Social Justice Public Art Initiative Celebrates Fifth Year of Displays and Events

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—There’s still time to check out “Windows of Understanding,” the free public art initiative on display in four towns around the county.

A number of local arts councils as well as Rutgers University have partnered on the initiative, uniting local artists in New Jersey, non-profit organizations, and businesses here in Middlesex County.

New Brunswick is home to the most art installations, but there are also displays up in Highland Park, Metuchen, and South Plainfield through at least February 28.

This year marks the fifth for the program, which kicked off on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Organizers billed it is a “way to pay homage to Dr. King’s legacy with a designated “Day of Understanding.”

As part of the initiative, the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University has joined with Arts Councils in the four participating communities, making a concerted effort in order to promote awareness around social justice issues.

These issues include: climate change, economic justice, public health, and freedom to protest policy.

One piece of artwork on display in downtown New Brunswick was created by a student in Fukui, Japan.

“It’s important to note that art is a universal language that evokes thoughts, ideas, and meaning to the eye of the beholder,” said Dr. Aubrey A. Johnson, Superintendent of New Brunswick Public Schools, one many partners in the program.

“We are proud of our partnership with Windows of Understanding, which provides our students a framework to develop a critical consciousness, understand the world as they see fit and take action around social injustices.”

Students in the school district participated, including Nezzle Mendez, a senior at New Brunswick High School.

“As the President of Art on the Block club, I believe art can make people explore the world of imagination, as art students see every day,” said Mendez.

“We wanted to show awareness to climate change. We need to change our ways in polluting the world and continue our efforts for generations to come after.”

As Windows of Understanding celebrates five years of promoting social issues, its goal is to combat the negativity in today’s media landscape, according to a press release. 

Some of the featured artists include: Kelly Vetter, Matryce Roach, John Marron, and K Brown. 

One of many art displays visible through storefronts along George Street in downtown New Brunswick.

The artwork on display will be promoting a number of local grassroots efforts and coalitions including: Urban Agriculture Lab at Rutgers University, NJ Black Women Physicians Association, Replenish and the NJ & Harm Coalition.

This year also celebrated civil rights, anti-war activism, Black history, health, wellness, mindfulness and a number of other engaging topics.

January events included performances, a film screening, and a conversation on abolition. 

First in the series was “Envisioning Peace in our Beloved Community,” which featured performances and a discussion with community leaders on how we can promote peace in our community.

The event was presented in partnership with the Rutgers Collaborative Center for Community-Engaged Learning & Research.

On January 20, Dr. Bettina Love discussed movements including hip hop and Black Lives Matter along with how those spaces interest with abolitionist teaching as part of the larger Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Series hosted by New Brunswick Free Public Library.

There was also an opportunity to watch the film “Mountains That Take Wing: Angela Y. Davis and Yuri Kochiyama,” about two radical activists: internationally renowned scholar, professor, and writer Angela Davis and grassroots organizer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Yuri Kochiyama.

The two spent over a decade conversing intimately about personal histories and influences that shaped them and their overlapping experiences in the film.

“The film’s unique format honors the scope and depth of their knowledge on topics ranging from Jim Crow laws and Japanese American internment camps, to Civil Rights, anti-war, women’s and gay liberation movements, to today’s campaigns for political prisoners and prison reform,” according to Women Make Movies.

Throughout the first six weeks of this year’s initiative, several health and wellness discussions were hosted, including workshops on mindfulness, eating right, exercising, and how to detect signs of a potential heart attack.

In February, the Rutgers University Cultural Center hosted a gun safety presentation entitled Be SMART, which provided parents and adults tools on how to normalize conversations on child deaths and injuries, and work together to reduce the rate of suicides and unintentional shootings in the United States.

On a similar theme, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America hosted a painting workshop which allowed participants to paint their own Zen Garden on canvas. This event was led by Dontae Muse, owner and creative director of the Above Art Studios, located on Morris Street in downtown New Brunswick.

A February 15 event hosted by the New Brunswick area branch of the NAACP was called “Opportunities for Advancing Environmental Justice” and featured a presentation from Dr. Nicky Sheats, the Director of the Center for the Urban Environment of the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University.

The NAACP program began by showcasing the work of Carmen Serrano Luna, a Newark-based artist artists whose work is featured in Highland Park.

Carmen Serrano Luna’s artwork is on display in the window of the Highland Park Rite-Aid.

​”It was such a magnificent opportunity to work with this project,” said Serrano Luna, whose work shows a dichotomy between the ongoing fight for environmental justice, and the better future that advocates are fighting for, incorporating the NAACP’s slogan: “When we fight, we win.”

“We are fighting for better conditions. We’re not going to get stuck where we are, and it’s looking to the future,” Serrano Luna said.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Carmen this year,” said Cassandra Oliveras-Moreno, a co-founder of the project. “The formula of Windows of Understanding is that it pairs artists from around the state… of all ages and backgrounds with different social and environmental justice organizations to… render visible the work that they’re doing.”

There’s still at least one more community event scheduled in this year’s Windows of Understanding series. On March 10 at 7:00 PM, Metuchen’s Arts Council and Human Relations Commission will present a community-based education program highlighting the 2022 Windows of Understanding themes.

This session will include the artists who created the works along with their partner organizations featured in the Metuchen Windows of Understanding display, and will be broadcast on the Commission’s Facebook page.

 

Reporter at New Brunswick Today | 732-743-8993 | mobrien@nb.today

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.