How A Historic Arts Institution Can Spur Neighborhood Revitalization

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How A Historic Arts Institution Can Spur Neighborhood Revitalization

August 4, 2020

In its heyday, Newark Symphony Hall was a sprawling arts hub that played stage to the likes of The Temptations, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. For decades the Newark, NJ, historical landmark fell victim to the disinvestment that often hits art institutions — reduced funding and inadequate upkeep. Since taking up the helm in 2019, Taneshia Nash Laird is putting in the work to restore the landmark to its former glory while reversing the neglect of the building as well as the surrounding community.

“To reverse that disinvestment, we have forged a forward-looking economic recovery and resilience orientation we call ‘Symphony Works’,” says Laird.

This orientation includes new and robust programming. For instance, the Newark Symphony Hall hosted auditions for BET’s miniseries on R&B label Uptown Records. The pandemic forced the hall to pivot from hosting in-person events to its first virtual production – a reunion of “Def Poetry Jam” which was broadcast nationally and featured poets such as Mayor Ras Baraka, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Jill Scott.

Allowing the notion that “art is not merely entertainment but that it has the power to heal,” the hall launched an artist-driven COVID-19 relief effort, #EmbraceNewark, during the pandemic. The relief included food support and creative documentation of quarantine life through poetry, photography, video journalism, and documentary storytelling.

Newark Symphony Hall has also begun to focus on the economy-driven revitalization of neighborhoods in the surrounding area. For the building’s restoration, the organization has hired a local consulting firm to take on the task. The hall has also begun to partner with local organizations, such as Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District and Invest Newark, that already have a hand in fostering economic and real-estate development.

“I’m motivated by the idea of maximizing the social impact of all aspects of my work,” says Laird. “In this case by leveraging the revitalization of Newark Symphony Hall to be a source of career development in culture and construction, thereby fostering economic opportunities for Newarkers, which helps reduce wealth inequality and improve community well-being overall.”

Taneshia Nash Laird is president and CEO of Newark Symphony Hall. She has more than 25 years of experience in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, including serving as a municipal official for economic development. Taneshia is an adjunct professor in the B.S. in Entertainment and Arts Management program at Drexel University.

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