Advanced Multimedia Journalism

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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Local house features bricks that inspired L. Frank Baum

“Follow the yellow brick road.”

Many are familiar with the golden path that leads Dorothy and her companions to the wonderful land of Oz, however what some may not know is that yellow brick road was a real street — in Ithaca.

According to the Ithaca and Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau, local roads used to be paved with yellow bricks. The author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Lyman Frank Baum, was a frequent visitor to Ithaca while his future wife attended Cornell University.

When the yellow brick roads were torn up, those bricks were re-used to build a house on East Shore Drive in the 1930s.

“At some point they pulled those bricks out, and bricks are good you don’t just destroy them or throw them away. It was done at a time when people weren’t so wasteful, so they were repurposed,” said Laurel Guy, an associate broker for Warren Real Estate. “Some of them were used when they built that house.”

Gretchen Sachse, a former employee of the History Center, told Guy of the yellow bricks in Ithaca and of the house on East Shore Drive. To prove the bricks existed, Sachse took Guy to a vacant lot and pointed out where the bricks were exposed under the asphalt. Guy said this area of exposed bricks has since been covered completely by a building.

“There’s other documentation that L. Frank Baum came to Ithaca, I guess his girlfriend was here,” said Guy. “So it was this sentimental thing in a way that he was writing this story.”

Baum, originally from Chittenango, N.Y., described himself as a “mediocre man,” to autobiographer Katharine Rogers, before writing his “Oz” books.

For an interactive feature on Baum’s yellow brick road, click here!

“He was a kind of failure in life until he was about 40 and wrote the Wizard of Oz,” Rogers said. “He tried this and he tried that and he failed at all of them.”

Baum was first given the idea to write fictional stories from his mother-in-law, Matilda Gage.

“One day his mother-in-law said ‘Frank, you tell all these wonderful stories’ — because he entertained all the local children as well as his own — ‘so why don’t you write them down?’ and he did,” Rogers said.

The “yellow brick house” is located at 1114 East Shore Drive and is currently occupied.

“If you drive past [the house], you have basically found the yellow brick road,” Guy said.

Ithaca Rolfer aids pain with practice

When Sarah Robarge was 15 years old, a horse ride changed her life. That fateful day, her horse became startled and reared up, throwing her from the saddle and onto the ground before the animal fell on top of her.

The accident resulted in two back fractures in and a hip injury. On and off for the next 15 years, Robarge had to wear a back brace and tried everything from medication to surgery to massage therapy, but still suffered debilitating pain.

That is, until, she discovered Rolfing, a unique kind of massage therapy aimed at realigning the body to minimize pain and tension. Ida Rolf, a biochemist, created Rolfing in the 1930s. After completing a series of Rolfing therapy with Wells Christie in Syracuse, Robarge’s pain was gone.

Robarge completed a Ten-Series, which typically spreads one-hour sessions once a week over 10 weeks, but could be extended to progress once a month over 10 months. The first three sessions are known as superficial sessions, working the superficial layers of the fascia, also known as connective tissue.

To see a graphic on the Ten-Series click here

“It just changed my life so much that it inspired me to do that, so I could help people the way that I was helped,” Robarge said.

According to the Affordable Care Act section 2706 titled “Non-Discrimination in Healthcare,” insurance issuers “shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider’s license or certification under applicable State law.” Because Robarge’s practice is licensed, Rolfing would be covered by insurance, dependent on the individuals insurance provider.

Robarge now practices as a certified Rolfer, but getting to this point was not easy. New York state requires Rolfers to be licensed as massage therapists first, and the only Rolf Institute currently in the United States operates their instruction in Colorado.

Robarge spent the first semester studying in Colorado, and then travelled to other parts of the world where the practice is more widely practiced. She lived in Malaysia for the second semester, and studied for the third semester in Bali and Indonesia.

Rolfing is more thorough than traditional massage therapy and based on discovering the source of tension-related problems, Robarge said.

“To give an example, say you have sore shoulders. If you went and saw a massage therapist, you’d go in and you’d get a shoulder rub,” she said. “Most people’s sore shoulders are caused by tension in the front of the body. If you have tension either in your chest or abdominals or your legs, you are going to be pulled forward in your gravity. It’s pulling on your back.”

Unlike the temporary relief and relaxing chemicals released in a typical massage, Rolfing aims to realign the body to help the pain dissipate all together.

Susan Winter, the Manager of Marketing at the Rolf Institute, said the practice used to be more intensive and painful. The founder, Ida Rolf, initially would patients lay on the floor instead of a table.

