Jim Emmons was chosen as one of the five winners of our online “What Matters to You?” Contest. We asked community members to tell us what matters to them in CNY. Learn more about Jim below and scroll down to view his entry.:
Charity to receive donation: CNY Arts
Why is Central New York important to you?
I moved to Syracuse from Vermont in 1991 to work as a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard. In 10 years at the newspaper, I came to know and appreciate a variety of communities across the region, and to gradually consider myself a well rooted and engaged resident of Syracuse. I met my wife here, own a home here, and participate in local civic, social, and athletic groups. I appreciate the four seasons, the intimate scale of the city and its neighborhoods, the ease of getting around, the diversity of culture, and the character and realness of the place.
Why did you decide to participate in the What Matters to You? Contest?
As the leader of a small civic arts group, I’m usually grinding away at a revolving list of tasks without taking time to speak up about things that matter. But sometimes I break out of that mud. For a small, economically suffering city, Syracuse offers a wealth of cultural opportunities, and I feel strongly about speaking up for their value. I’m particularly interested in civic art— an important asset to Syracuse, but too often lacking the voice of business, government, and larger institutions. We who work in civic or public art should do more to speak up about it. The contest seemed like a fleeting chance to say something, and I appreciated making a point both seriously and creatively.
What organization did you choose to donate your $500 grant to and why? How do you hope the money will help the organization fulfill its mission?
I’m donating my grant to CNY Arts. As an arts worker, I’ve had experience with a variety of arts advocacy groups. I’ve been especially impressed by CNY Arts. The staff is responsive, helpful, and empathetic to the needs of arts groups. They’ve done a great job of surveying the region about arts and culture, and informing people about cultural activities. In its role as a channel for arts funding, CNY Arts operates in a fair and organized manner. It brings arts groups together for conferences and workshops, and thus strengthens the community. It recognizes the diversity and potential of the regional arts scene, and it promotes and advocates for the region at the level of the state.
What do you hope for the future of this organization?
I hope it can maintain and bolster its staff, many of them long-timers, with valuable experience and perspective by finding ways for them to renew, refresh, and re-inspire themselves. With this kind of cultivation, I hope the team becomes increasingly effective at advocating for arts and culture in Central New York.
Source: Syracuse Poster Project
Civic art— art about the city, for the city, viewable outdoors and in other free, shared spaces— matters to me. It matters to me as a co-founder of a civic art project (the Syracuse Poster Project) and as a city resident interested in communal civic experience.
Civic art can take a variety of forms, from simple temporary works to sophisticated installations. Across the spectrum, it elicits surprise, wonder, curiosity, reflection, and opportunities for belonging. Who made it? What does it say about our city? What am I learning that I might have overlooked— about the city’s heritage, current state, or dreamy potential? We don’t think this way consciously about civic art, but perhaps we do unconsciously.
At its most welcoming, civic art also invites participation, either by engaging citizens in its conception, design, financial support, and actual installation, or by challenging them to think creatively about public space as a venue for their own expression of civic belonging.
Civic art upholds and reflects the city’s physical, atmospheric, or historic beauty. It brings out and amplifies the existing fabric— a train trestle, an airy space between buildings, a landmark of historic significance. It breaks through sameness and wakes us up. It’s like that person we spot on the sidewalk whose bold or whimsical street fashion— free for enjoyment —breaks our gloom and boosts our day.
Together with airports, other transportation hubs, and building design, civic art serves as a kind of threshold, giving newcomers and visitors their first impressions. It speaks for our city as a place of heritage, diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. It heightens the city’s character, makes the city distinct from other cities, a place that beckons.
For all these reasons, civic art affords us value akin to the benefits of properly working infrastructure— roads, public transportation, parks, playgrounds. Citizens should speak up for the worth of civic art, and civic leaders should be serious about funding it. To that end, the Poster Project offers this (not-so-serious) solution to the funding challenge.