When Newark Mayor Ras Baraka asked fayemi shakur to join his administration as the city’s arts and cultural affairs director in 2020, she was hesitant. Her star was rising as a professional artist and writer, and she wondered if this new role would hamper her. Ultimately, it was a position she could not turn down.
“I knew the issues in our artists’ community, and the types of support and the sustainability that [were] needed and deserved,” she says.“Here’s the main thing. I believe that you can do the work if you want to do the work.”
In her role as Newark’s arts and cultural affairs director, shakur (who styles her name without capital letters) took a leading role in the erecting of the new monument to Harriet Tubman, which was unveiled in Newark in March. Leading up to the unveiling, she worked steadfastly to shape the process in a way that centered on Newarkers.
shakur’s ties to Newark run deep. Originally from Plainfield, she spent time as a child visiting her great-grandmother there. She began writing poetry and prose at a young age and was a voracious reader. She moved to Newark in the late 1990s, shortly after finishing her undergraduate studies at New Jersey City University, where she studied journalism.
shakur cemented her career as a cultural doyenne and arts advocate around this time, writing for nationally recognized publications, as well as working at numerous cultural institutions in Newark.
Writing has been a way for her to both create community and to amplify marginalized voices. In 2019, shakur founded A Womb of Violet, a project-based collective “that honors the work of contemporary Black women writers, poets and artists and pays homage to Black feminist and womanist thinkers.” The first volume of an anthology that shakur edited featured the work of women from the collective, all Newark natives.
Looking into the future, shakur has her sights on Newark Symphony Hall, New Jersey’s largest and oldest arts and entertainment venue. In 2021 she was elected as board chair and has been working to revitalize the space.
Currently, shakur is working on a capital campaign to raise funds to restore the building.
“It just would be a phenomenal gift to the city to see that institution return back to its beauty,” says shakur. “Sarah Vaughn performed there, Marian Anderson, Jimi Hendrix. So many phenomenal artists.”