The Newark Public Art Map: A new way to explore Newark
Public Administration Fellows Jillian Cullen and Allison Michalowski created a map that documents works of public art in Newark.
Jillian Cullen and Allison Michalowski, both public administration fellows that conduct research for the Complete Communities Team, embarked on a research project to create a map that would document locations, descriptions and photos of works of public art in Newark and on the university’s campus.
Cullen said that the two noticed that there seemed to be a need to keep track of all the different pieces of art around Newark and the university’s campus, and they soon realized that there was a story missing for many of them.
“When we were doing some preliminary research, we realized that a lot of places didn’t even know where these art pieces came from or why they came here or what they represented, so we just knew that there was a need to keep track of these art pieces in our community,” Cullen said.
Prior to this research project, Cullen said she had done a project on “place making,” which is the concept of creating a place where people want to work, live and play. Cullen said this “place making” project was a big part of their inspiration because of the role that public art plays in the concept itself.
The map features more than 100 works of art, which Cullen and Michalowski collected the information for mainly through research about each specific piece and information from professionals in the arts field.
“Our stakeholders gave us a list of public art that they were aware of, but then also me and Allie, the other public administration fellow, just went out and walked into different buildings or areas, and whenever I saw a piece of art I would just put it in there, onto the app, took a picture and got the geo coordinates and then any other identifying information along with it,” Cullen said.
About two weeks after Cullen started on the project, COVID-19 hit and presented the team with a few roadblocks.
“In addition to not getting as much public engagement as we anticipated, when we first initially went out, we did not think that would be the last time we went out,” Cullen said. “So, when we were taking the photos indoors, there was some glare or we couldn’t get the best picture possible, and once COVID hit, we weren’t able to go back in there because indoor places were shut down, especially on campus.”
For some of the photos on the map, there is a placeholder that says “image coming soon.” Marcia Scott, the supervisor of the Complete Communities Team, said that they hope to get back on campus once it opens up and make some changes to the map.
Cullen said she believes that public art is so significant because it creates community character, and that it is extremely important in the “place making” concept.
“It just makes a place to be proud of, and a place that people want to visit, and see and experience,” Cullen said. “So, I think it’s incredibly important, and I also think that we have to document them so that we know why they’re there and what purpose they serve and what they represent.”
Cullen also said that she hopes this project inspires other towns and cities — in Delaware or nationwide — to do the same thing and that she hopes this enlightens the community to the fact that it’s so important to preserve and take care of public art.
Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton said that this project is tremendous in its ability to raise awareness of the amount of art in Newark and that this will direct people to where the art is.
“I’ve been [in Newark] for almost 30 years, and if I had to tell someone where everything that they may be interested in is, from an arts perspective, I’d be hard-pressed to do it,” Clifton said. “This [map] brings everything under one roof, and it directs people to where they need to be. I think even people like myself, who have been here for decades, are going to be quite surprised to see where some of the murals are and other items of interest.”
Clifton also said that the map will help economically because if people are out and about, that encourages making other purchases, like getting a bite to eat amongst other things. Clifton also said that taking a tour of Newark’s art would be a great weekend activity.
“On a quiet weekend day, I think it would be great for people to get out, and see what Newark has to offer, and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Clifton said. “I think that they will find a day that is quite enjoyable and fulfilling and rewarding.”
Wendy Bellion, a professor of art history at the university, said that she thinks the map is an incredible public service and resource, and she said she hopes that it can be expanded on a scale of New Castle County or even the state of Delaware.
“As far as I know, this is the first effort to do any kind of digital and public mapping of sculptures, murals, etc., within the city of Newark, and so I think it’s a really commendable effort,” Bellion said. “I think this is the kind of project that will interest not only students and members of the University of Delaware, but also members of the community, whether they’re new to Newark or whether they’ve been here a long time and are still discovering parts of their town.”
Bellion also said that public art itself is an extremely important part of any community because, in addition to beautifying a community, it creates a multitude of opportunities.
“I think it provides an opportunity for many different voices in any community to contribute to creating the culture of a community, and I think it’s important that any public art program represents a diversity of voices, in terms of artists that are commissioned to do work and the kind of work that we see within public spaces,” Bellion said.
Bellion said that when she taught a class on sculpture a few years ago, she had her students give presentations in front of some of the sculptures that are featured in the map. Bellion also said that when her students were giving these presentations, strangers walking by would stop to listen, an example of the effect public art has.
“They provide these moments for us to stop, to talk, to think together and provide a space for reflection,” Bellion said. “I think that a lot of sculptures that are around campus, some of them are located in more out of the way locations, but some are very prominently displayed and, for example, a lot of the sculptures that are located immediately around Morris Library, they provide a chance for all of us to just, kind of, slow down and think about these objects in our midst. So, they can be spaces for personal reflection, but also community activity.”
The tour can be found here.