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Public forum to explore elements of a truly creative city

August 06, 2010

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(315) 443-3784

Most cities that aspire to greatness strive to provide art and culture to their residents and visitors, promoting their symphonies, playhouses, museums and other assets. But do those assets make a city creative? Do they, on their own, create a sense of cultural vibrancy and vitality? 

Not according to the Urban Institute’s Maria Rosario Jackson, who will kick off a public discussion that explores these issues starting at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, at Syracuse University’s Warehouse, 350 W. Fayette St. The discussion is free and open to all. Advance registration to Greg Munno at or 730-4621 is appreciated. 

For Jackson, a truly great city must cultivate, inspire and allow for the creativity of all its citizens. “Most cities have places to consume art,” Jackson says. “Fewer have public spaces or programming that embrace and encourage the inherent creativity in us all.” 

Jackson, who is being brought to Syracuse by Imagining America with support from the New York Council for the Humanities, will talk about her research for about 30 minutes. Attendees will then break into small groups and take part in a CNYSpeaks’ facilitated conversation on how Jackson’s insights relate to Syracuse and Central New York. The full group will then reconvene, allowing the discussion that will take place at the small tables to be shared with Jackson and the other participants.    

“The CNYSpeaks format of having small groups, each with a trained facilitator, differs greatly from public forums people may have attended in the past,” says Tina Nabatchi, associate professor at the Maxwell School and co-director of CNYSpeaks. “The format allows for all attendees to participate, fosters genuine dialog, and helps participants with diverse points of view find common ground and consensus. To have this process informed, and then commented on, by someone like Maria Rosario Jackson is very exciting.”

“Maria Rosario Jackson offers us a unique perspective on how the creativity and cultural vibrancy of the citizenry impacts on the community, a theme that resonates with our constituents,” says Stephen Butler, executive director of the Cultural Resources Council, which is partnering with CNYSpeaks on its arts-related engagements. “Ultimately, it is the creativity of the people that is called upon to solve our most pressing social and economic problems.”

Since many of the region’s key public spaces and cultural institutions exist in downtown Syracuse, the forum with Jackson builds off of CNYSpeaks’ prior work of exploring citizen strategies for improving Syracuse’s center city, says CNYSpeaks’ Co-Director Grant Reeher, director of the Maxwell School’s Campbell Public Affairs Institute and host of WRVO’s “Campbell Conversations.”

“This engagement, along with several others to be held throughout Onondaga County in September, will give us a better understanding of how to leverage the arts in Syracuse to create the type of vibrancy citizens called for during previous CNYSpeaks’ engagements,” says Reeher. 

As Reeher notes, the Jackson talk is the first of several September discussions that will explore the role of the arts in the Syracuse community, citizen attitudes about cultural assets and ideas about how to better connect the public with available cultural activities. 

A day after her talk—at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, in Armory Square—Jackson will be treated to a public performance created by city residents with artistic support from the Open Hand Theater and Syracuse Stage. Part of Imagining America’s Art in Motion project, the free and open performance will feature puppets designed and built by the residents of four city neighborhoods. In case of rain, it will take place at Plymouth Church, 232 E. Onondaga St. 

At 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 12, at The Warehouse, Jackson will participate in a panel discussion with two other speakers brought to Syracuse by Imagining America—Sandy Spieler, executive director of Minneapolis’ In the Heart of the Beast Mask and Puppet Theatre, and a yet-to-be-named funder. The three will reflect on the prior day’s puppet performance and will explore ways of using the experience to further opportunities for creative expression and urban revitalization in Syracuse. 

Also in September, the IDEAS Collaborative is hosting a series of discussions that will focus on audience development for art, cultural, heritage and entertainment organizations. CNYSpeaks is partnering with the Collaborative for one of these discussions, a large public forum from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Oncenter. This free public event will explore, among other things, the benefits of and obstacles to attending cultural events in Central New York. 

Imagining America is a national consortium of more than 80 colleges and universities committed to public scholarship in the arts, humanities and design. SU is host campus of IA until 2012. 

To learn more about any of these engagements, contact Munno at (315)730-4621 or

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