‘Syracuse Stories’ Gets Ready: Another Project from Art Across Borders

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 07/17/10More articles
Soon the CNY Arts Covenant celebrates its first anniversary. Last July the compact among citizens to support local art officially launched Arts Week with performances, speeches and a chance to “sign” the compact with your hand-print on the large Arts Covenant quilt. This year’s Arts Week is larger than before. Anchored by the Syracuse Art and Crafts Festival in Columbus Circle and the Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival in Clinton Square, it’ll cover the corridor of city blocks between with vendors, street performers and interactive exhibits. On Thursday, July 29 at 10:00 AM, the Arts Covenant will be in the thick of it, back with a new quilt for your signature and after your promise to help local art flourish.

Last Saturday, on the shady side porch of Mary Stanley’s west side home, one group looked beyond this year’s Arts Week to next summer and something called Syracuse Stories. In the works since last winter, sometimes at the Warehouse Café, sometimes at Strong Hearts Café on East Genesee, Syracuse Stories has unfurled. In the last week of July 2011, the project will invite ordinary Syracusans from the four quadrants and the Onondaga Nation to tell and listen to their stories in collaboration with two other events: Syracuse University’s Say Yes to Education Summer Institute festival in Thorndon Park for 12 City schools, ProLiteracy’s planned cultural literacy festival, capped off with a series of “story trails.”

Storyteller Vanessa Johnson, an organizer of the State Fair’s Pan-African Village, was there, as was Jan Cohen-Cruz, director Imagining America; Rachel Gazdick, director of SU’s Say Yes component; Onondaga Nation faith-keeper and artist Wendy Gonyea; retired teacher Becky Jackson, who promotes the arts at Seymour and other West Side schools; Kate Auwaerter, staff for the Syracuse Public Arts Commission; Kelly Curtis, a student from LeMoyne College’s CURAR project, which is directed by professor Caroline Tauxe, who, along with several others from CFAC, ArtRage and other organizations, couldn’t be there.

But Tauxe was part of the CNY Arts Covenant project too, like most of the others. That project was the brainchild of Mary Stanley, host of the old talk show, Women’s Voices Radio (WAER FM 88). Stanley coordinates the informal working group Art Across Borders, born of her own experience with the astonishing success of the international literary and arts festival known as FLIP, which occurs each summer in the tiny Brazilian coastal city of Paraty. Stanley spends part of each year in Paraty and for some time she’s thought about how she might replicate FLIP here. She first proposed the Arts Covenant in October 2008 at NYSCA’s Cultural Blueprints conference downtown, where it got an enthusiastic reception and two Post-Standard editorials about its potential.

Last Saturday, Syracuse Stories planners discussed similar models used to further communities in telling their stories – Stanley had visited the Social Forum in Detroit and been in touch with Maine’s Beehive Collective. She and Vanessa Johnson reported on discussions already underway with the Gifford Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce Visitors’ Bureau about how to fine-tune plans, design programming, target sponsor fund-raising and ensure true grassroots participation.

The group spent a fair portion of the meeting working out the logistics of exactly how Syracuse Stories might be integrated with SU’s Say Yes Festival in Thorndon Park and considering sites for the other days. Say Yes is doubling the number of counselors and City students in this summer’s camp for art, science and performance; Gazdick says they eventually hope to offer spots to parochial and charter school students plus those from the Onondaga Nation School. Next year’s Say Yes camp will grow too. This July 28 – the day before Arts Week launches downtown – the Say Yes Festival in Thornden will have two stages, 14 tents and reps from 28 local agencies who want to offer things like health care information to students and their families.

Armed with a vision of what Stanley calls “making the invisible city visible,” the Syracuse Stories planners have been patiently making their way through the thicket of such logistics and collaboration.

“And I’ve been recruiting,” said Vanessa Johnson. “I went into one store and he was so excited about telling the story of his father’s business. He has a photo of his father up there. There are enough ‘griots’ around town to do this, yes. He wanted his own clientele to interact in a different way and of course some publicity too, but also a chance to honor. His dad has passed and he’s a religious man. And that’s what stories do – honor.”

This article also appeared in the July 15, 2010 print edition of "The Eagle." Syracuse Stories next meets the morning of Friday, July 23rd. For more information, contact Mary Stanley at marybstanl@aol.com. For more details on Arts Week 2010, July 29 – August 7, go to http://bit.ly/bAxbba. Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at nancykeeferhodes@gmail.com.

CATEGORY: Performing Arts
TAGS: Syracuse Stories, Art Across Borders, CNY Arts Covenant, Mary Stanley, Say yes to Education, Imagining America, Vanessa Johnson, Nancy Keefe Rhodes
EDITION: The Eagle

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