Art in Bloom

Newark’s Essex County Branch Brook Park comes to life long after summer with the Cherry Blossoms in Winter installation

By Fran Bartkowski, Project Director

Newark’s historic Essex County Branch Brook Park–designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, as were Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn–is famous for its collection of 5,000 flowering cherry trees that attract tens of thousands of admiring visitors in the spring each year. However, in winter, these fleetingly beautiful trees are barren.

Inspired by the Christo Gates Project of 2005 in Central Park, our collaborative multimedia public art project transformed this site for the month of December 2016. Dozens of bare cherry trees became temporary art installations done by students of art teachers in Newark and elsewhere, senior citizens of Newark, and local, regional, and international artists.


Wintery Celebration

Countless citizens of the city, the county and the region who regularly drive, walk, bicycle, and wander the park were entranced, as they are during cherry blossom season in April, when they discovered public art along the 4-mile thoroughfare from the southern end of the park which begins across from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and continues to the northern end at the Belleville border.

All installations were made of materials meant to withstand the winter weather, and the spirit of renewal marked the project which concluded the 350th anniversary of the city of Newark.

This project joined citizens of New Jersey and drew visitors from around the state, the region, the country and international visitors and artists to New Jersey’s largest city.  Cherry Blossoms in Winter promoted arts education in K-12 schools, encouraging students to work creatively and collaboratively–a critical component of education, across all fields of learning.


Setting the Scene

Cherry Blossoms in Winter moved forward over the last three years as numerous stakeholders and creative placemakers were inspired by collaborations within our arts and education worlds.  The works by schoolchildren and professional artists were juxtaposed as “neighbors” and as their “gifts” to the city and the park, and fired up the imaginations of those involved.

The Call for Proposals was publicized beginning in 2015 through email communication and social media as well as through networks of prominent art organizations in the city and state such as the Newark Arts Education Roundtable, the Newark Arts Council, the Newark Museum and the Barat Foundation. We had Rutgers-Newark student interns working with K-12 teachers; they also helped to distribute the Call for Proposals, and volunteered in numerous capacities including the making and installing of the art works themselves.

We had more than 40 installations by 30 artists and groups.  The schools included many in the Newark Public School system (Quitman, Ann Street, Ridge Street, Arts High, Science Park High, Barringer STEAM and Arts and Humanities, Louise A. Spencer), as well as Newark Prep, a charter school, and Sophia Domville with Kids Corp, a community school, and Essex County Vocational and Technical High School.  We had two international artists, Rebecca Louise Law, from London ( who created and then installed her work in the Barbara Bell Coleman Pavilion.  Eirini Linardaki, from Greece and New York City, ( had her work on view in multiple locations. Other participating artists included Sophia Sobers, Donna Bassin, Lisa Conrad and Stephen McKenzie of the Newark Printshop, Anne McKeown, Joseph Thomas, Richard Moore, Dimitri Reyes, Jaime Kimak, Clara Reyes-Orozco, Christine Rivera, William Oliwa, Nina Kuo, and Janis Blayne-Paul and Mary Bowe.  Matt Gosser worked as our curator and also exhibited four of his installations in multiple locations.  

We raised over $100,000 in our efforts to bring this project to fruition.  In June of 2016, due to the angelic work of Barbara Bell Coleman, Prudential Financial came on board as our marquee sponsor, and we received the generous support of the Branch Brook Park Alliance and the Ryan Family Foundation.  


Spreading the Word

By the time of our opening event on December 1, 2016, all the spheres we had hoped to bring into communication and collaboration were present: WBGO radio had interviewed me for their series spotlighting some of the events celebrating Newark’s 350th, and Barry Carter of The Star-Ledger attended so he could begin talking with many people in the preparation of his article that appeared on December 13, 2016, in the New Jersey section, “Branches of Art: Rutgers-Newark Project Brings Cherry Trees to Life.”  

Remarks on that occasion were offered by Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Dean Jan Lewis of RU-Newark, Spring Lacy of Prudential, Gwen Moten of the Mayor’s Office, Barbara Bell Coleman of the Branch Brook Park Alliance, Joseph DiVincenzo, our County Executive, and Jackie Harris of Newark 350.  There were more than 100 people in attendance that evening, and more came to our five public events during December, which included a balloon chain that hovered above the Welcome Center for an entire day, poetry readings by high school and college students, African drumming by young children led by Maya Workman of Montclair, a Story Pole workshop led by Janis Blayne-Paul and Mary Bowe.  

The Forest Hills Neighborhood Association became involved as volunteers and informal publicists for the project which enhanced their own location along the east side of the park. As Project Director, I received unsolicited phone calls and emails from folks who had visited the exhibits and wanted to express their surprise and appreciation for what they had seen. I also found myself in many conversations with park visitors all during the month of December as I traveled the park to and from work, and to check on the exhibits as the weather changed.

Numerous people, including many of the artists and teachers have been asking about whether this will be a recurring event and public art project. In our earliest visions we fantasized about our success as a potential harbinger of a public art biennial for Newark and the park. Such aspirations remain to be realized in the coming years, but we have surely given to many a remade view of a place that is much loved, and now will be seen anew in winter, even as this year’s spring spectacle comes along in April.


Working Together

Among the people responsible for guiding our efforts all along were our advisory board members.


Advisory Board Members

Fran Bartkowski, Co-Chair, Rutgers University-Newark

Kate Hartwyk, Co-Chair, County of Essex

Chandri Barat, Barat Foundation

Gwen Moten, Office of the Mayor

Robert Provost, Newark Regional Business Partnership

Steven Kern, Newark Museum

Adrienne Wheeler, Rutgers University-Newark

Anonda Bell, Robeson Gallery

Anne Englot, Rutgers University-Newark

Kathleen Galop, Preservation Possibilities, LLC

Byron Clark, Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau

Jeremy Johnson, Newark Arts Council

Irene O’Brien, Rutgers University-Newark

Robin Semple, Rutgers University-Newark

Marcel Vaughn-Handy, Rutgers University-Newark

Kristina Micu, Rutgers University-Newark