Public art initiative continues in Ithaca with upcoming mosaic

Dozens of tiles varying in shapes and earth tones are on the wall between Ithaca’s independent movie theater, Cinemapolis, and a parking lot. Each tile has been imprinted with leaves, beads and combs by students in city schools. Now they hang together as a mosaic, symbolizing the land around the Cayuga Inlet.

This mosaic, titled “Watershed Wall,” was created in 2012 by Annemarie Zwack along with local schools and community members. Now, Zwack is working on painting and creating tiles with the Ithaca community to create a mosaic on the Public Works Department building located on First Street. The mosaic’s theme is “Plants as Food” and it is projected to be installed in August 2014.

The project will take three to five years and will be made with recycled materials from leftover tiles donated by townspeople, said Margaret Corbit, who is working with Zwack on the mosaic.

The project, which will cost $10,000 to $15,000, is funded in part by grants, such as the Tompkins County Tourism Neighborhood Celebrations grant, Zwack said. The Public Arts Commission has significantly helped endorse local artists and projects, she added.

“It wasn’t until the current Public Arts Commission was in place that there was this kind of support to be able to do the work that is making Ithaca a place that’s celebrating its own uniqueness and really displaying the talents of the people that live here,” Zwack said.

Jay Potter, an active member of PAC, attributed this support to the commission’s new members, who are in a different age range than previous members and are determined to get a lot of work done.

“We’re a really good team. We’ve managed to push through a lot of projects,” he said. “A lot of the artwork you’re seeing now downtown happened in the last two to three years.”

One PAC created project was the 21 Boxes project, which brought together 21 artists to change the face of 21 electrical boxes downtown. The commission tries to improve upon the blank spaces in town and make them harder to vandalize by giving them a face, Potter said.

Kellie Cox-Brady, a local muralist, has painted multiple murals in Ithaca in the past year, including “Black-eyed Susans” located on the Seneca Street parking garage wall facing businesses such as Collegetown Bagels. Cox-Brady said employees at Collegetown Bagels noticed more people sitting outside since the mural was painted, among other positive community responses.

“I’ve heard that people will specifically park in the parking garage to see the mural,” she said. “The comic book store owner is also a great supporter. He even said he saw an entire wedding party taking photos in front of the mural.”

Attributing Ithaca to artistic freedom, Cox-Brady said the public arts movement in the city has allowed her to thrive as a muralist.

“I think it’s incredible and getting to know the artists and show their work,” she said. “I know other places [who have public art] where it’s much harder, but in Ithaca it’s not impossible.”

Other businesses, such as Lot 10, are participating in public art by having a murals painted on their storefronts. Matthew Riis, owner and manager of Lot 10, said he chose to have Eder Muniz paint a mural next to their entrance because he is a fan of Muniz’s work in the Brazilian graffiti movement. Riis also said he chose to have the mural done because he believes public art is a necessity.

“Public art is important because the world needs art and if it is only private then it is only fulfilling the needs of a few and not the many,” Riis said.

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