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Syracuse is at a literal and figurative crossroads when it comes to the aging infrastructure of Interstate 81. This highway, constructed to benefit Syracuse residents, divided the city and all but destroyed the 15th ward and its vibrant African American community. Stephen Mahan (Director of PAL Project SU) and Yutaka Sho (Syracuse University School of Architecture) combined their interests and skill sets to participate in UPSTATE’S Urban Rest Stop art installation at Forman Park. Their goal was twofold: to give a voice to part of the community that is often muted and to transform the structure of the highway, that has become a barrier, into a magnet.

This is where my collaboration with Stephen and Yutaka began and Edward Smith seventh grade art students enter the picture. I-81 has shaped the students’ sense of self forty years after its construction: they identify with the East side, the South side, the North side or the West, in relation to the 15th ward that is now empty. The students have preconceived ideas of what it is like to live in each respective area. In creating the installation for Urban Rest Stop, the students were introduced to the 15th ward pre and post Interstate 81 by photos and documentary footage. They recognized many landmark buildings and streets. With this in mind each student created a drawing of an anatomical heart, symbolizing the arteries of the city as well as the hearts of the Syracuse residents. The students also wrote about where they were from so to tie their personal histories with the larger municipal one. This student work illuminates the present state of our city neighborhoods. They are telling us in their own voice where they are from. It is now up to us as adults to listen. To let their hearts and words be a magnet that draws us to change.

Mary Lynn Mahan

Art Teacher, Edward Smith K-8 School



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