In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, at a time when cities were choosing to topple statues that limited the scope of their people’s story, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka catalyzed a project to erect a monument that would spur Newark into its future story of exemplary strength and solidity. “We have created a focal point in the heart of our city that expresses our participation in an ongoing living history of a people who have grappled through many conflicts to steadily lead our nation in its progress toward racial equality,” the mayor said at the time.
Unveiled to the public in spring 2023, “Shadow of a Face” is a new monument dedicated to American abolitionist Harriet Tubman that represents a key intersection of culture, past and present.
Led by the City of Newark in collaboration with Audible, the Newark Museum of Art, and other stakeholders, the monument features an interactive audio installation curated and produced by Audible, consisting of stories of Tubman’s life intertwined with narratives about the Underground Railroad and the history of free Black communities in New Jersey. Designed by renowned artist and architect Nina Cooke John, the monument plays the immersive sound experience for visitors, narrated by Newark native Queen Latifah and voices of Newark community members. Alongside Cooke John, the City of Newark, Honk Tweet and a diverse design and content team assembled by Audible, Arup provided acoustic and audiovisual services to deliver an innovative cultural monument that uplifts and educates the surrounding community.
Visitors can walk along a circular “learning wall” and read about Newark’s history and the life of Tubman and her indelible work on the famous Underground Railroad. The audio is composed of narratives about the Underground Railroad and the history of Black liberation in New Jersey, informed by research developed by local historians.
© Cesar Melgar, DreamPlay Media
Located in Harriet Tubman Square in Newark, New Jersey, the auditory experience needed to strike a delicate balance of being heard while not disturbing parkgoers or nearby residents. To solve the acoustic complexities of the project, Arup utilized its SoundLab to help meet the client’s goals all while preserving and enabling the artist’s vision.
Innovating past the noise
Throughout the design process, special attention was paid to ensuring the visitor experience would not be affected by the nearby highway and lightrail, which both pose significant risks for sound interference. To address this, Arup determined how to best ensure that the quality and intelligibility of a multi-layered and intricate audio recording be maintained amidst difficult and changing auditory surroundings.
Team members visited the site and used a 3D microphone to collect a recording of the existing soundscape, which was then used to develop a presentation using Arup’s SoundLab, effectively recreating what the installation would sound like when situated in the park. Lead audio designer Wolfgang Gil, audible staff, and Cooke John attended the demo, in which the collective team confirmed that the project’s audio and aesthetic goals could be achieved without disrupting nearby park users or local residents. The Arup team also provided acoustic calculations to verify and offer the proper bounds in which the installation could play without exceeding local noise ordinances.
We're proud to have been involved with this project at nearly all stages, from providing confidence and enabling its feasibility to ensuring a continually successful reception by the community after installation. Relying on our expertise and working closely with the client and artist, we were able to help develop an artistically and technically sound monument that both remembers history and pushes it forward. ” Terence Caulkins Associate
Meeting artistic and community goals
Our team advised on sizing and location of audiovisual infrastructure to ensure that sound from the remote amplifiers would come through clearly and crisply, without interference from other electrical systems such as lighting. We also worked closely with the artist and fabricator to design custom perforated finishes that would conceal and integrate the loudspeakers in the sculpture in order to meet the aesthetic goals of the artist while maintaining the highest possible level of quality in the audio experience.
Once the monument was physically installed on site, Arup brought an extra level of assurance and exactness to the final result. The team provided feedback on speaker locations and orientation and helped to equalize the sound, making the voices clearer and more balanced with the musical components of the immersive installation.
We were excited to work with the Arup team, which contributed its technical expertise to help enhance the monument’s audio installation. It was great to collaborate on Audible’s first permanent, site-based sound installation, and amplify the impact of the monument while sharing stories of Harriet Tubman and the history of Black liberation in New Jersey. ” Aisha Glover Head of Urban Innovation at Audible