Crisscrossing Rochester with Art Force 5

Crisscrossing Rochester with Art Force 5

At the TIPS Event at Norton Village. (top left to right) Hakiere Parker, Natalie Lambert, Noah Mitchell, Joyce Parker and (bottom) Sade  Moden  7/28/16 [Photo: Dan Napolitano]

At the recent Unite Rochester event at SOTA, I met several members of Art Force 5, as well the group’s mentor, Dan Napolitano, Director of Student activities at Alfred University. Earlier this year the group won a 5,000 grant in the Unite Rochester Challenge.


at SOTA 7/26 (l-r Noah Mitchell, David Kramer, Joyce Parker) [Photo: Mawia Elawad]

I had read Dan’s reports on the group — Part-Muslim, Part-Gay; Art Force 5 finds a way. and The easiest difficult conversation — and readily accepted his offer to join Art Force 5 last week as they crisscrossed Rochester. The eight member Force are Alfred University students, six of whom graduated from the RCSD.

south wedge diner

(left row, back to front: Dan Napolitano, Kate Kehoe, Natalie Lambert; right row back to front: David Kramer, Joyce Paker, Mawia Elawad, Noah Mitchell 7/28 South Wedge Diner [Photo: South Wedge Staff]

I watched — and added my own tile — as the Force built one of nine mobile community mosaics, each mosaic requiring 361 residents to paint one simple 2” tile as a contribution to the bigger picture illustrating a community issue.

And — as importantly — individual members partnered with police officers, walking around neighborhoods connecting with residents.

First, we had a breakfast meeting at the South Wedge Diner with film director Kate Kressmann-Kehoe who plans to include the group in a documentary on community policing.


Flower City Habitat for Humanity Women Build Stage [Photo: Sarah 7/28]

From there we moved to 213 Orange Street where the team shared their vision with Habitat of Humanity and Women Build volunteers.

As much of the AF5’s work promotes existing resources and agencies, communication is critical. Each member spends three days per week interning at agencies such as Center for Youth, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, Jordan Health, the Grants Office, and the city’s Finance Office and Youth and Recreation Services. The remaining two weekdays are outreach days.

engaging with youth

Joyce Parker (left) and Mawia Elawad engage Rochester youth (many of same age and high school) about their future education plans. [Photo: Dan Napolitano] 7/28


At Norton Village, David Kramer (left) and Hakiere Parker [Photo: Dan Napolitano]

At the Project TIPS Event at Norton Village, we added more tiles as the AF5 members and officers canvassed the neighborhood collecting surveys about police relations.

The walk arounds — listening  and spreading the message about creative conflict resolution — is where it gets real for the Force. As Dan says, there are no scripts or talking points.

Finally, it was time to Party in the Park downtown. The Force did most of the heavy art lifting while I tried my hand at bocce ball.

By sunset, the Force was tired but also feeling rewarded by the positive responses. Hakiere Parker, a Wilson Magnet IB grad, had run into some old high school friends, sharing what they were doing with themselves and for their community.


Art Force 5 behind the bocce courts, Party in the Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park at Manhattan Square. 7/28 [Photo: Bocce League of Rochester]

melissa barett

Candidate for Monroe County Court Judge, Melissa Barrett adding tile at the Party in the Park 7/28

Over the course of the day, I learned that Art Force 5 is an extension of work done by Dan and others at Alfred’s Drawn to Diversity Program, including the course taught by Dan, Social Justice Meets Art Therapy.

In recent years, in Indianapolis the program created a mosaic tribute to Madame CJ Walker. In response to racial slurs on the Oklahoma University campus, the program made a mosaic at a national diversity conference. And built a civil rights mosaic at Notre Dame University.

As Dan explained, the program is based on social science research showing creative activity can serve as a productive outlet for sometimes destructive emotions. The program is similar to the Non-Violent Clubs supported by the Gandhi Institute that incorporate music and art.

p in p 2

Natalie Lambert and friend


New York Times, 8/2/16

pat on the back

D & C, 7/29/16

As Dan say, fundamentally, the program is more about process than the final product. It’s not so much the finished mosaic that matters, but the dialogue generated as a collective creation. For each tile painted and glued to the mosaic, people interacted with probably a dozen others hanging out at the mural tables. In the course of the day, the Force met hundreds of Rochestarians.

picturing douglass

Courtesy of Administrative Office of the Mount Hope Cemetery, 8/2/16

Dan also says of Art Force 5: We are not the remedy — we are the reflection. Art Force alone can not unite Rochester. The Force cannot build integrated affordable housing or form a county wide school system. But artistic activity can promote social change.

In yesterday’s New York Times, How Artists Change The World, David Brooks looks at how Frederick Douglass used photographic portraits of himself to “take contemporary stereotypes of African-Americans — that they are unlettered, comic and dependent — and turn them upside down.” Douglass had what Brooks’ calls the artists’ ability to “recode the mental maps people project into the world.”

In the case of Art Force, perhaps it helps unite Rochester imaginatively. Not simplistically seeing unification where it is not, but imagining — retraining, coding mental maps — where it can be.

As I watched the Alfred students march into the neighborhood wearing their Art Force 5 shirts, I also sensed the spirit of the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and early 40s.

wilson mural

from Art for the People premiers early at the MAG. Five year labor of love comes to fruition for curator Jessica Marten

As we saw in the “Art for the People” exhibit at the MAG, artists and artisans brought art directly to the people, for examples, in Charlotte High’s murals and the architectural wonders of the steps around the waterfalls at Stonybrook State Park. (The 2015 Wilson Student Mural Project is art force in action.)

The test of that spirit will be how sustainable is Art Force 5. The group plans to visit schools in the Fall and reconvene next summer. Hopefully, people in those cool black shirts will be doling out tiles for years to come.

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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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