The City of Newark, the Urban League of Essex County and PSE&G announced today the launch of the region’s first-ever “Art Wall” project designed to beautify the protective façade of an electrical switching station. This facility, conceptualized and created from an aesthetic point of view as opposed to simply a functional perspective, will be located in the Fairmount Heights section of Newark, NJ, directly opposite the Urban League of Essex County’s pre-school. With help from Newark’s West Ward Councilman Joe McCallum and Urban league of Essex County president & CEO Vivian Cox Fraser, Mayor Ras Baraka, Deputy Mayor Baye Adofo-Wilson and PSE&G Vice-president Rick Thigpen negotiated an unprecedented agreement that will bring much needed electrical-infrastructure redundancy and reliability to the region, and will also:
The project is said to:
Generate construction jobs for Newark residents
Provide work opportunities for artists
Improve the visual impact that a structure of this size normally has on a residential neighborhood
This project is also shouted to allow for a new community center, pedestrian lighting and green space improvements that the Mayor is committed to implementing.
Internationally renowned architectural firm, Adjaye Associates, celebrated for their design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, is the lead design firm on this multi-year initiative. To date, nearly $1.6 million has been put in the local community through the hiring of Newark employees, vendors and firms. Local, minority-owned architectural and construction project-management firm WSM Associates and CHC Construction are the architect of record and project management firms respectively. The Art Wall Project creative team is led by Daniel Simmons, co-founder of RUSH Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Victor L. Davson, co-founder of Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Arts, located in Newark. NJ. Fourteen ethnically and racially diverse male and female artists will visually interpret the themes of youth, education, history and community culture into creative pieces employing various mediums including glass, aluminum and solar-powered metallic sculptures that will be installed on the upper third area of the 48,000 square foot, 30-foot-high wall. Six of the artists are local to Newark and the remaining eight hail from as far away as Jamaica and Venezuela.
“We are very pleased to work with PSE&G and its contractors to bring jobs and opportunity to Newark’s neighborhoods. But, we are especially pleased to do it in a way that complements the artistic aesthetic of our community,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “Superstorm Sandy made it clear that we needed a backup facility in the area, and building one that respected the personality and spirit of the neighborhood was critically important to us. There were lots of voices to be heard in developing this agreement and the collaborative partnership that exists around this project was only possible through the concerted efforts of everyone at City Hall, PSE&G, Councilman McCallum, Vivian Cox Fraser and of course the community.”
“Today, we are launching a project that reflects PSE&G’s commitment to Newark for more than 100 years,” said Rick Thigpen, PSEG vice president of State Governmental Affairs. “PSE&G’s mission is to provide safe, reliable service to our customers. We also strive to strengthen the communities in which we do business. We’re pleased that we can build this critical facility for reliability while investing in the local economy and creating much-needed local jobs.”
Many jobs will be created over the next 24 months, providing opportunities for Newark residents to actively participate in development activities within the city. To date, CHC Contractors and other subcontractors have hired 12 Newark residents, eight of whom live in the West Ward. Additionally, more than a dozen artists will be able to secure employment as a result of this public/private partnership.
“Once we knew that the station was coming to the Fairmount Heights neighborhood, we worked with PSE&G, Councilman McCallum, Vivian Cox Fraser and the community to make sure that the walls would become a part of the community and be visually appealing,” said Deputy Mayor Baye Adofo-Wilson. “We reached out to Adjaye, the RUSH Foundation and Aljira Arts Center because of their proven track records in effectively, respectfully and uniquely representing communities through art. We are confident in their ability to oversee the artists and make the residents’ visions of the walls come to life.”
“Beautifying the walls is an important indication of this project’s commitment to the Fairmount Heights community,” said Vivian Cox Fraser, President & CEO of the Urban League of Essex County. “Having Adjaye, Aljira and the RUSH Foundation work with PSE&G to ensure a community-focused visual-aesthetic is exciting. This will serve to add value and enhance the neighborhood that we share. We are also happy to announce that once the station is complete, the Urban League of Essex County will lead the development of a new community center and the revitalization of Liberty Park so that residents can enjoy more green space and meaningful recreation while enjoying the station’s Art Walls.”
The artist selection process was intentional and collaborative with representatives from the city, PSE&G, the community and the councilman’s office all taking active roles. Charrettes, or intense community forums with architects, artists, local politicians, residents and community leaders, were held over several months to identify thematic solutions to the art wall design. While the size of the walls, the names of the artists and the purpose of the station are established and clear, the final art that will grace the structure is still in the conceptual stage.
“That is the beauty and the challenge of the creative process,” said Aljira’s executive director Victor L. Davson, Co-Art Advisor and Co-Curator for the project. “We don’t know what the final projects will exactly look like because we are finalizing the breakthrough designs that the artists created. Everyone is working under the direction that was created during our charrettes so each artist is focused on visualizing youth, education, culture and community history through the most expressive medium unique to them. The next few years are sure to be fabulous in Fairmount.”
A true win-win for all; the first time this type of project has been implemented in the region.