Pay attention to Newark, New Jersey. A quick train ride from Manhattan and you’ve arrived at Gateway Project Spaces (GPS). An innovative and community-oriented art space and residency program focused on supporting art for social engagement. Founders Rebecca Jampol and Jasmine Wahi gave us a tour of the recently renovated space and spoke with us about the thriving arts community in Newark.

Rebecca Jampol and Jasmine Wahi

Rebecca Jampol and Jasmine Wahi

1. How did the two of you meet and why did you start Gateway Project Spaces?

Jasmine: Rebecca and I met through artists with whom we were working with back in 2008. The artists were collaborating in a gallery that Rebecca and Deana (Deana Haggag, now Director of The Contemporary in Baltimore) owned called JaJo in Newark. After that show we all went our own ways, vaguely staying in touch. In 2012 Rebecca reached out to me about curating an exhibition in a vacant office space that she had been asked to activate because I was working with vacant and abandoned urban spaces through an organization that I co-founded, Project For Empty Space, in 2010. Our collaboration for a pop-up exhibition went really well, and ended up turning into a series, and after two years we decided to take over the lease on the office space. With the help of the building owners we were able renovate the facility, and extend our footprint from 13,000 square feet to nearly 30,000 square feet and have a 'mixed-use' space that combined my experience in non-profit art with Rebecca's experience running a studio program. That extension is what we now call Gateway Project Spaces, and Project For Empty Space is the name of our gallery. 

2. What does Newark mean to you, and how do you see this space acting as an arts hub for the public?

Rebecca: Newark means everything to me. As a young adult, a student at Rutgers-Newark - I was introduced to a community of go-getters, extremely motivated and thriving artists and gallerists. Working in a city like Newark, one that has foregone struggle, one that is currently fighting to rid itself of a stigma - is not easy for an artist. Access to resources, support, a market are fought for.  

Jasmine: I love Newark. I love it's history- all parts of it's history- because that's what makes it such a phenomenal city with incredible narratives, and talent, and people. There's a phrase that I think sums it up from an image made by Nick Kline drawing from records of the Newark municipal archives in the 1970's- it reads "Newark Will See It Through". 

David Antonio Cruz | Project For Empty Space Artist-in-Residence [at] Gateway Project Spaces

David Antonio Cruz | Project For Empty Space Artist-in-Residence [at] Gateway Project Spaces

3. The building that Gateway Project Spaces is housed in was built after the Newark riots in the late 1960s, how do you see the program that you’re creating changing the public’s perception of what the building used to stand for?

Jasmine: The Gateway Center (made up of four different buildings) was, for the most part, created as a corporate haven. I think GPS being here is a paradigm shift or disruption of that perception of corporate or austere environment. As an arts and community space in the gateways, I think we automatically bring in an entirely different flavor to the environment. I hope we make people feel welcome, and as though they belong- I hope people feel some sense of shared ownership and pride about the space. 

4. What would you say are the most important reasons for creating a residency program specifically to support art for social/community engagement?

Rebecca: The residency program is an exciting part of our gallery and nonprofit component. Inviting artist to have a studio and create a body of work specific to their time in Newark, allows us to further place Newark on the map as a place of inspiration. The required component to interact with the community through a workshop, public work or partnership is important to us as an organization dedicated to encourage social dialogue, education, and systemic change for cultural tolerance.

5. Can you tell us a bit about the Nina Chanel Abney exhibition currently in Project For Empty Space titled, If You Say So…

Rebecca: Nina Chanel Abney is a really special artist to have as our very first artist in residence and first solo exhibition in the space since we opened last April.  Abney's work is extremely relevant, not only to our community but to the larger movement #blacklivesmatter, and the ongoing discussion of brown and black bodies in urban spaces. Her work and her as an artist has as of recent been noted in a very large way. She is a part of "Flatlands, " a recent group exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It is our pleasure to welcome her to the City of Newark to make art at Gateway Project Spaces and to be part of Project for Empty Space residency program. 

Nina Chanel Abney | Project For Empty Space Artist-in-Residence [at] Gateway Project Spaces

Nina Chanel Abney | Project For Empty Space Artist-in-Residence [at] Gateway Project Spaces

Part of Nina Chanel Abney's exhibition  If You Say So...  in the Project For Empty Space at Gateway Project Spaces 

Part of Nina Chanel Abney's exhibition If You Say So... in the Project For Empty Space at Gateway Project Spaces 

6. How would you describe the community of artists in the building (outside of the residency program)?

Jasmine: Talented and diverse. The artists that we have here come from all different disciplines- painters, writers, sculptors, fashion designers, photographers, musicans (just to name a few). What I love is that, in spite of (or because of) their differences some collaborations and dialogues are starting to crop up organically. When we started this, Rebecca and I were really keen on cultivating an artist community, and that's starting to happen.  

Audrey Ryan in her studio at Gateway Project Spaces

Audrey Ryan in her studio at Gateway Project Spaces

7. What has been one of the most rewarding parts of running Gateway Project Spaces so far?

Rebecca: The everyday, walking into a space and realizing that you built it from the ground up and that you are able to create, among a community on a scale that enhances the city that we are in through the arts. 

Jasmine: Opening! Haha, that's kind of a joke. But in all seriousness, making this pipe dream become a reality has been the most rewarding part of this process. Not for nothing, but Rebecca and I are two women under 35 (under 30 for me) who started this project as a labor of love, we put in a lot of money and work and time (and sweat and tears) into these projects because we wanted to. And then to have the opportunity to really turn it into a permanent thing- to have building owners who are flexible and open to growing with us is really incredible. And to have an a team of all women, of all colors, is really a dream come true for me. 

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