Mayor Ras J. Baraka hosted a ceremony today to re-name Washington Park as Harriet Tubman Square and announce plans to create the Newark Arts and Education District at the square, to mark Juneteenth.
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.
“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 liveable communities," Mayor 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.”
Major institutions in the Arts and Education District currently include the Newark Museum of Art, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark Symphony Hall, Rutgers-Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Prudential Arena, Seton Hall Law School, Newark School of the Arts, and Mulberry Commons, among others. The district will provide residents and visitors with a central location for cultural programming and arts education and encourage more collaborations and partnerships in Newark.
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.
As part of the announcement, the Mayor officially renamed Washington Park as Harriet Tubman Square.
Following calls for racial justice and representation in civic public art in 2020, the City issued a public call for designs for a new monument honoring Harriet Tubman and New Jersey’s role in the Underground Railroad to be the new centerpiece for the re-named square, replacing a statue of Christopher Columbus removed by the City in summer 2020.
The new monument, designed by New Jersey artist and architect Nina Cooke John with support from Newark-based apprentice artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, is proposed to be unveiled in fall 2022 and serve as a community gathering space and a centering point for the new Arts and Education District.
The Tubman monument and other improvements to Harriet Tubman Square are currently under review by the New Jersey Historical Preservation Office. Ms. Cooke John joined the dignitaries at the event.
The monument – a project of the Mellon Foundation’s Presidential Initiatives informed by Mellon’s national Monuments Project – will include a learning wall and community mosaic with clay tiles designed by Newark residents during a series of art-making workshops conducted in partnership with the Newark Museum of Art, as well as an auditory visitor experience detailing Newark’s contribution to the abolitionist movement as well as community stories of liberation, developed in partnership with Audible.