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Akwaaba Gallery, 509 South Orange Ave., Newark, is one of the recipients of the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Grant Program. The New Community Federal Credit Union (NCFCU) helped several local businesses apply for the grants. Photo courtesy of Laura Bonas Palmer.

New Community Federal Credit Union Facilitates COVID-19 Grants for Local Businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on small businesses throughout the country. Assistance to those businesses has sometimes come in the form of grants. The New Community Federal Credit Union (NCFCU), as a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, participated in the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Grant Program, helping local businesses apply for and get approval for grants.

“The NCFCU appreciates the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York for allowing us to provide financial assistance to local small businesses in their time of need,” said NCFCU Director Mulu Gebreyesus.

One of those small businesses is Akwaaba Gallery, an art gallery located on South Orange Avenue in Newark’s West Ward. Laura Bonas Palmer runs Akwaaba Gallery, which she owns with husband Ray Palmer, Senior Property Manager of Manor Family for New Community Corporation.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Akwaaba Gallery was forced to close as were many local businesses. The gallery had only been open for a little more than a year and did not qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Bonas Palmer heard about the possibility of a small business grant and contacted Gebreyesus to learn more. She submitted the necessary documentation and was approved for the grant.

The funding is for the operation of the gallery. Although Akwaaba Gallery closed to the public on March 16, Bonas Palmer explained that she set up a new show in the space and shared it with the public virtually. The virtual show was available online and showed photographs of the art on display on the gallery walls. People were able to browse the show online and purchase pieces as if they visited the gallery in person. Bonas Palmer said people are still buying art despite the current economic climate.

Akwaaba Gallery reopened July 22 with visitors required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Hand sanitizer dispensers are also installed in the space. The virtual show is still up in the gallery for visitors to see in person. Bonas Palmer expects to hang the next show in September for an October opening. Visitors should RSVP for the October show to ensure social distancing can be maintained.

In addition to general operations, Bonas Palmer plans to use some of the grant money to help kickstart a reading and arts club for children in the neighborhood around Akwaaba Gallery, including those that are a part of NCC.

“My vision is to get the kids engaged in the arts and make them feel like what’s happening in Newark, what’s happening in the neighborhood is for them as well,” she said. “They’ll come in, they’ll see the art that’s on the walls. Maybe sometimes we might have artists come in and talk to them.”

She also plans to purchase books for the children to help them build their libraries and have individuals come and read to them periodically.

In addition to the grant NCFCU facilitated, Akwaaba Gallery also received a small arts-related grant from the City of Newark. Bonas Palmer plans to use some of that grant to help with the reading and arts club as well.

Bonas Palmer said she had the idea for an art gallery for nearly a decade before Akwaaba Gallery opened. She had contemplated purchasing a property in downtown Newark but ultimately decided on the current space in the West Ward.

“A lot of people questioned why I would even consider putting a gallery in the West Ward,” Bonas Palmer said. “My response to that has always been why not? Art is for everyone.”

That mindset permeates in the way Bonas Palmer runs Akwaaba Gallery. Akwaaba means welcome and Bonas Palmer always wants people to feel accepted in the space. There is no charge for visitors to enter the gallery and view the artwork. She encourages people of all ages to come inside.

The pandemic and forced closing of the gallery for four months has been difficult, but Bonas Palmer is grateful for the grant money the gallery has received and is optimistic about the future.

“It’s challenging, but I think it’s going to work itself out,” she said.

Gebreyesus is glad NCFCU has been able to help local small businesses like Akwaaba Gallery with the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Grant Program.

“NCFCU is proud that we were able to assist a few local businesses in applying and getting approved for the grant up to $10,000,” she said.

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