Newark has been a major character in the story of my life since I moved here with Adam almost 8 years ago. We were both fresh graduates from art school and while most of our classmates were headed to Brooklyn and some to Queens, we decided on Newark, NJ. An artist friend, Holli Schorno had been living in Newark for 18 years and she had everything we hoped for as artists. Huge loft space, Chelsea gallery representation, no "day job", she was even starting a family, traveled, and spent a lot of time in NYC. Most artists have to make compromises in order to create their work, living in Newark didn't seem like a bad compromise in order to live better. Plus, at this time Cory Booker was running for mayor and there was so much talk about Newark's "Rebirth", "Rennaisance", "Revitilazation". We were excited to be artist pioneers and become apart of the community and art scene.
My move from lovely Montclair, NJ created a lot of concern from my family members. A family member actually told me, "I just don't want the next time I see you to be in a body bag". My older brother called me one day and I believe he was trying to have some kind of intervention. He told me that it was a huge financial mistake, although I don't think he was really concerned about my finances since my rent was half as much as my friends who just moved to Brooklyn. The bottom line was, Newark's bad reputation for violence and poverty made everyone concerned for my safety.
Despite the warnings and my parents pleading with me to find an apartment somewhere else, we made the move. The first month we were in Newark I had experienced so many new things which left me both horrified, thrilled, and proud.
Billboards were installed across the main strip of Rt.21 which runs through the city reading "Stop The Killings In Newark". When my friends came to visit they were so scared! I told them, don't worry, its just some political move that the teacher's union is playing up(total lie). I just wanted them to feel safe and change their point of view about the city. They were also concerned about the graffiti on the side of my building that read: "DETOX THE GHETTO". My response was, "but that's a positive message!", it was actually a piece if artwork by Jerry Gant who spoke about it at a satellite Ted talk. Hearing gun shots night-after-night turned into a game we called "gunshot or firework".
But I quickly became a proud resident and understood that the city is only as bad as we allow it to be in our minds. I also proudly would tell people that I live in Newark and I love it. I desperately wanted to at least change the minds of my family members and friends.
Between good press from Cory Booker, actual decline in crimes, throwing parties in our huge loft, and making this life work for us I know that my family and close friends were over the years converts. My younger brother moved to Newark for school! My older brother drives to Newark everyday to take the Path to work, my parents meet us here for dinner, and our friends love to blog about and Instagram our place.
So the reason for this blog post is an email I received a few days ago from a store in the southwest who contact us about an item. They asked if we could change the care card in the packaging so it doesn't say anything about Newark(currently says "hand printed in Newark, NJ. USA."). They said it would broaden our market if we just put "hand printed in America". So of course I asked if it's because people look for made in USA or if Newark has a narrow appeal, and they said both. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but yes! This was the conversation.
So I'm torn. But mainly offended. I love being called a Newark-based business because we get to send objects around the country and the world that represent the city that has given us the ability to make things. It also gives us a chance to recreate the version of Newark that people have in their minds. I truly hate the idea that we are limited by our affiliation with Newark. Do we abandon this idea in order to grow as a business?
Then I think about the rebirth and massive growth in Brooklyn. I imagine that some pub in another part of the country asked Brooklyn Brewery to down-play the Brooklyn part so they can better sell their product. Ha! Now businesses use the word "Brooklyn" to their advantage in names and packaging because of its mass-appeal.
My heart says, stand by my man(Newark). But my entrepreneurial spirit says that I'm being too proud and I need to creatively give paying customers what they want.
This time, I'll listen to my heart.