“We’ve learned over the years about the nervous system, you don’t need intensity, but intentionality,” said Winter, a patient of Rolfing herself. If either the patient or the Rolfer senses too much pain, attention can be placed on shallower layers of connective tissue.

Robarge’s practice, located at 409 W State Street, will have been established a year in January.

Beer industry booms in New York state

Ithaca Beer Company’s expansion plan for a new fermentation room with tanks was approved on Nov. 5 by the Town of Ithaca Planning Board.

The company has grown 30 percent annually over the past two years, increasing from 12 to 55 employees said Allison Graffin, marketing director for Ithaca Beer Company.

In 2012, the nation’s craft beer industry saw a 17 percent increase in dollar growth. According to the Brewer’s Association, New York’s breweries ranked among the top for beer sales also in 2012, which meant a higher demand for hops, the flavoring and stability agent in beer .

Hops harvesting begins in late August and lasts through early October, according to the Hops Growers Association of America. Much like the hops plant — which can grow up to a foot in size a day — demand for hops is growing fast as well, which means jobs in the hops farming and beer industries are too.

“When we planted the hops four years ago there was 23 or 24 acres, I think, planted in New York State, and now there’s over 140 acres planted,” said Chris Hansen, co-owner of Climbing Bines Hops Farm in Penn Yan, New York.

A map of nearby breweries and hops farms

This October, Governor Andrew Cuomo welcomed 14 licensed farm breweries to the state. In order to receive a Farm Brewery license in New York State, the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products, according to the Farm Brewery Law. Cuomo said he wanted New Yorkers and visitors “to ‘buy local’ and keep coming back for more.”

“The fact that we can make a beer with all the ingredients grown in a three mile radius is pretty cool, because there’s not a whole lot of people in the country right now that are doing that,” said Hansen.

Because the business is booming, jobs in the beer industry are needed more than ever. According to data from The Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association, jobs in brewing, wholesale and retail have increased by 127,770 from 2001 to 2012.

Hansen said people don’t realize how much labor really goes into hops farming, but if you have a lot of friends who just want to give you a hand and hang out, it doesn’t seem like work.

“Between farming hops and crafting beer,” Hansen said, “We are really enjoying ourselves and have found a very fun industry to be involved in.”

Local womanpriest seeks spiritual community in Ithaca

It was during a lunch hour mass that it dawned on Patti LaRosa.

As she sat in a pew of the Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, N.Y., a realization came over her that she didn’t belong sitting with the congregation. She belonged on the altar, preaching.

“I realized ‘I’m supposed to be doing that,’” she said. “Oh, so that’s what all of this is inside me.”

LaRosa said this realization felt as if she found a puzzle piece, she had been searching for all her life and it fit into place.

“The piece snapped into place and my life made sense,” she said.

Twenty five years later, LaRosa now resides in Lansing, N.Y., is a Roman Catholic womanpriest and a member of the international movement — Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP). RCWP began when seven women were ordained by a male bishop on the Danube River in 2002. Now, womenpriests are present in more than 29 states across the country.

However, according to Code of Canon Law 1024, “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” Because of this, womenpriests are automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church. On Dec. 19, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI introduced the canonical crime of attempted ordination of women to Holy Orders under “Offenses against the Sacrament of Orders” in the “delicta graviora,” a list of violations against the faith. The “delicta graviora” includes the most serious crimes in church law, including the sexual abuse of minors.

Despite this, LaRosa was accepted as a womanpriest in her spiritual communities in Rochester and later Buffalo, N.Y., but struggles to create a following in Ithaca.

LaRosa acknowledges that she is not skilled in advertising or publicity. When she rented out a room in First Unitarian Society of Ithaca for her and her partners’ three sessions of mass, nobody met with them.

“We rent the space to a number of nonprofits,” Mark Pedersen, the Congregational Coordinator of the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, said. “Our denomination has had women ministers for a long, long time.”

Although the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca would allow LaRosa to continue renting out a room for more sessions of mass, “Day-jobs and other commitments got busy and we just haven’t been able to do publicity and advertising in some kind of an organized way,” LaRosa said.

In the meantime, LaRosa works in the Advising Office of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences as an administrative assistant.

When LaRosa moved to Lansing with her partner, she left a community accepting and aware of womenpriests to one that didn’t have any womenpriests at all. LaRosa still seems optimistic that a community, similar to Rochester’s, could exist in Ithaca, but needs a more effective way of making herself known to its residents.

“My situation is different because I’ve moved to a new place, so I need to get to learn the ways of this new city and get to meet people,” LaRosa said. “And get the word out that here’s a model, here’s some other way that we can do church together that is welcoming and inclusive and gives a model for women that we are made very good, equal in the sight of God, and lets get on with the business of being in Church together.”

