Newark Symphony Hall set to once again become the city’s musical gem after $50 million investment
On a recent weekday at Newark Symphony Hall, the staff got busy working behind the stage. A new recording studio is nearing completion. And the flood- and weather-damaged walls leading to the main concert hall were ready for restoration.
In some areas, the exposed brickwork has remained intact, reminiscent of the character of the nearly 100-year-old historic building.
Soon the roof will be updated, the third floor ready for use and the iconic marquee replaced.
It’s all part of $50 million in renovations, upgrades and additions to programming and staff are underway at Newark Symphony Hall as it attempts to reclaim its splendor and open its doors to artists, patrons and community members.
“The biggest impact will be at the south end of Broad Street, which really serves as another entry point into the city, especially from Newark Airport,” said Fayemi Shakur, director of arts affairs and culture of Newark.
“It’s a cultural gem that many Newarkers have fond memories of.”
Shakur hopes they do more.
Free salsa dancing lessons are held in the Terrace Ballroom every third Friday. And this fall, staff will be offering ballet lessons to area youth in partnership with New Jersey Ballet.
Staff renamed the Children’s Performing Arts Academy as Studio 1020, a free program for Newark residents that provides community-centered arts education to ensure the community benefits from the building’s revival.
A two-day exhibition A raisin in the sun is scheduled for mid-September. In November, Thee Phantom & The Illharmonic Orchestra, which combines hip-hop with orchestral sounds created by musicians of color, takes center stage.
“It’s about centering the cultures of the community, creating opportunities, and ensuring the community is fully engaged in revitalization,” said Taneshia Nash Laird, president and CEO of Newark Symphony Hall.
“Usually when a place is revitalized, it’s also gentrified, which drives people out,” she said.
“Here is an opportunity for us to create a case where you can do that and be inclusive in all aspects of the job.
Newark native Jamie Grundy attends soul line dancing lessons in the Terrace Ballroom every second Friday.
“The things that Newark Symphony Hall brings to Newark are great, the different rooms, the parties,” she said. “It’s been a staple in Newark for so many years when my mom and dad used to go there.”
“And we appreciate them,” Grundy said. “It’s for the community.”
Founded in 1925, Newark Symphony Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was once considered the venue for the performance. In its heyday, from the 1920s to the 1970s, the 160,000 square foot, 3,500+ seat Broad Street concert hall attracted artists like Billie Holiday, the Beatles and Gladys Knight, who performed to box office crowds closed. It was also a hub for classical music, opera, and jazz, attracting residency for the New Jersey Symphony. But Nash Laird said the divestment had thrown the music hall into crisis.
As Newark’s demographics have shifted from white residents to majority people of color, many believe there has been a deliberate divestment and strategic decision to no longer maintain Newark Symphony Hall.
“By the 1980s, the city itself was getting browner and blacker,” Nash Laird said. “Assets frequented by black and brown residents were less valued.
Another factor, Laird added, was the state-funded construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, or NJPAC, about a mile away. Completed in 1997 after planning by a state commission began 11 years earlier, NJPAC is one of the nation’s largest performing arts centers, a popular venue for concerts and events praised for its acoustics and aesthetics.
“The construction of NJPAC has affected Newark Symphony Hall as there has been a divestment from our historic venue in favor of a new performing arts center,” she said.
Nash Laird cited an essay on the development of NJPAC that quoted the mayor’s father, poet and activist Amiri Baraka, saying, “NJPAC would be the white institution and Symphony Hall would be the black institution.”
“Amiri Baraka was right,” said Nash Laird.
Nonetheless, Newark Symphony Hall remained open, and in 2016 officials realized its value and funded a preservation plan for it.
“I imagine a lot of people thought there was no room for two burgeoning performing arts centres. But because [of] Senators and MPs who have advocated, we are now receiving long overdue financial support to address decades of contempt and neglect.
Now, with state and federal funding, grants and donations, supporters hope Symphony Hall will modernize its space, increase its staff by 10 people and expand its reach in the community, which Nash Laird will do. is committed to doing when it began in 2018.
Newark Symphony Hall is owned by the Essex County Improvement Authority and operated by the Newark Performing Arts Corporation, a non-profit organization founded in 1986 – the same year planning began for NJPAC.
The $50 million revitalization effort is supported by philanthropy, state appropriations, state tax credits and historic federal tax credits. Included are a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which provided $750,000 to the hall; donations such as the $2 million gift from Prudential Financial; and a $1 million stipend provided by the city.
“Ten million of that money will go towards infrastructure, upgrades, mechanical, electrical and plumbing,” Nash Laird said. “The rest is towards the restoration of the plaster. There’s marble, then all the new walls and finished work.
Partnerships have been most beneficial to the success and longevity of Symphony Hall. So in the spring he partnered with NJPAC for the Festival of Praise, a gospel concert held at Sarah Vaughan Hall, the main concert venue.
David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President and Executive Producer of NJPAC, said, “It’s always a pleasure to work with the team at Symphony Hall. It is an integral part of the cultural fabric of Newark.
Symphony Hall is also partnering with Princeton University for two social impact scholarships and a production assistant training program with Newark Alliance.
The concert hall also has a bi-coastal partnership with the Where Art Can Occur Theater Center (WACO) in Los Angeles.
“The impetus for the partnership is that we are two black institutions that serve and provide space for black artists, who present and produce work in front of black audiences,” said Shay Wafer, executive director of WACO Theater Center.
Newark Symphony Hall focuses on building capacity and reframing that fills the spaces of classical and orchestral genres, in hopes of amplifying the voices of diverse artists.
“To me, it seems like a good fit for us to be a predominantly African-American ensemble of musicians and musicians of color and Newark Symphony Hall being a mainstay, especially for blacks and browns,” said Jeffrey McNeill, conductor of the Ilharmonic Orchestra.
The staff plans programs with Colors of Classical music, an organization that connects classical musicians of color.
“The classical music community has not always been welcoming to musicians of color because the tradition is rooted in whiteness and that can make it daunting for people to succeed in this field,” said Mansi Shah, founder of Colors of Classical Music.
Shakur said, “Local and state funding is a signal that things are changing, and place still has value and meaning to us.”
“Plans to revitalize this area of Lincoln Park have been in place for a long time,” she said, referring to the area that encompasses Symphony Hall. “And we’re finally getting the support we needed from the state and other funders to make the renovations and revitalization of Symphony Hall a reality.”
Shakur, a Newark native, said the annual Lincoln Park Music Festival, which has been held for 15 years, has helped change the energy of Lincoln Park.
“This park, for a long time, has been overrun with drug dealing, prostitution and homelessness, and this festival has brought thousands of people to the park in the spirit of music, dancing and joy and really changed the energy of Lincoln Park,” she said. said.
“And I believe the revitalization of Symphony Hall will do the same.”
Nash Laird said a Knight Foundation study found communities of color place the highest importance on the arts, outside of affordable housing, transportation and available jobs.
“The arts are what connect these populations to the community,” she said. “This revitalization is saying to the community, we see you, we see what you value, and we’re going to increase that.”
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