Mayor Ras Baraka unveiled the new name of Washington Park and also announced a new arts and education district.
“By enhancing the cultural value of the city’s creative and economic life through collaboration, education, community inclusion, and innovation, residents and local businesses will benefit from a new vision for the area defined by arts, culture, equity, and sustainability, attracting more investment and livable communities,” Baraka said. “The key is to ensure that the district serves Newark residents first, both as a center of fun and economic opportunity. The renaming of the park as Harriet Tubman Square marks a pivotal moment acknowledging underrepresented histories that all Americans and Newark residents should value.”
The official renaming of the park follows calls for racial justice and representation in the public art.
The city issued a public call for designs for a new monument honoring Tubman and New Jersey’s role in the Underground Railroad, to be the new centerpiece for the re-named square.
“Today, we remember that liberty and freedom are the precious birthright of all Americans and must be guarded and preserved for all people,” Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., said. “As we reflect on this significant day, let us remember that exactly 156 years ago, 250,000 enslaved men, women, and children learned of their freedom, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”
It replaces a statue of Christopher Columbus removed by the city in summer of 2020.
The new monument, designed by New Jersey artist and architect Nina Cooke John, with support from Newark-based apprentice artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, will be unveiled in fall of 2022 and serve as a community gathering space and a centering point for the new Arts and Education District.
The district will provide residents and visitors with a central location for cultural programming and arts education, and as well as encourage more collaborations and partnerships in Newark.
The mission of the new district will be to enhance the many downtown arts and educational institutions, galleries, parks, public art, and restaurants that contribute to the city’s cultural legacy and inclusive economic development.
Residents and local businesses will benefit from district-wide improvements such as rezoning, improved permit processes, and shuttle service to help residents citywide connect with downtown events.
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