La Casita Cultural Center
La Casita is a program of the College of Arts and Sciences established to advance an educational and cultural agenda of civic engagement through research, cultural heritage preservation, media, and the arts, bridging the Hispanic communities of Syracuse University and Central New York.
La Casita Cultural Center is located in the historic Lincoln Building in the city’s Near Westside neighborhood. The Center is equipped with an art gallery, a classroom, bilingual library, performance space, workshop facilities, kitchenette, and meeting space.
Initial funding for the renovation of the 100-year-old, former warehouse into mixed-use commercial and residential space came from Syracuse University’s $13.8 million debt reinvestment fund dedicated to the Near Westside Initiative. The project also garnered $1 million from the Round 2 Restore New York Communities grant awarded by the state to the City of Syracuse as part of a statewide initiative to revitalize urban areas. The building was renovated using the latest green construction standards.
The model concept for La Casita at Syracuse University can be traced to Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx, where more than 35 years ago, José (Chema) Soto set out to build a wooden structure similar to the houses that were once typical of the rural Puerto Rican regions and throughout the Caribbean. With the help of neighbors, La Casita de Chema was created as a bright, lively, and sustainable space for Puerto Rican and other Latino communities to gather, celebrate their culture and traditions, host events, play music, dance, or simply visit. The movement grew throughout the 1970s and 1980s, during which a number of casitas were built, reclaiming socially, environmentally, and culturally damaged barrio ground. Following in these footsteps, Syracuse University’s own Casita is also located in a reclaimed and refurbished space, the historic Lincoln Building of the city’s Near Westside neighborhood on Otisco Street.
ArtRage Gallery opened to the public in 2008. It is unique to Syracuse and the region, (and possibly the country), in that it exclusively exhibits art relating to social justice and environmental issues. Syracuse is home to the nation’s oldest grassroots peace organization, the Syracuse Peace Council (founded in 1936) and the nation’s largest distributor of social justice posters, the Syracuse Cultural Workers (founded 1982). ArtRage grew out of the success of both of these organizations and today the three organizations remain close allies.
ArtRage is a non-profit organization, governed by a board of directors and managed by two fulltime staff. We are funded through community supporters, grants and fundraising events. The gallery is named in honor of Norton Putter (1910-2001), a Syracuse civil rights activist by his wife, Ruth Putter, a Syracuse feminist, activist and photographer. She donated the funds to renovate the building (it was once a empty warehouse) and the seed money to start the organization. Our annual budget is about $100,000 and we have been operating in the black for the past six years (no small feat for a small arts organization in Upstate NY).
We organize five exhibitions per season (Sept-July) and each runs for about six-weeks. We feature local, regional and nationally-known artists each season. We strive for diverse representation of artists in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality. We also look for diversity in artistic medium and the social and environmental issues presented in the art. We strive for artistic excellence as well as the ability for the art to engage people in a dialogue about the themes presented in the work. Exhibition-related community programs such as artist talks, educational presentations, film screenings, poetry readings and theatrical performances accompany each exhibition. These events are often co-organized with local art or activism organizations.
In addition to our exhibitions, we host a film series with a local foundation called The Gifford Foundation “What If…” Film Series. In this series we partner with community organizations to screen documentary films that show communities working together to make change. Films topics offer a wide range of issues from ending youth homelessness to urban beekeeping. Each screening is followed by a community discussion where we ask the question “What if we did this in Syracuse?”
Additionally, ArtRage is used as a venue by many local groups for their own events. For example; this month we are hosting a presentation about someone’s recent volunteer work in Afghanistan, a film about a 1980’s NYC drag performer for hosted by CNY Pride for Gay Pride Month and a reading by a local author from her new book on elder care.
As a small arts organization we are constantly faced with the challenge of expanding our audience and getting our name out into the community. Without a large marketing budget our strategy has been collaboration and partnership.
