Re-imagining the north side

Franciscan Collaborative Ministries projects emphasize the arts

By Luke Eggleston
SUN staff writer

Roughly one year ago, the Franciscan Collaborative Ministries’ Collaboratory was established on the north side of Syracuse. The long-term goal of the operation is to help the people in that diverse community to begin re-imagining their neighborhoods.
For several years now, the area has witnessed a decline.  Recently, FCM’s Collaboratory (a leadership model that consists of representatives from a broad spectrum of institutions and individuals who have a stake in the north side) has been focusing on its workforce and job development programs. But the unique aspect of FCM’s effort has been its emphasis on the arts.

The arts are near and dear to most of the individuals involved in FCM. Maarten Jacobs, project coordinator for the Northside Collaboratory, for example, is a photographer in his spare time. Another Collaboratory member, Dominic Robinson (the son of Syracuse University football coach Greg Robinson), is a writer.

The largest scale project FCM has engaged in so far was its Gear Up Summer Enrichment Academy.

“Our biggest program to date was our summer arts program,” Jacobs said. Jacobs explained that the Gear Up Grant made the program possible.

During the summer, young people on the north side were given an opportunity to develop their artistic talents. According to Jacobs, 50 youths were involved in the program and it averaged an attendance of approximately 30 daily. Each day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the youths explored digital photography, silk screening, video production, drama, dance, and creative writing.  In addition, the young people delved into the culinary arts, an element that Jacobs said he found to be the most interesting.

Under the supervision of a nutritionist, the young people cooked for each other every day. Jacobs explained that the meals were nutritious.

“Mostly it was just simple stuff, but it was healthy too,” he said.
All four of Tommy Jackson’s children participated in the program throughout the summer. Jackson was so impressed with the format that he eschewed similar programs closer to his south side home.

“They were exposed to a lot of things besides the normal clubs,” Jackson said, noting that his children were able to hike, paint and cook. “It was a great program and I was very comfortable sending my kids there.”

Whenever his children misbehaved during the summer, Jackson joked that all he had to do was threaten not taking them to the Assisi Center the next day. A local entrepreneur, whose main business is catering, Jackson volunteered his services to the center.

“I cooked some food for them and I volunteered my time because I want to see the program go far,” he said.

In addition to the summer program, the Collaboratory successfully organized the north side’s Festival of Many Nations. At the time, Jacobs described the event as “basically an oversized block party.” In its inaugural year, the festival drew over 500 people. Among the arts represented strongly at the event was dancing. The varying styles included salsa, rock, hip hop and Latin dance. In addition, children painted a mural in the parking lot at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church and FCM held a book give-away in the theater at St. Clare Garden apartment complex.

“That was a great day,” Jacobs said. “I think the kids had a blast.”

The second installment of the Festival of Many Nations is scheduled for Sept. 6 and it will be the culmination of FCM’s ongoing North Side Mosaic campaign. Artists from throughout Syracuse have contributed to the North Side Mosaic including sculptors, painters and photographers. As part of a class project, students from Le Moyne College have been recording oral histories with north side residents. In addition, FCM lent digital cameras to students from Grant Middle School. The students were asked to photograph parents, guardians or other community members who were important to them and then paint or sculpt their portrait based on the digital image.

Jacobs said that, at some point, FCM hopes to open up the ground floor of the Assisi Center for several hours a night and give locals a chance to sculpt or paint there.
According to a release issued by FCM, “The North Side Mosaic is a creative documentary project in which people of all ages and backgrounds capture and share experiences that reflect the spirit of Syracuse’s North Side.”

Jacobs had been photographing several people on the north side as part of the project. When he found many of the residents to be a little self conscious about having their photo taken, he developed a unique solution with the help of Assisi Center guitar craftsman Sam Grosvenor. The solution was the “Oh Snap!” photo booth.

“I was walking around the community just taking pictures and many people weren’t comfortable with it,” Jacobs said. “I thought if people could take their own picture they might be more comfortable.”

The photo booth was built using an old arcade-style “Street Fighter” video game unit. Images taken in the booth provide the individual with a printout and also downloads the image to a hard drive. Jacobs said that Grosvenor was “the mastermind behind it.”
“It’s amazing to see how good it looks,” Jacobs said.

The portable photobooth is currently located at a north side barbershop. Jacobs said that it will soon be moved to a local café and then, starting in the first week in March, it will based at the White Branch Library.

Each of the elements in the North Side Mosaic is intended to contribute to what Jacobs described as an effort to celebrate the richness in diversity that the area has historically known.

“The purpose is to show the many different faces of the north side,” Jacobs said.
FCM’s recent projects have given the organization a little more cachet than it enjoyed when Jacobs and company first arrived on the north side.

“These things have given us credibility in the community,” he said.

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