PRESS RELEASE By SUSAN FEIGHTNER: Two upcoming events at Syracuse University will pay tribute to Syracuse’s 15th Ward, a predominantly Jewish and African American neighborhood destroyed in the late 1950s and early 1960s through urban renewal, the construction of Interstate 81 and the expansion of Upstate Medical Center (now SUNY Upstate Medical University). Memories of the 15th Ward will be featured in the Sojourner Storytelling Conference and in a photography exhibition, both in the Shaffer Art Building.
The photography exhibition, “15th Ward: Memories of a Syracuse Neighborhood Transformed,” will be presented Feb. 23—27 in the rotunda of the Shaffer Art Building.
A public reception for the exhibition will be held Thursday, Feb. 26, at 6 p.m., with the Sojourner Storytelling Conference following in Shemin Auditorium in the Shaffer Art Building at 7 pm. Free parking will be available for attendees at the Booth Garage and, for those who are elderly or have a disability, in the Q4 lot.
The exhibition traces the historical development of the neighborhood from the early 20th century through the urban renewal period of the 1960s and concludes with a look at the neighborhood as it is found today. On view will be photographs that document the early days of the district as it evolved into a center for Jewish life in Syracuse. As the area progressed from those early days, it gradually became a destination for African Americans moving north in search of a better life. The photographs also show the neighborhood during the urban renewal period and the construction of I-81.
The annual Sojourner Storytelling Conference, now in its 11th year, will focus on the theme “Memories of 15th Ward.” The event will feature two live storytellers, mixed-media presentations about the ward and a 30-minute student-produced documentary about the neighborhood. The two storytellers are Francis Parks and Sandy Sternlicht. Parks, the founder of the Sojourner Storytelling Conference, is a renowned storyteller who recently retired after 25 years of service to the SU community, including as director of Students Offering Service and of African American Programs in Hendricks Chapel. Sternlicht is professor of English in The College of Arts and Sciences and was recently appointed Speaker in the Humanities by the New York Council for the Humanities. He is also author of several books, including “The Tenement Saga: The Lower East Side and Early Jewish American Writers” (Terrace Books, 2004).
The exhibition consists of nearly 60 photographs drawn from the collections of the Judaic Heritage Center, the Onondaga Historical Association, the Coulter Library at Onondaga Community College and Beauchamp Library, as well as former and current residents of this part of the city. Included in the exhibition are the photographs of Aldo Tambellini and Marjory Wilkins. The exhibition was organized, researched, designed and constructed by students in the Graduate Program in Museum Studies in SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).
Both events received funding from Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life and were developed in conjunction with Say Yes to Education, Hendricks Chapel, the Department of African American Studies in The College of Arts and Sciences and SU’s Public Memory Project. SU’s Public Memory Project is an interdisciplinary collective centered in VPA’s Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. Over the past eight years, the Public Memory Project has organized several conferences, guest speakers and public events focused on the ways that the past continues to inform our orientation toward the present.
The 15th Ward project has also included numerous community organizations and individuals, including the Judaic Heritage Center, Southwest Community Center, Temple Society of Concord and Grace Episcopal Church.