Ithaca artists start community conversations through public pieces

By Jessica Corbett and Sally Young

This is one of many murals featured on the streets of Ithaca, New York. (Photo by Sally Young)

This is one of many murals featured on the streets of Ithaca, New York. (Photo by Sally Young)

Marla Coppolino has worked as a science illustrator for more than 20 years, but recently she took her artistic skills to the streets of Ithaca to paint two electrical boxes at the intersection of Albany and Court Streets.

Coppolino’s boxes were part of the 21 Boxes project commissioned by the City of Ithaca through the Public Art Commission. Through the project, artists were contracted to paint electrical boxes around the city.

“I enjoyed doing this public painting project because I feel it gives everyone the chance to stop and appreciate artwork, right there by the street, along their daily walks,” Coppolino said.

Coppolino works at Cornell University, but is also an artist and a malacologist, meaning she studies land snails on the side.

“I like to showcase snails as something very beautiful and help change public perception about snails, because most people think they’re pretty gross and slimy,” she said. “When they look at how beautiful snails are, I can start to talk to them about how important snails are to the ecosystem.”

The artists who create public art in Ithaca say they would like their works to open a dialogue among community members.

“I consider art to be a communication, and public art opens that conversation to everyone,” Jim Garmhausen, another artist in the 21 Boxes project, said. “It is very gratifying as an artist to plant a visual message in a public place for people to see and interact with. Working publicly has changed my relationship with my community, and changed my art from a solitary, studio-bound practice to something more like storytelling.”

Click the graphic above to check out an interactive map of street art in Ithaca on Ithaca Week.

Click the graphic above to check out an interactive map of street art in Ithaca on Ithaca Week.

Public art projects in Ithaca are not solely the work of the Public Art Commission. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance spearheads the “Art in the Heart” project with support from the commission. The “Art in the Heart” project displays pieces from mid-June to mid-November. The alliance has been using Cayuga Street and Creek Walk for art corridors.

“We always like to buy more public art but we are now in a situation where we need to find places for our pieces,” Kris Lewis, operations director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said. She said that in the commons re-design, only two spots were slated for public art.

Despite the great support for public art in Ithaca, graffiti is still an occasional problem. It is rare that a commissioned piece of art is graffitied, but it does happen, commission members said. They said they would like to redirect the energy of those who do the graffiti into making more permanent public art.

“I would love for some of these graffiti artists to have time to be able to make beautiful pieces. Some of these pieces that are just done on the run aren’t as nice for me,” Caleb Thomas, a commission member, said.

“Part of the rebellious nature of graffiti is not just about doing it in a clandestine situation,” Grace Ritter, another commission member, said. “It’s about transforming our landscape into something beautiful. It’s not necessarily because it’s illegal; it’s more about taking something that’s maybe ugly and you’re creating art with what you have.”

City resources that are used to cover graffiti could instead go to employing the people who are doing the graffiti, Frank Nagy, director of parking for the Department of Public Works, says.

“What I’ve seen is where we put art I don’t see graffiti,” Nagy said. “Where I don’t put art, I find graffiti. I would rather spend the money on the art than to spend the money on constantly cleaning the graffiti.”

Public Art Slideshow

Click the above slide to view and audio slideshow about public art in Ithaca, New York

The artists and those commissioning the work, whether part of the commission or the alliance, share a vision for what public art brings to the Ithaca community.

“I think it’s important to have public art. It enlivens a community and we feel very committed to continuing to have a public art exhibition,” Lewis said.

“I think that public art is an important and necessary part of a community’s landscape,” Garmhausen said. “It lends a sense of inclusion and humanness to a city, counteracting the dry predictability of urban planning. I find that coming across a piece of public art brings a spark, an enlivening to the moment.”

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Groton High School reacts to football team hazing scandal

By Jessica Corbett and Mary Kielar

Two football players at Groton High School recently pleaded guilty to hazing charges. (Photo by Jessica Corbett)

Two football players at Groton High School recently pleaded guilty to hazing charges. (Photo by Jessica Corbett)

Two students on the Groton High School football team pleaded guilty on Oct. 31 to first-degree harassment, a misdemeanor, following hazing allegations.

The Groton’s students sentencing will take place over the next six to eight weeks and will be handled by Town Justice Arthur Dewey Dawson. In response to the controversy, the high school administration is making changes to its athletic code.

Of the 14.7 million U.S. high school students, approximately 1.5 million — or nearly 10 percent — experience hazing each year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education and an Alfred University study.

Click the image above to view a video report from Groton High School.

Click the image above to view a video report from Groton High School.

Groton High School is responding to the allegations with a multi-step plan, Billie Downs, associate principal and athletic director, said. He said the plan includes: hazing prevention presentations with Travis Apgar, the dean of students at Cornell University, which will be presented to parents and coaches; student-athlete workshops on leadership and positive team building; increased supervision in locker rooms; and DASA (Dignity for All Students Act) in-house training for coaches. DASA is New York State legislation that seeks to provide students with a safe learning environment free of discrimination and harassment, and went into effect July 2012.

“We hope to create a culture where kids watch out for other kids so that the few offenders can be dealt with quickly and the school will be safer for all,” James Abrams, superintendent of the Groton School District, said. “Our students want the same type of culture that we do, but sometimes lack the courage or the avenue for reporting violations.”

