It’s not every day that a city turns 350. So when it does, it deserves a pretty special party.
Founded in 1666, Newark, New Jersey is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The city has been marking this milestone with Newark Celebration 350 – a year-long schedule of events which began last October. The upcoming Founders Weekend Festival takes the party to a new level. From May 13-15, Newark presents three days of free concerts, activities for kids and families, food trucks, arts and crafts exhibits and more at Military Park, located opposite the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). Most of all, the festival celebrates the arts and culture, the people, and the revitalization of New Jersey’s largest city.
“Founders Weekend will be the victory lap for Newark Celebration 350 as we come together and celebrate 350 years of Newark’s extraordinary history and heritage,” said Newark Celebration 350 Chair Junius Williams.
The lineup includes a mix of national acts including the headliners Faith Evans (R&B), Naughty by Nature (Hip-Hop), and India (the “Princess of Salsa”). The first two are Grammy-winning artists from Newark, while India is considered one of the world’s top Latin music recording artists. Also appearing on the mainstage will be the U.S. Air Force’s Airmen of Note jazz ensemble with Stefon Harris, the Grammy-nominated vibraphonist who also is NJPAC’s Artistic Director of Jazz Education. Cissy Houston, the Grammy-winning soul-gospel singer long synonymous with the city, will share the stage with The Rev. Stef & Jubilation chorus. Adding to the impressive lineup is Robert Glasper Experiment, another Grammy-winning artist who was recently added to the festival.
Other highlights include a tribute to Newark’s own Sarah Vaughan by Wincey Terry, Janet Van Kline, and Jackie Jones. The Brick City Jazz Orchestra will also be paying tribute to the local hero. Them Cloud Kids will mix spoken word, art, and live music as part of their mission to unite and empower Newark youth. And the Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens offers a program entitled “The Soul of Newark,” which takes the audience on a journey to the intersection of jazz and soul during the heyday of Newark’s music scene.
There’s something for everyone from the reggae sounds of Random Test to Rob Paparozzi and his jazz combo to some of New Jersey’s hottest celebrity DJs like WBGO’s Felix Hernandez, Hot 97’s Bobby Trends, and Power 105.1’s DJ Reymo who will be closing out each night at the turntables.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to show off how far the city has come,” said John Schreiber, the Emmy and Tony Award-winning producer who is the Programming Chairperson for Newark Celebration 350 and the President and CEO of NJPAC. “We chose Military Park as the venue because it is a recently refurbished urban park space right in the middle of downtown. It’s an opportunity to invite citizens of Newark, as well as people from all over the metropolitan area, to either get acquainted with Newark or get reacquainted.”
According to Schreiber, when planning for the year-long celebration first began, the committee reached out to the community to see how city residents wanted to celebrate. They asked for proposals on the type of events people would be interested in, which led to the creation of over 150 programs. The Founders Weekend Festival incorporates many of the ideas in one marquee event.
Music is only part of the festivities; the weekend features plenty of food options including barbecue, smoothies, cheesesteak sandwiches, tacos, ice cream, and more. Families will enjoy face painters, balloon sculptors, PSEG with Sesame Street, Playworks’ “Switch and Double Tag.” and representatives from the New Jersey Devils. There’s a shoe decorating area, obstacle courses, bracelet making, Double Dutch instruction, and more.
Artwork and handcrafted items from Newark artists will be on display, highlighted by renowned visual artist Jerry Gant’s commemorative Newark Celebration 350 t-shirts; the Portals Newark installation in the park; and public art from Barat Foundation’s colorful giant Animodules™ (nicknamed Newark’s “Official Peace Ambassadors”). The artwork is designed to attract children, who are encouraged to help create and paint one of the 3-D, jigsaw-like sculptures.
“What’s great about the Animodules™ is that they’re not only fun to look at, but they’re an expression of the creativity of our kids,” explained Schreiber. “And the work that the Barat Foundation does in schools all year long is going to be represented by their presence at the festival.”
One of the most intriguing art exhibits is a series of photographs by Aferro Mobile Portrait Studio who has been going around the neighborhoods capturing portraits of people in Newark with the goal of 350 portraits to represent the city and its residents.
Vice President of Social Action & Advocacy at Participant Media, a production company behind such films as Lincoln, Waiting for Superman, and An Inconvenient Truth. After years of commuting from his home in New Jersey to Los Angeles, the opportunity to lead NJPAC was an exciting move for him.In recent years, Newark has been enjoying a renaissance of the arts. The creation of NJPAC in 1997 likely played a major role in returning the arts to a city that has always been home to musicians, artists, writers, poets, and photographers — many who would go on to national acclaim. Schreiber watched the revival while working as Executive
“[Newark’s arts revival] was a big reason why I wanted to be at NJPAC because the arts center has certainly been a catalyst for a revitalization of world class arts and culture in the downtown,” said Schreiber. “But what I’ve learned while working on the 350 is that the arts flourish in Newark 24/7, 365 days a year and the opportunity we have with the 350
Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka adds, “We celebrate the 350th anniversary of Newark’s founding as a vibrant community with a rich cultural diversity and heritage of economic innovations and academic resilience. This Festival highlights our glorious past and celebrates that today, we are revitalizing our historic downtown, reinvigorating our communities, building partnerships as well as structures, and empowering our neighborhoods and people. Newark is poised for great things!” is to celebrate what happens throughout the city all year long and shine a light on that.”
The Newark Celebration 350 Founders Weekend Festival takes place Friday, May 13, Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15 at Military Park (51 Park Place) in Newark. For more information and a full schedule of performances, visit nc350.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to a forecast of rain, the Newark Celebration 350 Founder’s Day Weekend Festival’s opening night concert with headliner Faith Evans will move from the outdoor location of Military Park to inside Newark Symphony Hall (1020 Broad St). Tickets are free and will be given on a first come, first serve basis. Starting Friday, May 13 at noon, the public can pick up two tickets per person at the Newark Symphony Hall Box Office at 1030 Broad Street. The regularly scheduled Festival program will be held Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15 in Military Park until further notice. For the latest updates, please visit nc350.org.