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© Allison Usavage

Ithacans for Public Art

Ithacans for Public Art is a network of community members that support public art initiatives. A Q&A with Caleb Thomas, an artist, member of the Public Art Commission, and one of the many people in the network of Ithacans for Public Art. We photographed a bike tour of Ithaca murals coordinated by Caleb.


What is Ithacans for Public Art?

Ithacans for Public Art is a loose network of people that would all like to see more public art in Ithaca. It includes artists, community members, and people networking to bring more color to Ithaca’s grey walls.

Who is it good for?

Public art appeals to so many different people. We get so much supportive feedback from people appreciating the murals. We’ve had everyone from kids to elders in our community appreciate what’s happening… people from all walks of life.

What change are you trying to make?

Engaging the community in this way gives successes for people: for the kids that painted the electrical box in Washington Park, for anyone doing their first public piece, for someone who has been doing art for a long time… they can paint a piece in the community and show themselves and give of themselves to help change our cityscape. It’s giving those people successes, and then I think, from there, people can dream big. If we can help them be successful with a mural project, then they can ask “What’s next? This is what went well and this is what I learned from it, what can I do next?”


© Allison Usavage
What brought our community to this point, in regard to public art?

Four years ago, there was a wall on Green Street that was grey. We held a contest to have a mural there, and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance helped to find funding to pay an artist to do a piece there. The board of Public Works gave us permission for that one wall. That project was so successful that we wanted to do more. So, we decided that instead of asking the Board of Public Works for one wall at a time, we’d ask for a whole handful of walls. We picked ten walls here and ten walls there and this one electrical box and a retaining wall. We presented that to the Board and instead of just giving us those particular walls, they gave us pre-permission for the parking garages, all the electrical boxes in the city, and the retaining walls that we requested. Now we can use these spaces and work with the Planning Department and Common Council for each mural.


How does this impact our community?

I want a lot of different people to feel pride in calling Ithaca home. That means students, new community members that are just arriving, people that have grown up here, people of different class backgrounds, for men and women. It’s important that our cityscape represent the demographic that’s here, and that it is representative of all different people’s cultures and backgrounds and identities.

What struggles have you encountered?

One is the seasons. It’s really half the year for artists. It’s spring, summer, and fall for people to be able to be out there and doing this.

The other thing is that we want to do it right. We want to do it with care and get input from the neighborhood that would be around each mural. We send out postcards to those neighbors. We get support from the Planning Department and Common Council and we vote as the Public Art Commission. Sometimes it take 3-6 months to go through that process, but it’s worth it.


How has our community given back?

People show their support by just stopping and talking to the artists or bringing them snacks or drinks while they’re painting. The murals also create special spaces in our community where community members sit and engage, and they use them as landmarks. I love that, it’s beautiful. And people support the murals with donations. Help with money buys art supplies, buys paints, or pays an artist for their time.

What should we be celebrating?

We should be celebrating all the people that make it happen. The Public Art Commission, the Board of Public Works, the Engineering Department, the Planning Department, the Mayor, the artists around our community, and all the community members that love art.


© Allison Usavage
How can we take part?

People can contact the Public Art Commission if they want to make donations. We use the funding in a very smart way. The Public Art Commission is all volunteers and we love to pay artists when we can.
Community members can also volunteer in any way to spread the success of our murals. A little bit of volunteering makes a big difference.

Then, there’s opportunity to collaborate. We’d be happy to hear from organizations that want to collaborate with the Public Art Commission or Ithacans for Public Art to have a mural made in the city for their initiative.


or contact the Public Art Commission if you have a public wall at your organization or home and would like to be matched up with an artist. Email or call Caleb Thomas at 607.273.5242 or Sally Grubb at 607.279.9189.


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