Celebration of Newark's 350th anniversary will be as diverse as city's history, future

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 22, 2015

Locals can expect a varied mix of festivals, art, civic discussions, and more to help celebrate 350 years of Newark

 

NEWARK — The past 350 years in the state's largest city have been busy, to say the least.

Newark's history, which begins with a 1666 settling by a group of Puritans, includes an industrial and manufacturing boon, racial tensions and crippling riots, and a renewed focus on rebuilding. All of the aspects of Newark's past, and all of the hope for its future, will be commemorated and celebrated during Newark Celebration 350, a yearlong tribute to the city's birthday.

The group putting on the yearlong commemoration, the Newark Celebration 350 Committee, announced Tuesday that it will kick off the multi-event, $3 million celebration of the city with a preview event this October. The other approximately 200 events that will make up NC350 will take place in 2016, exactly 350 years after Puritans founded Newark.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate this city," said Junius Williams, the chair of Newark Celebration 350 and the Director of the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University - Newark.

"It is a chance to partner with the people and...to encompass all aspects of what it means to live and work in Newark."

THE CELEBRATION

The commemoration of the milestone anniversary, organizers said, began several years ago with Clement Price, a longtime Newarker and city historian who died after suffering a stroke last year. Organizers said they hope the yearlong celebration will carry out the vision that Price set out for it.

"A lot of our inspiration comes from Clem," said John Schreiber, the CEO of NJPAC – one of the city's largest performance venues – and a committee member for the event.

"He believed this (anniversary) was a tremendous teachable moment...an opportunity to introduce citizens to and (remind them of) the uniqueness of this city." 

NC350 will begin with a family fun day at Military Park on Oct. 17, the group said. It will kick off at 11 a.m. at NJPAC with the annual Barat Foundation's Creation Nation Art and Peace Parade, and will continue with music, games, poetry readings, art classes and demonstrations, dance, and more at the park until 5 p.m.

The free event, which is meant to attract residents of all ages, will also give locals an opportunity to become a part of the rest of the 350th anniversary celebration.

COLLABORATION

Though the committee has been continuously working on plans for the celebration, not all of the events that will make it up have been planned, or even conceptualized, yet. That, the organizers said, is because they want Newark residents to take ownership over the festival by helping plan it.

"This is a great, gorgeous work in progress," Schreiber said. "We are going to have rolling submissions, so as people get ideas (for events they believe should be a part of NC350), they can submit them online. The schedule of events will be as diverse, dynamic, and exciting as the creativity of Newark's residents."

To further that end, and solicit citizen event ideas, the committee will spend the next several weeks hosting public meetings in each of the city's five wards.

So far, without much promotion of the celebration, the committee said it has received about 75 citizen submissions of event ideas. It anticipates receiving more throughout the next year, and implementing as many of them as possible, group members said.

The entire celebration is operating on a $3 million budget, $1 million of which has already been raised, according to Irene Cooper-Basch, executive officer of the Victoria Foundation and fundraising chair of NC350. The entire budget, she said, will be raised from corporate, private, and foundation donations.

In addition to public planning partners and donated funding, the group said it is also working with the mayor's office and city administrators to extend the reach and impact of the events.

Schreiber called Newark Mayor Ras Baraka a "key partner" in rolling out the anniversary events over the next year.

"We stand on the edge of the 350th anniversary of Newark's founding as a vibrant community with a rich cultural diversity and heritage of economic innovations and academic resilience," Baraka said in a statement.

"This is a time to celebrate."

PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

Newark's history has been filled with advancements and challenges. Some scholars and activists have argued that the city has begun efforts that could be a turning point into a period of revitalization, while others argue that poverty and crime continue to plague it.

An entire consideration of Newark's past, and conversation about the possibilities for its future, will be a part of the anniversary event, organizers said. Events will vary from festivals and parades that take place every year, to civic discussions on issues and opportunities in Newark, the group said.

"Part of the challenge here is to make history come alive," Williams said. "We need to make it exciting for people who are disconnected from what happened. We intend to talk about (the city's) founding in the context of what is happening now...we will showcase the trying times, (but also) the positive things that came out of them."

Part of the celebration, the committee said, is a collaboration with Newark Public Schools that will add a history of Newark curriculum to city students' educations. The hope, the group said, is to foster a sense of pride among Newark's youngest residents.

"There are a lot of good things cooking here," Cooper-Basch said. "We have the potential to change the narrative about Newark into something more positive."

The group said it plans to announce the first batch of 2016 events in the coming weeks. They will be varied, and attract people both inside and outside of the city, it said.

"This will work on several levels," Schreiber said.

"It's a chance to introduce people from throughout the city to the gems in each of the five wards; it can show Newark's creative energy to people from all around our region; and we want people on a national level to recognize Newark as a major cultural center, and as a city with a rich history in which great conversations are happening right now."

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