Newark State of Mind

‘They say Newark is the new Brooklyn, which was the new East Village, a re-birthed and post-cool SoHo.’ Scott Laudati sums up the Newark art scene.


I’ve been spending my free time in the city of Newark, New Jersey.

That is a statement guilty of sending ice spears down the spine of every parent in at least three states, and truthfully, I never thought I’d speak these words either. They say Newark is the new Brooklyn, which was the new East Village, a re-birthed and post-cool SoHo, that being the trickle down of the too-posh Tribecca, and I’m not really sure what was en vogue before that.

It’s bohemian. It’s raw. Anything written about beatnik Paris can be found in the 9th ward of Newark. The Asian food is cheap. The vegetarian rate is high. And if you stay within the shadow boundaries cast by the Prudential Center the sewer rats will start to resemble performance art.

Asian food is cheap. The vegetarian rate is high.

Yes, I’m pretty sure Paris wasn’t infused with gang violence, a privileged police force, fast-food and lots of crack. At least, not according to the crime statistics. History will prove these attributes to work in Newark’s favor though, as a “unique” charm that couldn’t be repackaged anywhere else.Daniel Brophy in his studio

I’ve walked from Penn Station to the home base of my artisan comrades at 5pm and 5am. This route brings me through the “revitalized” coordinates of Newark’s art district. A tourist will have a hard time finding a difference between it and a block in the lower 100’s of Manhattan. There are bums and they are
polite. There are day tripping sports fans and they are rude. And, at least in these few blocks, the garbage never piles high.

Newark is actually a city that never sleeps. At 5am it will be an unnerving experience to find so many on the street. Aimless people. Jabbering at shopping carts. Walking dogs with no leashes. I’ve moved fast. I’ve never stopped to tie my shoe. And I’ve never had a problem. The age-old solution to most issues seems to be the high code of pedestrian conduct in Newark: mind your own business.

I saw my first dead body two weeks ago. Facedown.

However, with the cover of night, violence can’t always be avoided. I saw my first dead body two weeks ago. Facedown. Surrounded by police. Two nights later on a well-lit portion of Broad Street I saw the aftermath of a mugging, and possibly the planning of a future one. This cannot be entirely blamed on socio- economic conditions, though. I was told Jupiter has been in retrograde. High waves will crash. Dogs will chew their tails to bloody stumps. And people breathing the right kind of pollution might find the universe manipulating their movements, dictating violent actions with no control on the part of the possessed. Image: Lowell Craig

As the paradigm shifts, I’m sure these few instances will become exceptions to the gentrified rule. I haven’t met any musicians or writers in town. There are painters and sculptors and galleries tucked above every bodega and fried chicken coop. The art is grimy in all the right ways. For people tired of the screen-print revolution Banksy and Shepard Fairey have beaten to death, Newark is cradling its future like a new mother.

The scene cannot be replicated, because this time they actually started at the bottom. And the pain of Newark’s unrelenting past shines through each wet brush stroke like the boxer who went all 12 rounds and threw the knockout with his last breath.

These artists paint vibrant pieces, sprayed and dripped across planks of wood and trash can covers. They are young and old. Most are hairy. The women are beautiful. They are Japanese. They are Argentinian. They earn side cash as dominatrixes. The cocaine is uncut and cheap. Everyone is roommates with a DJ. The
parties don’t end, they just relocate. And everyone has their paintings hanging in galleries with prices tags of $2,500.

Most haven’t sold yet, but all it takes is one.

The creativity pours through the cracked cobblestone streets like the Passaic River broke its banks. Even a lawyer could find the left side of their brain after a few nights in Newark. You will see a cardboard box and wonder what it could be with a can of paint and some feathers. The apartments are
converted garment buildings. Soccer matches and nerf wars could be held with little interference of one another on a floor sleeping six. The apartments are outfitted with stoves pulled from failed Chinese restaurants.

Bathrooms designed for a floor of 30 excreting sweatshop women are now for the luxury of 6 or 7 renters. Bedrooms the sizes of classrooms hold a bed, a table and an art studio. Each renter has one at their disposal. They eat at a kitchen table fit for a Viking fleet. And while digesting, they lounge on barbershop stools or orange couches in a living room big enough to have a decent catch of football while the prohibition documentary teaches them of ancient history.

All this for $700 a month.

Will Newark follow in the path of Paris? SoHo? Brooklyn? Probably. The artists move in for cheap rent. Energetic allies to fuel the madness. A good scene. Then one becomes better than the rest. Sells a few pieces. The sharks move in because it’s hip. The rent explodes. The scene crumbles. And then what? Maybe they move to Cleveland. Maybe Winnemucca. Who knows? But while it’s here, take advantage. Image: Josh Knoblick

I’m pretty sure Newark is in the fetus stage of that grand artistic period American history books have been lacking. Usually these movements are over before anyone figured out they were happening. Don’t wait until the book is published and the museum is built. And definitely don’t be one of those adults swearing they were at Woodstock. Wall Street is occupied. Gays can marry. Iggy Pop played American idol.

Maybe it’s Newark’s turn.

Images by Scott Laudati

Scott Laudati
About Scott Laudati 31 Articles
Scott Laudati lives in New York with his Boxer, Satine. His collection of poems "Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair" has been published by Kuboa Press. Visit www.ScottLaudati.com for less professionalism and angrier essays.

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