Skä•noñh—Great Law of Peace Center
Skä•noñh—Great Law of Peace Center is the only Haudenosaunee educational center located in the ancestral territory of the Onondaga Nation. Academics and leadership gathered to help corroborate the oral history of the Haudenosaunee at Onondaga. Skä·noñh covers these topics: Skä·noñh, Thanksgivings Address to the Natural World, Creation Story, Great Law of Peace and the formation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Also, European Contact; Doctrine of Christian Discovery, Two Row Wampum, Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, Washington’s Canandaigua Treaty Belt, Handsome Lake, Indian Boarding Schools, and a Contributions Room featuring; United Nation’s work, Women’s Rights Movement, Lacrosse, Three Sister agriculture, Influence on American Democracy, etc.
Onondaga Lake is a sacred place for the Haudenosaunee
ONONDAGA LAKE is the place of origin for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, or “People of the Longhouse.” As the most chemically polluted lake in the USA it is also designated a super-fund site. We are working to reestablish a Haudenosaunee presence at this lake, and work to restore the lake to good health. Thousands of years ago, peace was established at Onondaga Lake when the Peacemaker brought together Hiawatha, Jikonsaseh, & the Tadodaho. The Peacemaker established the Onondaga Nation as the Central Fire of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, comprising the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, & Seneca Nations. (Tuscarora joined in 18th century). Three of these Nations have retained their pre-Colonial Sovereign Indigenous Nation status with the United States and the World. They still govern themselves by their ancient ceremonial Longhouse practices. The Onondaga Nation remains the Central Fire and the Great Law of Peace continues to influence the world.
The Dunbar Center
The Dunbar Association, Inc. (Dunbar Center) had a special beginning that started as a concept in the mind of one individual. In 1918, a barber named Jimmy LaGrin had an idea that would greatly transform the life of Syracuse’s African American community. Mr. LaGrin who had been involved in the criminal justice system wanted to establish an organization that would prevent other youth from involvement in this system. He created a recreational program under the auspices of AME Zion Church. Mr. LaGrin later became acquainted with the African American students at Syracuse University from a literary group called the Paul Laurence Dunbar Society and three concerned women, Mrs. Lucia Knowles, Mrs. Frederick Hazard, and her sister, Mrs. Walter Burlingame, who were interested in worthwhile social service projects and the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar. These women were members of the Commonwealth Club, an influential businesswomen’s group. This group provided the first financial backing to help develop what is now known as The Dunbar Association. Due to their and the students’ fondness of the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the center was named after this noted African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Incorporated in 1935, Dunbar was the core of he 1930’s black community. It was the first Settlement House Agency in Syracuse that provided an orientation to newly arrived African Americans to the area. Before moving to its present location, Dunbar’s first sites were at 711 and 720 East Fayette Street from 1920-1926. The second home was 308 South McBride Street from 1926-1940 and later at 950 Townsend Street from 1940- 1964. The present location, 1453 South State Street, was dedicated on November 14, 1964. Dunbar has served many functions throughout it’s history and will continue to serve as a beacon of hope especially for the African American community. For instance, in the past, due to segregation, the agency was the only hope that the African American community had for catering to all of its needs. The agency filled the gaps created by the division of the color line and served as a preserver of the African American culture. The community used the center for social events including dances, youth groups, club meetings and weddings. It was also the cultural center of the community. During World War II, the center served a very significant role. It was used as a training center and employment agency. The center’s staff and volunteers worked to increase housing opportunities for African Americans in Syracuse. In the 1950’s, when Syracuse faced a violent outbreak of polio, the center played a vital role in helping to improve the health status of the community. The Dunbar Center volunteers worked closely with Peggy and Frank Wood and the Health Department staff to ensure that African Americans received their polio vaccine.
The center’s services and delivery strategies were modified to address the needs of the city residents, especially those on the Southside. Changes were brought on through industry, community needs, and past displacement of the African American community, due to the construction of the steam plant and interstate highway 81. Previously the center emphasized youth recreational activities and limited human service. Today, Dunbar has expanded its focus to include comprehensive human services, youth development as well as recreational and after school programming and other community services. Dunbar’s programs strengthen the family by helping to address traditional service needs, as well as service gaps.