CLEMENT PRICE & MARY SUE SWEENEY PRICE
Education, the Arts
When Clement Price, a historian and distinguished professor at Rutgers University’s Newark campus, was quoted in an Esquire story about Newark Mayor Cory Booker last year, writer Scott Raab introduced the charismatic 63-year-old as “what passeth for God in this city, in terms of his omniscience.”
His wife of twenty years, Newark Museum executive director Mary Sue Sweeney Price, 57, has been described as a passionate visionary and “one of the most respected and admired museum leaders in the country.”
The two shy away from the word “power,” but they certainly hold sway in this ever-changing city of 275,000—and for good reason. In addition to bringing world-class art, educational excellence, civic dialogue, and historical appreciation to Newark through the plethora of roles they play, they have stuck with the country’s third oldest city through some of its most difficult times.
“This city rewards people who dig in and try to contribute to the general public good,” says Clement, who moved to Newark the year after the riots of 1967 to become a professor at Essex County College and signed on at Rutgers one year later. “That might be an aspect of what we would call, not power, but civic prowess. No one would question our fealty to the city, or to the state for that matter…. We also chose to live here at a time when people were bailing out of the city. That has mattered.”
As they sit in the sunny front parlor of their Lincoln Park row house in the heart of one of the city’s emerging cultural districts, surrounded by the colorful works of local artists whom the couple have met through the years, the pair fairly glow with pride when they talk about their respective institutions or the city.
Mary Sue, who joined the museum’s public relations office in 1975, says the importance of learning and civic discourse cannot be overstated, and the Newark Museum—which celebrates its centennial this year—has been a long-standing pillar of culture in a community that has both struggled through turbulence and blossomed with diversity and a healthy crop of universities. “I wouldn’t say it’s a feeling of power,” she says. “It’s a feeling of joy and excitement, of sharing and knowing that we worked hard to create these forums that are meaningful to people.”
It was a love for culture that brought the couple together in 1975. They met while planning the following year’s Newark Black Film Festival, of which they are both still a part. Because Clement became chairman of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and “got tickets to everything,” the two started attending arts events together. In 1988, they wed at Trinity Cathedral in Newark in a lengthy ceremony that culminated in “thunderous applause,” Mary Sue says with a laugh. “Maybe everyone was just happy it was finally over.”
Since then, their circle has continued to grow to include some of the city, state, and country’s most prominent faces, including Booker and, more recently, President-elect Barack Obama. Clement is part of the White House transition team helping to choose the new leadership for the National Endowment for the Humanities, a role he says he is honored to fill.
That is just one more role in a list that includes items such as Clement’s founding and directing the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, and Mary Sue’s tenure as president of the Newark Arts Council. The couple has racked up numerous awards, including the 2008 Charles Cummings award from the Trustees of the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee, presented to Clement for “outstanding contributions to the knowledge and appreciation of Newark history.”
Despite their affection for Newark, Clement and Mary Sue are most vocal in their praise for each other. (Mary Sue: “Clem is so wise…and I don’t think the Newark we know today would exist without his interpretive voice guiding us.” Clement: “Mary Sue’s generosity of spirit has helped a full generation of people in New Jersey appreciate the arts.”)
When asked what accomplishment brings them the most satisfaction, they each say, without hesitation, being married to the other. “It’s been quite a ride,” says Clement. “We were really just kids when we met, but we’ve hung in there together, and I’m proud to say we brought a lot of people into our lives who say they’re glad they met us.”
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