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  • Jon Curley

Attention, NewArk Narrators! We Helped Build This Ark!

This past spring semester, I collaborated with my New Jersey Institute of Technology senior seminar students, Gallery Aferro in downtown Newark, Gallery Aferro director Emma Wilcox, Rutgers-Newark historian Mark Krasovic, and Newark native, generous benefactor, and dear friend, Robert Singer. Much collaboration and creative energy ensued!! I want to break down this collective effort in a way that clarifies the intentions of the performance project and discusses the varied aesthetic, experiential, and personal values of this work. Of course I write only from my theoretical and practical vantage and know many other voices have their own inputs, insights, recollections, senses of accomplishment and shortcoming. Maybe some of those excellent, intrepid souls will comment here and furnish a corrective, more pluralistic depth of perspective.


So...


My senior seminar NEWARK NARRATIVES is a literary and historical survey of local art and culture, a much needed corrective for students and seekers wanting more than superficial and media-driven images ideas and images of this powerful yet problematic city. Too many institutions in Newark operate as de facto colonies with very little organic connection to the city or its citizens. My course tries to make its students NEWARK NARRATORS, ethnographic voyagers who immerse and embed themselves deeply in the city and the practice of thinking about cities. NJIT is a polytechnical university and I want my students to be truly poly-technicians, not tunnel-visioned techno-pragmatists who fixate on STEM with too little grounded sensibility in their practical humanity.


As I tell my students, this course is designed to push the four walls of the academic classroom into the streets, to rely on praxis not just theory, empathizing not just intellectualizing. Some of my Narrators become prodigies of civic engagement and sensitivity; others--strictly a minority, mind you-- will never repeal their suburban mentalities and will fall back into complacency and lack of concern. But we fight on,

and those who become attuned to the City around them really ignite with ethical and environmental light.


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Here is the description of our project and our dramatic event:


“I Remember The Ark” on May 3rd Main Gallery @ Gallery Aferro

4:30pm @ 73 Market Street


“I Remember the Ark” at Gallery Aferro is a spoken-word performance extravaganza dramatized by NJIT students in Jon Curley’s NEWARK NARRATIVES senior seminar.


The text, a collation of Facebook comments and reflections curated and arranged by Rutgers-Newark History Professor Dr. Mark Krasovic as part of the 2016 oral history and exhibition project at Gallery Aferro, created in collaboration with the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, and preserves memories of Kea’s Ark, a legendary wooden ship construction built by Kea Tawana (1940-2016) in Newark’s Central Ward during the mid-1980s.


The text’s form is partially inspired by radio plays, and represents an experiment in public humanities with polyphonic memory work. These brief, fragmented, momentary reminisces weave a tapestry of stories and anecdotes from various members of the Newark community.


Those communal voices are now joined by these students, summoning the past and launching the memory of Kea’s ship into the present. It is a powerful and poetic evocation that movingly shifts the site of the Ark into the gallery, into the eternal space of collective memory.


This special one-off production comes in the wake of “Kea’s Ark: A Life in Works,” the culminating 2016 exhibition of Gallery Aferro and the Institute’s collaboration, and is made possible by a generous donation by Bob Singer.


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And here is a photograph of the Ark in its material and spiritual sublimity:

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So what was this actual endeavor? Every few weeks, we rehearsed Prof. Krasovic's creatively engineered script, breaking up the students into vocal units and letting their voices merge with history, with Newark, Tea Kawana's Ark, and the many people who expressed opinions and ideas about Tea Kawana and the Ark. Over the semester

and through much practice, the students successfully crafted an urban aria, becoming part of the bricks of Brick City, re-conjuring the demolished Ark imaginatively and, by doing so, resurrecting the recently deceased Tea Kawana. Gallery Aferro thereby became a site of resurrection, renovation, and imagination, a threshold through which history, ghosts, objects, students, and citizens passed, infused by critical and creative energies. Also, compassion and conscience, both of which are too limited or lacking in this world.


My students and I will continue to engage the City and its People and create spaces that become passageways for bringing the academic institutions into street and onto a more inclusive notion about what it means to work on site. Out of sight!


Hark, New Ark!


We need to foster intensive alliances in our various communities and help each other build a better world because a better world is possible. Isn't it?


I welcome any suggestions for pedagogical practices and methods of making universities and their environments more deeply intertwined and mutually nurturing. Please write me...


(Images from Rehearsals at Gallery Aferro, 73 Market Street, Newark, New Jersey)








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© 2018 Jon Curley