Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka hosted a ceremony this week 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,” Baraka said. “The key is to ensure that the District serves Newark residents first, both as a center of fun and economic opportunity.”
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 as well as 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.
“Today, as Mayor Baraka renames this park in Harriet Tubman’s honor, we, as New Jerseyans, can feel pride in our state’s role in the Underground Railroad. At the same time, however, we cannot forget that New Jersey was the last of all northern states to abolish slavery,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “There is no doubt that the effects of that evil continue to ripple through our communities today, making our work to expand opportunity in business, education, and homeownership, and to achieve equity in representation, health outcomes, and much more not just important, but our moral imperative.”
As part of the announcement, Baraka 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.
“It was an honor and privilege to stand next to Mayor Baraka on this second Juneteenth to also celebrate the renaming of Washington Park to Harriet Tubman Square,” stated Congressman Donald M. Paye Jr. “Today, we remember that liberty and freedom are the precious birthright of all Americans and must be guarded and preserved for all people.”