Ithaca Murals was founded on a commitment to justice and equality, although it was not called “Ithaca Murals” at the time, and continues to uphold those values 13 years later after officially becoming its own organization.
Organizer Caleb Thomas met community elder Gino Bush in 2004 when Bush was working to make real an idea from Ithaca High School students to rename an Ithaca Street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
“At that time, Ithaca’s cultural landscape was dominated by streets, parks, and buildings named for and by privileged white men. We campaigned together with many others for City Hall to change State St.’s name,” Thomas said. “After four and a half years, State St. is now dual designated Martin Luther King Jr St. as a daily reminder to passersby of King’s life committed to justice.”
Soon after, in 2008, Thomas joined the City of Ithaca Public Art Commission, and spearheaded a mural contest which resulted in the Underground Railroad Mural on Green St. near the Ithaca Commons. Thomas said that this project was so successful that the Board of Public Works gave the Public Art Commission their blessing to work with City Hall’s Planning Department and elected officials to bring more murals to City infrastructure.
After the Public Art Commission dissolved, Ithaca Murals remained and is continuously developing and painting new projects across Ithaca.
One of these current projects includes the mural at Asian Cuisine that is dedicated to the efforts of The Youth Farm Project. The artists are Efren Rebugio Jr (@everydayresearch on Instagram) and Brittany Johnson (@brittpaintsalot on Instagram) and their work on the mural officially started July 18. Over the next four days, the duo filled in the mural to create the beautiful image that locals and visitors can walk, or drive by, daily.
In August, Ithaca Murals is painting between 15 and 20 electrical boxes around Ithaca, though the final number has not been decided yet. This project is in partnership with Get Your GreenBack Tompkins with the theme “Thriving Futures.” To fit this theme, the boxes will incorporate aspects of equity and environmental justice.
“In addition to the electrical box projects, we are fundraising for three larger projects that we hope to start later this year,” Thomas said. “We have a mural of Dorothy Cotton planned, a project we’re calling ‘Reawakening the Underground Railroad’ for that mural on Green Street. Finally, we are planning murals in collaboration with Tompkins County schools, so as many schools as possible will have their own mural and thanks to IPEI and community donations, we will work with local artist Terrence Van who is going to be painting a mural at Beverly J. Martin. It is voting themed.”
The organizers at Ithaca Murals are kept quite busy with their packed summer and fall schedules, but still manage to have time to add in more projects and create art themselves.
Two of these additional projects, which are in the conversation and planning phases, are murals with two vital health resources in Tompkins County. Ithaca Health Alliance, also known as the Ithaca Free Clinic, and the Cancer Resource Center are speaking with organizers to have murals created at their respective locations.
With so many electrical boxes, a range of small to large murals, and the occasional “unofficial” street art, it can be hard to keep track of everything there is to see. This is why Ithaca Murals has a mural map on their site and tour offerings throughout the year. Visit www.ithacamurals.com/tours.html for more information on the maps and tours.
There is also Artscape Ithaca, a digital crowdsourced map of art found in Tompkins County. While the map does include some of Ithaca Murals’ projects, it also includes independent artists’ work from around the county, as well as street art and some graffiti tags. Ithaca Murals has cards with the website’s QR code or you can visit www.artscapeithaca.com to see where art has been tagged. Because the platform is crowdsourced, users are welcome to snap a photo and add the location to the map.
For questions about artscapes or Ithaca Murals you can reach them at www.ithacamurals.com/contact.html or you can stop by their booth at the annual artist market on August 11 which will be held at the Ithaca Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing.
“13 years ago there were about 15 murals in Ithaca and now there’s over 300. Ithaca Murals is part of a support network for all these projects and for some of these we are a primary organizer in terms of making that project happen, whether it’s finding funding, finding spaces, collaborating with organizations, providing materials, technical support, and connecting artists into a social network,” Thomas said. “And there’s other projects which are happening in Ithaca that we have very little, if any, involvement with, but we love to spread the word about the great things that artists are doing; just honoring that they’re working here as well. We are also an amplifier for their beautiful, beautiful work and that’s always important.”
The number of projects for Ithaca Murals and for independent artists are ever-growing and whether or not they are working together, they are all making Ithaca and Tompkins County a colorful place to live.