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Syracuse Symposium showcases CNY ethnic folk arts in fall photo exhibition, performances
Syracuse Symposium showcases CNY ethnic folk arts in fall photo exhibition, performancesSeptember 04, 2008Rob Enslinrmenslin@syr.edu
The 2008 Syracuse Symposium continues its theme of “migration” with three events from this year’s “Folk Arts: Soul of Syracuse” series. The events, which showcase the talents of more than a dozen local ethnic communities, encompass a photography exhibition, running Sept. 26-Oct. 25, and two music and dance performances, 2-4 p.m. on Oct. 4 and 25. All three events take place in the Panasci Lounge of Syracuse University’s Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine Student Center and are free and open to the public. Parking is available in all non-gated lots.
The Folk Arts series, whose theme this year is “Migrating Memories, Migrating Arts,” is the brainchild of SU anthropology professor Felicia “Faye” McMahon. The series celebrates the contributions of the region’s “First People”-the Onondaga and Oneida-and the many immigrant groups who settled here, including the long-established Irish, Polish and Ukrainians, and the relative newcomers of Burma, Congo, Liberia, Russia, Sudan and Vietnam. “Tradition is changed through cultural contact,” says McMahon, also an author and folklorist. “Some of the most creative cultural exchanges occurred during encounters between the Haudenosaunee and early immigrants to New York state. We learn from one another.” More than 700 new immigrants settle in Syracuse each year, she adds.
The exhibition features 15 works by McMahon and Binghamton photographer Geof Gould. Described by McMahon as a “formative cultural fermentation,” it documents recent heritage-based arts activities between SU’s anthropology department and the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Services, Center for New Americans, St. Vincent DePaul Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church. “The photographs honor the efforts of the many community members in Syracuse and Utica who are contributing to the cohesion of their communities during adjustment to a new homeland,” McMahon says. “These emerging traditions enrich our region’s cultural landscape.” Gallery hours for the Panasci Lounge are Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
The Oct. 4 and 25 performances feature music, dance and folk arts demonstrations that complement the photo exhibition. Oct. 4 participants include several dozen Nepalese, Bosnians, Meskhetian Turks, Ukrainians and Haudenosaunee. Oct. 25 participants include the DiDinga of Sudan, Liberians, Congolese, Ukrainians, Vietnamese and Haudenosaunee.
“Public performances expose audiences to unfamiliar art forms, increasing their mainstream acceptance and fostering an understanding of different cultures,” says McMahon, author of “Not Just Child’s Play: Emerging Tradition and the Lost Boys of Sudan” (University Press of Mississippi, 2007). “These performances also benefit new immigrants, bolstering their self-esteem, increasing family stability, building a sense of community, and ultimately easing their integration into American society.” Both performances are co-sponsored by the New York State Council on the Arts and the SU Chancellor’s Office. The Folk Arts series concludes April 21, 2009, with a special performance at SU’s MayFest.
For nearly a decade, McMahon has worked to improve the lives of challenged and underrepresented communities in Syracuse and Utica by using the arts to bridge the gap between growing populations of new immigrants. She founded the Folk Arts series in 2007 in response to SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor’s “Soul of Syracuse” initiative, which encourages SU to look beyond its borders to serve the greater community. “The University is in a position to provide sustenance in the midst of plenty, by acknowledging and by supporting the cultural contributions of community members in Central New York,” McMahon says.
One way SU is doing this is by offering an honors course in which students engage in fieldwork with local immigrant and refugee folk artists. The new fall course, aptly titled “Migrating Memories, Migrating Arts,” is sponsored by Syracuse Symposium. In it, McMahon teaches basic interviewing techniques that culminate with each student doing an in-depth ethnographic project about a specific community. The goal of the projects is to facilitate social and cultural cohesion. “We want to ‘give back’ to the communities with whom we work,” she says, adding that the students serve as the performers’ hosts during the October performances.
Syracuse Symposium is a semester-long intellectual and artistic festival about interdisciplinary thinking, imagining and creating, presented by The College of Arts and Sciences for the Syracuse community. More information on lectures, performances, exhibits, and other special events is available at http://syracusesymposium.org.