Abrams has a hands-on role in the district’s plans for preventing this type of behavior among students in the future.

“We are a small school district. The superintendent has always worked closely with all departments,” he said.

Click the image above to view an interactive graphic.

Click the image above to view an interactive graphic.

Cheltenham High School, in Montgomery County, the suburbs of Philadelphia, recently experienced its own hazing scandal involving its boys’ soccer team. The district notified police and conducted an internal investigation in response to September hazing allegations, but the team was allowed to finish out its season, which ended Oct. 16.

“I think this is a wakeup call for a lot of school districts across the country,” Susan O’Grady, director of communications and development at Cheltenham School District, said. “It’s time for us to look at how athletic programs are run. We are looking at all of our anti-bullying programs that are in the classroom and how those can intersect with and cross over with the educational training that we are now going to supplant into and supplement with what’s already there into our athletic program.”

Sayreville War Memorial High School in Sayreville, New Jersey, had its football season canceled last month following hazing allegations against seven football players who are now facing sex-crime charges. The district declined Ithaca Week’s requests for comment, but Superintendent Richard Labbe released a statement in response to the allegations that is no longer available on the district website. According to the statement: “The district administration has already launched a holistic harassment intimidation and bullying (HIB) investigation of all athletic and extracurricular programs in order to ensure that we take all steps necessary now and in the future to protect all our students.”

Click here to view a video report from Groton High School.

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Ithacans consider relaunching local chapter of national interfaith peace organization

By Jessica Corbett and Christian Araos

Jim Murphy called a meeting Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of reestablishing an Ithaca chapter of FOR. (Photo by Jessica Corbett)

Jim Murphy called a meeting Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of reestablishing an Ithaca chapter of FOR. (Photo by Jessica Corbett)

Fourteen people, including church-goers, college professors and community activists, gathered at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca Wednesday Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of bringing the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR, back to Ithaca.

Jim Murphy, who heads up the Veterans Fellowship of Reconciliation, is leading the effort to relaunch an Ithaca chapter of FOR, which is the nation’s oldest interfaith peace organization. He called the meeting Wednesday to see what role FOR’s greater organization could play if reintroduced.

Veterans’ outreach is what first brought Jim Murphy to FOR.

“I walked into a place where all they asked of me wasn’t religion; they asked me to be a pacifist, so right there we had people mentoring us on how to be a pacifist, and we were all combat vets for the most part,” he said. “I think FOR is accepting of everything, and it’s a good thing because we’re bonded on waging peace.”

The Veterans FOR serves Iraq and Afghanistan veterans through an emergency food plan set up with local Wegmans and GreenStar, as well as sending books to those who are in prison, Jim Murphy said.

Meeting attendees Wednesday night spoke to FOR’s trouble attracting young members, but acknowledged that Ithaca could be fertile ground for revitalizing the fellowship with politically active youth. Susan Murphy, a member of the Unitarian Church and part of the team working to bring FOR to Ithaca, said the meeting echoed FOR’s national concerns by identifying the lack of established venues for local youth to politically express themselves.

“It’s clear that communication in between the different and varying peace movements is a missing piece,” Susan Murphy also said. “Everybody is so busy doing their own thing that there hasn’t become a clear mechanism enabling them to talk to each other.”

Mary Heckler was heavily involved with the Hudson Valley FOR in Nyack, New York, before retiring to Ithaca, and formerly served as FOR’s event coordinator, volunteer coordinator and house manager. After the meeting, Hecker said FOR could wind up connecting various local organizations in order to address local and national issues.

“I think that what came out tonight about the racism and the drone work and the lack of communication within the town itself, within the community, college communities as well as everyday community, is lacking,” Heckler said.

Though their first meeting was in a Unitarian Church, FOR is an interfaith organization. However, there is heated internal debate regarding the acceptance of atheists and agnostics into the organization. Susan Murphy said during the recruitment process, the organization needs to be aware that many young adults identify as more “spiritual” than “religious.”

Click the photo above to view an interview with Susan and Jim Murphy following the Oct. 29 meeting.

Click the photo above to view an interview with Susan and Jim Murphy following the Oct. 29 meeting.

With its reemergence in the Ithaca area, the Murphys said FOR is looking to establish relationships with local chapters of other national and international organizations that focus on issues relating to war, race and the environment. One such organization is the Ithaca chapter of Amnesty International. Wayles Browne serves as the chapter’s treasurer and attended the meeting. He said he was delighted to see people of various faiths in attendance.

“Looking around the room, there were Catholics, there were Unitarians, other kinds of Protestants, there were Jewish people,” Browne said. “It is particularly an interreligious organization — it brings churches and other religious organizations together — and I think that’s great, but I don’t have much to contribute to that myself.”

In response to meeting attendees’ calls for improved communication among local faith and organizing groups, Jim Murphy created an online talking circle that allows community organizers to submit and receive emails about their various events and projects.

Browne said he was pleased with the email group and has already used it to send out notice about the Amnesty chapter’s annual fundraiser, which was Sunday afternoon. It is one of the first instances in which the attendees of what may be a new FOR chapter coordinated their efforts.

Click here to view a video interview with Susan and Jim Murphy.

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