2014–– February 14, 2015, will be a juried show of works that are 13 inches or smaller in size. cWOW’s Art Reach, a nationally recognized award-winning mentoring and internship program, will host an art opening this June and jumpstart its annual partnering of high school students with mentors.

An Artist Inspires

One successful artist who’s been a staple in the Newark art scene for more than 25 years is Jerry Gant. His eclectic brand of art, which includes permanent murals, sculptures, and other installations, can be seen around the city at locations such as Nat Turner Park (in the Central Ward) and Newark Penn Station. Verizon commissioned Gant for its “How Sweet the Sound” community arts tour to create a permanent three-story mural. The colorful painting of singing choir members, titled “From Hardship to Fellowship,” is on a building in the Lincoln Park district on Washington Street near West Kinney Street. Gant also created a metal sculpture of a boy and girl holding hands that is located on the grounds of the Newark Housing Authority’s Park Place townhouses in the Central Ward.

Newark, says Gant, has influenced his art in a big way. “I was born and raised here,” he explains. “I’m a gumbo of the city. Everything here has influenced my art. . .from the politics to the music of Sarah Vaughan to the writing of Amiri Baraka. He influenced me a lot. My graffiti roots came from being here. The vibe and excitement of Newark also influenced the kinds of materials I use and the way I dress.”

Over the past few decades, there has been a shift in Newark’s art scene, with an influx of younger artists and gallery owners. “There are people who are starting non-profits and galleries,” says Davson. “That has an effect on programming because younger people tend to be drawn to things that are more hip and innovative. There’s also a lot of attention being paid to performance art. The scene has also been affected by what’s going on with the LGBTQ community because they have been more vocal and assertive, in terms of advocacy and also in terms of the arts.”

Gant knows that every generation creates its own rules. When speaking of the new generation of artists, he says, “They also create their own statues, heroes, and sheroes. So the Newark art scene grows and decays all at the same time. It’s the same old game with new players.” And while the game continues, it’s a guarantee that Gant, Aljira, and City Without Walls will continue to be a dynamic part of the process.

Above: Victor Davson, founder and Executive Director of Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art

Clockwise from left: portrait exchange Round Robin led by artist Peter Walsh at City Without Walls (cWOW); CWOW mural by Jerry Gant; Mostly Orange by Aimee Hertog; Steven Kern; Song of the Passaic by Kevin Blythe Sampson; Pretty in Pink byWillie Cole

Five Questions With Newark Museum’s New Director

Joanne Castagna

Steven Kern is the Newark Museum’s new director and CEO, but he’s no stranger to the museum world. For the past 30 years, Kern has built strong credentials while working as director and curator for museums in Connecticut, Massachusetts, San Diego, and for the past eight years with the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. NewarkBound Magazine had the opportunity to talk with Kern about his plans for New Jersey’s largest museum. In addition, he explains how this 105-year-old, internationally renowned institution is poised to help push Newark forward.

Why did you take this position?

Newark is especially interesting. The city is in mid-resurgence, with signs of reinvestment and change across the city center. As a cultural anchor in downtown for more than a century, the museum is poised to help push our community forward.

What interests you about this museum?

The Newark Museum’s history of leadership is inspiring. First of all, it was founded by John Cotton Dana, a visionary who is regarded as the grandfather of the modern museum, believing in service, accessibility and relevance more than a century ago. He did not respect boundaries between art and science and also believed that artistic expression was everywhere; his collecting was revolutionary. The Newark Museum now boasts one of the largest collections in the United States with definitive holdings of Tibetan, Asian, African, American and decorative arts. It is also one of the few major American museums with art, science and history under one roof.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?

Strengthening connections will be our main focus. Collaboration, integration and engagement are the themes for the immediate future. Art and science, modern and historical, old and new will come together more deeply than ever in the museum’s exhibitions and programs. Believing that the museum belongs to everyone, we will continue to build bridges with partnerships across the community, not just with logical partners in arts and culture such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the New Jersey Symphony, Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art, and the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau, for example, but with neighborhoods, higher education, healthcare, and our business and corporate colleagues.

Do you have any long range plans for the museum?

Our future plans include mounting engaging exhibitions, designing innovative educational programs, acquiring the best collections, upgrading and expanding our physical plant, and building our endowment to strengthen our fiscal position. As we look to the future, with a new Rutgers-Newark residential tower on one side and new Prudential towers on the other, the museum will be positioned to leverage our identity as New Jersey’s largest museum and our location in the center of a thriving downtown.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

The Newark Museum, like the city itself, is at a crossroads. Sometime around our founding, Theodore Roosevelt said, “Get action. Seize the moment.” These words have special meaning for the Newark Museum and we must follow them. In so doing, we can be certain of the power of the Newark Museum to excite, enlighten, and empower for the next several generations. I look forward to working together on this journey.

The Newark Museum: newarkmuseum.org

Read the full article at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Setting+the+Standard/1741328/214529/article.html.

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