Organizations foster talents of local artists, SU students

Light Work and Point of Contact are just two local galleries that support artists in visual art and poetry.

There are seven Syracuse University-affiliated art galleries in the Syracuse area alone. Among the longest running arts institutions are Light Work and Point of Contact, Inc., which have been running for more than 40 years each. Within a walking distance, students and residents can not only access art but also participate in their different events.

Photo: Shumin Lai
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” - by T.S. Eliot

Light Work

As one of partners under the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers (CMAC) at SU, Light Work was founded in 1973 by Phil Block and Tom Byran as a public access photography facility. It is currently a non-profit photography organization supporting artists locally and internationally.

“Our mission is to support emerging and under-recognized artists working in photography,” associate director Mary Hodgens said. 

Light Work provides different grant programs to attract artists in Central New York and beyond. For artists living within 100 miles of Syracuse, they can apply for the Light Work Grant. The Artist-in-Residence program (AIR) is open to artists from all over the world. Those selected artists need support to immerse themselves in their artworks, and Light Work provide them with resouces such as housing, studio space and materials.

During Light Work’s early stages, SU students ran the organization and invited artists to come to campus to speak about their work. After the artist

Charles Gatewood finished his presentation in 1976, decided to return to his work at Lightwork. He came up with the idea of Artist-in-Residence program and became the program's first resident.

Every year 12 photographers are selected from more than 900 applicants to receive housing in Syracuse for a month, use all the facilities at Light Work studio and a receive a $5,000 stipend.

“We try to help those 12 artists represent what is happening in photography at any given time,” Hodgens said. “So it can be a really life-changing experience for the artist.”

Allison Beondé is a local visual artist living in the Westcott neighborhood. She received the Light Work Grant for $3,000 in 2015 to produce images from a six-week road trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California. She worked on the post-production in the Light Work studio with the team there.

“One thing I really love there is a sense of community,” Beondé said. “You walk in the door and see people you know. The whole Light Work team [is] usually there. Any question I have ever had about anything, there is someone who is able to help, which is really amazing.”

Along with the grant programs, Light Work publishes Contact Sheet that features the latest work from emerging or mid-career artists. Every year, there are four single-artist’s issues about art exhibitions in the main gallery and one The Light Work Annual. It is the biggest issue of the year because it contains the works by the artists who participated the AIR program.

Point of Contact, Inc.

For more than four decades, Point of Contact, Inc. has served as a collaborative forum where artists, scholars, and students actively engage in enriching culture in society. Pedro Cuperman, then a professor at New York University, founded Point of Contact in 1975 as a small publication before it became a residency in Syracuse a year later. Cuperman envisioned bringing voices and establishing dialogue between different cultures and different generations.

Point of Contact holds Cruel April, a poetry series program, in commemoration of National Poetry Month. The title references T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” 

During one Thursday session, a poet read her poem at the Point of Contact Gallery in The Warehouse. The audience included everyone from middle-aged residents to college students. Caitlin Vance, a MFA graduate student at Syracuse University, sat in front of the crowd and read her poems. Sometimes, the audience burst into laughter at her dark humor.

Every year staff and the board of Point of Contact select four or five renowned and under-recognized poets based on their works. All poets are published in the newest volume of Corresponding Voices, a poetry collection published by Point of Contact. It brings poets from different backgrounds together in a dialogue, which is the main intention of this organization.

Vance said it gave her great experience because she had a chance to read poems with Jane Springer who is a recognized poet and author.

“I never thought I get to read with somebody who was much better than me because I am a student and she is a professor,” Vance said.

SU supports Point of Contact, formerly located on 914 E. Genesee St but now in The Warehouse near Armory Square in 2013.

“This was initially created to be Point of Contact Arts Gallery for the university,” Executive director Paniagua said. “For this to be our home. It’s a huge deal.”

According to Cuperman, other than providing the space, SU also pays staff at Point of Contact salaries every year and provide financial support for artistic programs.

“Without SU, this project would never have developed for 40 years,” Paniagua said.

SU provided the infrastructure, the educational platform, resources, and influence to those art galleries. Because of their popularity, more artists come to Syracuse for art, and students have more opportunity to interact with artists and art lovers alike. 


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