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Social justice initiative features local art across New Brunswick

“Windows of Understanding” pairs local art with organizations and businesses across New Brunswick and Highland Park in an effort to discuss social issues.  – Photo by Photo by Declan Intindola | The Daily Targum

Artistic parties from the New Brunswick-Highland Park area are teaming up to raise awareness for social justice issues in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy.

“Windows of Understanding” is a collaboration between local artists, organizations and businesses that display art across two dozen storefront windows in both neighborhoods. Some of the streets include Church, George and French in New Brunswick, along with Raritan Avenue in Highland Park. 

To put the project into action, New Brunswick Community Arts Council, Mason Gross School of the Arts and the Highland Park Arts Commission paired approximately 20 local artists — most from Mason Gross — with community groups and institutions to create artworks that centered around a theme important to the agency, according to the Mason Gross website

The artwork addressed current issues in the local community, including cultural identity, faith-based initiatives, environmental conservation, homelessness, food insecurity and youth mentoring. 

“For this project, I want to send a clear message, while at the same time producing a good work of art that highlights and tells the story of an exceptional organization that cares for the entire community,” said Enrique Figueredo, Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidate and project contributor. 

The graduate student partnered with Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick-based anti-hunger organization and culinary school, to create a piece that centered around the organization’s vision — “Food is Love.”

Figueredo’s installation entailed a combination of oil pastel, pencil and charcoal on a large-scale fabric canvas to illustrate the busy atmosphere of Elijah’s Promise. His project will be displayed at Harvest Moon Brewery and Café on George Street.

A diverse group of Cultural Centers at the University collaborated for this project — the New Brunswick Free Public Library, New Brunswick Tomorrow, Muslim Feminists for the Arts, Puerto Rican Action Board, Coming Home Middlesex, coLAB Arts and the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.

“Mason Gross is proud to support the 'Windows of Understanding' project through the work of our visual arts students, alumni and staff facilitators,” said George B. Stauffer, dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts. “The school has enhanced the creative community in New Brunswick for more than four decades, and it is a natural fit to participate in this important initiative to address and interpret the social justice issues of our communities through art.”

Cassandra Oliveras-Moreno, a founding member of "Windows of Understanding," said she worked alongside co-founders, Jennifer Sevilla and Tracey O’Reggio, to develop the idea for a public art project and launched it with the tagline, “We See Through Hate,” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“I think it’s critical in this media landscape that we seize opportunities to create ‘peaceful disruptions’ in people’s dailyness,” said Moreno, who is also the Communications and Collaboration administrator at Mason Gross School of the Arts. “I think art has the ability to communicate across boundaries that other mediums can’t."

She said that the local artists who took part in the project came from different backgrounds and represented the variety of demographics working and living in the area. 

“New Brunswick is a very diverse place, and we wanted to make sure our artists represented that,” Moreno said. 

Faith Franzonia, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she worked with the Reformed Church of Highland Park (RCHP) to create artwork that addressed the prevalence of mental illnesses in the United States. 

RCHP — through a church-based mental health services program — provides low and no-cost mental health counseling to patients. 

Franzonia produced her piece by taking more than 100 donated vinyl records, covering them with a base of white paint and then painting “faces” on approximately one-fifth of the records to show that approximately 1 in 5 adults cope with a mental health issue in their life. 

Franzonia said she was drawn to the RCHP’s work because several of her friends have gone through their own mental health problems. 

“It made sense for me to choose this issue,” she said. 

Her installation is displayed on the intersection of George and Albany streets, next to the Starbucks. 

The city-wide public art project will be on display until Feb. 15 and events involving the installations can be found on the "Windows of Understanding" website.

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