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Near Westside Initiative commissions artist to transform downtown bridges into public art

August 20, 2010

Jaime Winne Alvarez
(315) 443-3784

The Near Westside Initiative, working in concert with the Connective Corridor, has been revitalizing the City of Syracuse through arts, technology and green innovation to ignite economic development and create a more cohesive city landscape. Using the arts as its tool, the Near Westside Initiative has commissioned internationally known artist Steve Powers to create a public art project to “visually disrupt” a physical barrier at the most critical intersection of the Connective Corridor and Near Westside. The working title for the installation is “A Love Letter to Syracuse.”  The project has been conceived and facilitated in partnership with COLAB.

saltLocated at the corner of West Fayette and West streets is a gateway used by thousands of commuters daily. The intersection (where The Warehouse sits on the outskirts of downtown) provides access to downtown, but also acts as a natural barrier between the Near Westside and the rest of the city. Created by heavy traffic and three cavernous bridges that deter individuals from passing under them, the barrier has created a chasm in Syracuse for years. Powers will transform the bridges into enormous pieces of public art, making the intersection more aesthetically interesting and pedestrian-friendly.

“The goal of the project is to ultimately bridge the Near Westside community to downtown, which will give access to new markets and resources for residents in the neighborhood,” says Maarten Jacobs, director of the Near Westside Initiative. “When conceiving this project, we knew we had to commission an artist who could bring both the talent and social consciousness needed to make the intersection a celebrated space that no longer acts as a barrier, but instead bonds neighborhoods and people together.”

Powers is a New York City-based artist who at one time wrote graffiti in Philadelphia and New York under the name ESPO (”Exterior Surface Painting Outreach”). In 2000, he gave up graffiti to become a full-time studio artist. His body of work reflects a fascination with graffiti, sign painting and the visual overload of the city. He has created artwork for the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Teen Health Center; painted signs and rides at Coney Island; and created murals in Dublin and Belfast, both located in Ireland’s Shankhill area.

In 2009, Powers created a deeply moving mural project in West Philadelphia about the complexities and rewards of relationships called “A Love Letter for You.” Powers and his crew painted 50 murals along the elevated train on Market Street. Inspiration for the murals came directly from residents who were canvassed about their feelings about the neighborhood. Powers translated those into largely text-based murals, focusing on the common struggles of the community and reframing them in a positive light. His murals received praise from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter and, most importantly, the West Philadelphia community.

Powers and several artists have canvassed Near Westside residents for inspiration. They held neighborhood meetings and went door-to-door asking for input about the community. For the Syracuse project, he translated those ideas and words into positive messages that recognize the hardships and beauties of everyday life. The inspiration for the Syracuse murals include paying the bills, having nothing to do, the four seasons and people’s ultimate view that the city is a good place to live and raise a family. Powers has created preliminary designs for the bridges and what they will look like on the actual iron girders.

The installation of “A Love Letter to Syracuse” begins on Tuesday, Aug. 24. The first four to five days of the project will consist of Powers and his crew prepping the bridges for painting. Following their prep work, the murals will be painted onto the iron girders.

“We are excited about the mural designs, their meaning and the thoughts and feelings they will evoke for Near Westside residents, the greater Syracuse community and visitors alike,” says Jacobs.

In addition, documentary filmmaker Faythe Levine will be in Syracuse beginning Aug. 27 to film Powers and his crew during the installation process for her new film about the American tradition of sign painting. Levine is best known for her documentary “Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft and Design,” which documents the new wave of art, craft and design capturing the attention of the nation. Levine traveled to 15 cities and covered more than 19,000 miles to interview artists, crafters, makers, curators and community members for the film. Levine is an author, artist, curator and prominent figure in the DIY Ethic indie craft movement.

Media interested in covering the installation of “A Love Letter to Syracuse” should contact Jacobs at (315) 480-7678. Both Powers and Jacobs will be available for interviews during the project.

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