Creating a center for socially engaged art and design
Express Newark was conceived as an art-making “third space” in which the university and community would come together with equal voices and experiences. As cultural institutions all across the United States face a reckoning over racial injustice, Express Newark urgently responds to these demands by valuing art’s ability to amplify marginalized voices, address critical issues, and advocate for change. This initiative addresses many of Rutgers’ strategic priorities.
Express Newark advances Rutgers University–Newark’s role as an “anchor” institution in the city while promoting its vibrant cultural and artistic communities. It is a place in which Rutgers students and faculty and Newark residents learn and work together and collaborate on making art that matters—art that changes their lives and the world. Its dynamic partnerships with the City of Newark’s Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs and New Jersey’s premier cultural institutions such as the Newark Museum of Art, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Project for Empty Space, and WBGO, have enabled Express Newark—within just two years—to emerge as one of the city’s cornerstone art institutions.
When it opened in 2017, Express Newark was part of a multifunctional project in Newark’s Hahne & Co. building, the downtown site of a former iconic department store now undergoing a complete renovation after having been shuttered for 30 years. An exemplar of creative placemaking, Express Newark activated 50,000 square feet of the massive 500,000-square-foot building. L+M Developers credits anchor tenants Rutgers–Newark and Whole Foods with securing construction funding from the project’s key investors, Prudential and Goldman Sachs.
Express Newark is now a center for socially engaged art and design in which faculty, students, artists, and community residents learn about, collaborate, and create art to advocate for social change. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the Hahne & Co. department store required its African-American customers to use a separate entrance. Express Newark turns that history on its head by welcoming and empowering all who enter the building to engage with each other, take classes, and create art together. Like Rutgers University at large, Express Newark is a type of public commons—both of the campus and in the community.
Art That Matters
Express Newark is one of the most vibrant art institutions in the city, actively contributing to the local economy and providing diverse opportunities for Newarkers to experience and participate in the arts and spur university-community collaboration to generate publicly engaged scholarship. Through curriculum, programming, artist residencies, and community partnerships centered on socially engaged art and design, Express Newark will transcend the boundaries of the Hahne building by creating environments, experiences, and entry points for artists to create art that matters and for others to be involved with or near that creativity. Art will be made, consumed, studied, celebrated, digested, debated, questioned, and improved here.
Express Newark is abuzz with activity, some out loud and collaborative, some quiet and solitary, but all safe and accessible for artists, students, and Newarkers. It encourages them to redefine excellence and impact based on collective well-being and social justice. Express Newark is a model and beacon for universities, cities, cultural organizations, and artists. Building on the architectural history of Hahne & Co., Express Newark is a luxurious and vibrant place to create art that matters.
The Henry Rutgers Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing; founding director of the New Arts Social Justice Initiative at Express Newark; associate director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; and executive director of Express Newark, July 2021.
Tillet is a leading scholar of American and African-American studies, a contributing critic at large for The New York Times, and a foremost feminist leader. Through her scholarship and activism, she has spent her career championing artists and building nonprofit institutions that promote art as a powerful catalyst for social change.
Since joining Rutgers–Newark, the celebrated author and activist (and Newark resident) has led three major public art projects in the city: A Call to Peace, a temporary monument exhibition in Military Park; the All Black Lives Matter Murals for Justice in downtown Newark; and the Will You Be My Monument mural supported by the Four Corners Public Arts collaborative. Each of these projects asked the public to explore the relationship between race, place, and history in American civic life.
She is the author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination (Duke, 2012) and In Search of The Color Purple: The Story of Alice Walker’s Masterpiece (Abrams, 2021).