Making Public Art Official

The encouragement and promotion of the growth of public art in Syracuse

This week’s blog post is by Daniel Ward, curator at the Erie Canal Museum and current chair of the Syracuse public art commission.

Syracuse has long been a place known for public art. The city holds an amazing range of statuary in its inventory. During the late twentieth century a few murals were added to the streetscape. At the beginning of the 21st century interest in both producing and enjoying public art led Syracusans and, eventually, city government to look to other cities, where public art was becoming a driver of revitalization efforts.

Travelers returning to Syracuse, from places like Philadelphia, wondered what it would take for their home to have beautiful murals and intriguing sculptures along its rights of way and in public spaces. Something of a public art movement arose in Syracuse, led in part by artists and groups like the 40 Below Public Arts Taskforce.


One issue that was immediately clear was that there were no streamlined and accessible processes or procedures for artists to install work on public property. After much advocacy and discussion, Syracuse’s mayor and common council passed the city’s first public art ordinance in 2007. This established the public art commission and a staff position for a public art coordinator to encourage and nurture public art.

The ordinance defines public art as “all forms of visual art that do not constitute a sign . . . located within the City right-of-way on public land owned by the City of Syracuse.” Additionally, all murals – even if produced on private property – fall under the jurisdiction of the public art commission. The ordinance charges the public art commission with considering artistic merit and intention, local significance and accessibility to the public, and safety and durability so that artistic form is of the highest quality and represents the broadest range of expression.

In order to create a cohesive and curated municipal public art program, the public art commission established four goals to be included in Syracuse’s comprehensive plan.

These goals are:

  • to ensure and celebrate the diversity of public art in the city.
  • to make public art a community priority in Syracuse.
  • to capitalize on the economic opportunities associated with public art.
  • to establish downtown Syracuse as the public art showcase of the region.

The public art commission is pleased that the Connective Corridor’s public art call is in alignment with all four of the commission’s goals. We have worked to support this huge undertaking in a number of ways already but the intensive interaction between the artists, the Connective Corridor and the public art commission will begin after the jury has selected the candidates. At that point public art coordinator and commissioners will begin assisting the artists in preparing their individual project proposals and public art applications.

Process has been a topic within many of these Connective Corridor blog posts. And although the Connective Corridor, its jury and the Syracuse public art commission all have individual procedures, they together make up one larger process towards a shared goal. That is to encourage and promote the growth of public art in Syracuse, that its community and visitors can enjoy.

A note from Quinton Fletchall, Project Coordinator at the Connective Corridor: Come back next week for an exciting announcement on the jury’s first round of selections!

Photos courtesy of the Public Art Task Force.

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