Pope Francis has expressed interest in reforming some of the laws regarding same-sex marriage, abortion and ordination of women. The extent of what kind of reform will occur for ordination of women is unclear, but there is hope for LaRosa and other women seeking to be priests.

Local performers struggle to thrive in fluctuating scene

Under the glow of the blue stage lights, Spencer Amer stands nodding his head to the beat. The Cornell University junior and Cornell Jazz club president raises his trumpet to his lips and blows, flooding the room with his freestyle solo at The Gates in Collegetown with smooth music.

For a video on the live performance scene in Ithaca, click here.

The first time Amer played trumpet he was 10 years old. His passion for music was strong and he carried it on into college.

While Amer is trying to contribute to the jazz scene that had little traction when he arrived to Cornell through his club, Angelo Peters, booking and events manager at The Gates and frontman of the local band Big Mean Sound Machine, said times are hard for live musicians, especially financially.

Castaways, a popular entertainment venue on Taughannock Boulevard, closed in April 2012 due to financial instability and rising maintenance costs.

“The loss of Castaways was big,” said Eric Laine, owner of McNeil Music of Ithaca. “The music scene is still looking for something to replace it. We definitely have a need for another small to mid-sized live music venue.”

Laine has seen the variety of bands playing at the local venues, the number of live music venues and show attendance fluctuate over the years. He attributes this to the local economy, which contributed to the closing of Castaways.

Bubba Crumrine — president of the board at Ithaca Underground, a non-profit that helps to organize, book and promote local bands — agrees with Laine.

“Anytime a popular venue like Castaways closes, it creates a bit of a bottleneck and it can be difficult to book spaces,” Crumrine said. “Less venues can just make it harder for new local bands to start up and find a place to play.”

Peters said right now is a tough time for live music in general because it’s not fueled at all by album sales. He said people just don’t buy as many records as they used to, which has contributed to the struggle of up-and-coming musicians in Ithaca.

Despite the fluctuating quantity of musicians the quality of performances in Ithaca is on the rise, said Dan Smalls, of Dan Smalls Presents, Inc., a talent buyer, concert promotion, and event production company based in Ithaca, N.Y.

“Acts are choosing this market over others,” he said. “Good audiences and good treatment by promoters and staff help build a reputation for a town.”

Smalls said Ithaca’s musical performance scene was not immediately affected by the economic recession, which allowed his business to continue, but not thrive.

“Parents always take care of their kids, so students still have money,” he said. “And that feeds the local economy keeping us somewhat insulated. But this year, all of a sudden, times are tougher.”

But there still is hope for local performers. Laine said the area’s bands should still be showcased at the existing venues. Another alternative way of doing so, he said, is through the community radio station, WRFI.

“One great new development is that we have a community radio station, WRFI, operating out of the Clinton House,” he said. “This provides a great new opportunity for bands to get exposure that most local musicians are just now catching on to.”

Through this change, musicians continue to find Ithaca a home to their art. Crumrine said he is fond of Ithaca because of the constant musical collaboration.

“There’s a certain amount of transience that comes with this city, which is part of the reason I like it,” he said. “Fresh minds and ideas are constantly coming into the mix.”

Artist showcases African quilts at local community center

Leanora Erica Mims’ quilts tell a story of tragedy and triumph for African Americans. The brightly colored and boldly patterned wall hangings were featured Oct. 4 at the Southside Community Center in Ithaca, N.Y.

Click here for an interview with Leanora Erica Mims

 Mims learned how to make story quilts when she was an undergraduate studying arts at Cornell University. Now, she works as a public relations director for Estella’s Brilliant Bus, but she still quilts in her free time.

Mims’ work focuses on African tribal history from Ghana and Gambia, which is depicted in the quilts she created for the Southside Community Center gallery.

The gallery, which has an “Art In Color” art space that highlights and supports new and upcoming artists, featured Mims’ quilts that portray her perspective of the African Diaspora.

Mims likes using quilts to express herself because they’re multi-purposeful.

“They can envelope you in the warmth of your community,” she said. “Sometimes portraits can’t do that. They’re beautiful, but you can’t take them down and clothe yourself with the history of your family.”

The exhibit displays Mims’ sense of cultural pride, said Nagiane Lacka, program manager at Southside Community Center. Lacka said that she hopes for a positive reaction of the gallery from the community.

“I think it will be comforting because the exhibit is a celebration of family and heritage,” she said. “That’s kind of an affirmation and inspiration to continue to be proud of where we are from.”