Downtown Ithaca is home to a multitude of colorful community art pieces, especially surrounding the commons. Some of these pieces include Annemarie Zwack’s work, like her watershed wall mosaic and the Tioga Street parking garage mosaic.

Zwack, who specializes in working with communities and art, has been commissioned by the City of Ithaca to add artwork to the Martin Luther King Jr. Southside walkway. This walkway is a tour, primarily through downtown Ithaca, which connects local historic civil rights actions to national events.

Background on the Project

According to Lynn Truame, the Historic Preservation Planner for Ithaca, many Ithaca residents wanted to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 2009, State Street was renamed Martin Luther Kin Jr. Street, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. However, many people weren’t satisfied with this and wanted, “some other way, in addition to that, to recognize Dr. King’s legacy and obviously the legacy of civil rights actions in Ithaca,” Truame said.

In order to recognize local history and civil rights activity in Ithaca, the town began to look at historically significant sites in the area. According to Truame, the town set aside some funding for the project a number of years ago. In addition, there will be private fundraising to pay for the rest of the project.

“This is a project about African American history in this community. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the depth of history that we have here in that area,” said Truame.

Where Will It Be?

The walkway will be made up of two loops, the first one starting at the Southside Community Center and focusing on the block of Cleveland Avenue between Corn Street and Plain Street. This will include historic sites like the St. James Ame Zion Church. The second loop, or North loop, which is still in the planning stages, will cover the downtown area to the city cemetery and Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

In front of the Southside Community Center, there’s a small, bare clearing. This will be home to the “hub” sculpture, according to Zwack. The hub sculpture is going to be the beginning of a series of medallions set-up throughout the community. These medallions will direct people to various historic sites.

What Will It Look Like?

Zwack envisions that the hub sculpture could be a variety of different designs, but would most definitely be a compilation of mosaics made by community members. Zwack hopes to hold community sessions where people can come and make their own tiles, which she would then assemble into a larger piece of artwork.

“Maybe it’s a bench, maybe it’s a sculpture that’s not functional, but just art for art sake,” Zwack said. “Those pieces of the tiles, they would have the fingerprints of those who live here, as well as being part of a larger whole.”

The sculpture would also be next to a kiosk, where people would be able to get information about the local sites emphasized in the tour. According to Zwack, they might even design an app so that people can easily scan information at listening posts and then listen to information directly from their phones.

Community Input

Truame and Zwack both are incredibly passionate about getting the community’s input in this project. Zwack has set up a facebook page, Zwackart, where anyone interested in the project can contact her with ideas and contributions.

“For a community to create artwork that reflects how they feel about themselves and where they live is a really empowering tool,” Zwack said.