To the Editor;

As the Syracuse Poster Project approaches its 20th anniversary next year, we have an archive of more than 320 civic art posters. One of our goals for the next decade is to find enduring ways to share this work with the public.

The recent installation of a large-format canal-themed poster at the Erie Canal Museum is one example. The poster appears on a wall in the breezeway, next to the entrance, where it complements neighboring murals. It feels right in that location. But like other good touches in the built environment, it took work and collaboration.

The installation was funded by a grant from Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today, a city-funded agency that works with residents to enhance neighborhoods. TNT funded another canal-themed poster installation at the museum in 2017, and two installations at the Central Library in 2018 and 2019. Tina Zagyva, manager of TNT, deserves thanks for coordinating the grant process.

We also thank Natalie Stetson, the canal museum’s director; Vicki Krisak, director of communications and outreach; and Ashley Maready, curator.

They’ve been open, welcoming and collaborative in brainstorming about how to incorporate our art into the museum’s building facades.

The next time you visit the museum, take a moment to consider its grounds. Administrators have taken a progressive approach with murals and civic poster art. Given their mission to preserve history, they could have easily defaulted to a staid, buttoned-up building, with everything contained in the building itself. Instead, the museum transcends its walls, with murals and poster art, creating an inviting experience for passersby and approaching guests.

We therefore align as civic enterprises—both the museum and the Poster Project contributing to the public space in ways that express the community’s history and culture.

Tong “Amy” Su, who created the poster, deserves special thanks. A native of China, Su worked with us in 2017, when she was a grad student in the illustration program at Syracuse University.

Most of our posters start with short three-line poems—haiku—about the city. Artists then illustrate the poems. In 2017, we created a special reverse-process poster. We commissioned Su to create an image in honor of the canal’s bicentennial. The poster was then complemented with a haiku by Ross Getman.

The poster depicts a bird’s-eye view of bustling canal activity. It’s an outstanding illustration, one of the most popular in the 2017 series.

But wait, there’s more. Su had presented sketches of three possibilities for the 2017 poster. Each was beautiful and could have been developed into a finished work.

We asked Su to develop one of the additional sketches, first for the World Canals Conference, which took place in Syracuse in 2017, and subsequently for this year’s large-format installation.

Su commented about her work:

“I’m from Chang Sha, from the southeastern part of China, in Hunan Province. I was familiar with the canal because in my high school we had global geography class, and they mentioned the Erie Canal as the second longest canal in the world. The longest one is the Jing-Hang Canal, from Beijing to Hangzhou.

“So I was aware of the Erie Canal, but didn’t really know that it goes through Syracuse. When I researched it, I saw that it went through Clinton Square, and that it really influenced people’s daily life.”

By the way, Su’s poster is not a rare instance of international skill benefiting our city. In the Poster Project’s long relationship with SU, we have worked with several extremely talented artists from China, and more than two dozen interns from China and Taiwan. They help with information management, interactive mapping, website development, accounting and bookkeeping, graphic design, and marketing and promotion. They directly contribute to the project’s success.

To Syracuse business leaders: If you have yet to make use of this talent pool, I urge you to do so. While area colleges enroll international students from many countries, students from China are among the most numerous. This is also true nationwide. According to The New York Times, 360,000 Chinese students are studying in America. SU accounts for about 2,200 of them. For comparison, some of Central New York’s smaller villages, such as Jordan, have fewer than 2,000 residents.

How can a region benefit and excel, given a small village worth of bright, ambitious, technically skilled students? It’s a timely question. Given the up-and-down relations of U.S. and Chinese administrations, this opportunity may not last.

Jim Emmons | Coordinator, Syracuse Poster Project

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