ITHACA, N.Y. –– Ithaca Murals, now a thriving collective of artists that have created hundreds of murals across the city, is launching a fundraiser to renovate and expand their first ever mural in Ithaca –– the Underground Railroad Mural on Green Street.
The Underground Railroad Mural was the first project organized by IM leader Caleb Thomas back in 2008. The mural honors national leaders in the abolitionist movement Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and honors Ithaca’s connection to the movement –– Saint James AME Zion Church was an Underground Railroad station, and there were many other safehouses across Upstate New York.
Since 2008, IM has created over 150 unique murals across the city.
“I’ve been organizing murals in Ithaca for 11 years, always with an eye on justice and thinking about who’s represented in our cityscape,” said Caleb Thomas, the lead organizer of IM. “It’s time for people to get active and to support Black people, particularly Black wisdom, by any means necessary.”
The revitalized mural looks not only to celebrate Black leaders of the past, but also Black artists and community members of the present. Four Black artists will be working to bring the vision to life –– Maryam Adib, Jackie Richardson, Cyepress Rite, and Terrance Vann.
IM is hoping to raise over $20,000 for the project, and is offering incentives to those who donate. They have custom mugs and stickers for different price-points.
This mural project comes as racial justice movements have continued to make headlines both locally and across the country following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police back in May.
Adib, one of the four artists, said the project was planned before widespread attention was brought to racial justice in Ithaca, but that coronavirus delayed its start.
“Caleb had mentioned this to me six or seven months ago, wanting to revamp this mural. Then we met about a month or so ago: some community members, potential artists, people that are just really interested in getting this mural revamped,” Adib said. “It’s a beautiful mural but it’s also kind of chipping away.”
Cyepress Rite, another artist creating the new, expanded mural, said despite the plan for the project to start months ago, now is a perfect time to revitalize the mural.
“The community is very in tune as we’re experiencing COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the intersections of all of this,” Rite said. “Now, as we’re in Black August, this month that has historically been a time where Black people, Black revolutionaries are writing and creating … it’s a perfect opportunity to re-imagine the blueprint that has been laid out and to honor our ancestors and those stories.”
While the artists are preserving the original theme of the mural and still focusing on the Underground Railroad’s significance to Black history in Ithaca, the artists say the revitalized mural will take a different approach to storytelling and looks to celebrate Black culture on top of Black history.
“Right now we all felt [the mural] was fragmented, and we want it to be something that flows together really beautifully. Having past and present and future all come together in a way where it works in a non-linear type of way, thinking about time as a constant,” Adib said. “We want it to be, of course, honoring the figures that are there, which is Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, but also have symbolism that is meaningful to us as Black people”
Rite added, “It’s so essential to see ourselves reflected in the world around us. The importance of cityscapes and the stories that are being told on these structures around us where we live,” they said. “Art is life, and we’re constantly in creation. To do so intentionally and to harvest that power is very powerful.”
This project is the result of a collaboration between Southside Community Center and IM, and is relying heavily on donations from the fundraiser to pay for supplies. To donate check out the IM website, or donate by mail by sending checks to 501 South Cayuga St., Ithaca. IM also takes venmo @ithacamurals.
Adib and Rite said that the team hopes to finish the mural by October. After this project is complete, they hope to eventually open a studio for queer, Black artists to have a space to create art in Ithaca.
“The goal would be completely decolonizing these [artistic] spaces. And it starts with having one,” Rite said.
Photo courtesy of Ithaca Murals