In 1970, a group of anti-war activists dissatisfied with most calendars on the market created the very first Peace Calendar.
It had a basic layout, with hand-lettered dates and notations discussing the Vietnam War, civil rights struggles and other issues. It was distributed only in Syracuse.
Forty years later, the 2011 Peace Calendar is a very different publication featuring state-of-the-art graphics. Its publisher, the Syracuse Cultural Workers, sells copies not only in Central New York but also in food co-ops, independent bookstores and galleries around the United States and at a few venues in Canada. There’s a press run of more than 23,000.
In addition, SCW now works with an expanded roster of artists. The 2011 Peace Calendar certainly has pieces by artists from upstate New York: Karen Kerney, art director for the Cultural Workers; Marcus K. Anderson, from Albany; and Sharon Bottle Souva, who splits time between Syracuse and Binghamton.
At the same time, there’s work created by artists from outside the region. Favianna Rodriguez, of Oakland, Calif., created “The Rising of the Women,” a digital piece celebrating the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. For August, a photo montage documents demonstrations against Vermont Yankee, a nuclear plant, and features Massachusetts photographer Cate Woolner’s image.
A third artist, Sebastiao Salgado, is from Brazil. He has an international portfolio, having worked with UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations. His powerful photo shows Afghan schoolchildren as they look at a collection of mines and cluster bombs.
In its contacts with artists, the Cultural Workers use various approaches, sometimes drawing on an existing body of work. February’s illustration, for example, samples Eric Etheridge’s book: Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders. He paired mug shots of civil rights activists arrested in Jackson, Miss., 50 years ago with current-day photos of the activists and their quotes. The calendar piece combines rows of mug shots and Joseph Postiglione’s image of a violent incident in Anniston, Ala. There segregationists firebombed a Freedom Riders bus, resulting in a burning vehicle and smoke spewing into the sky. In the calendar, smoke seems to flow over the top section of the page.
A second approach centers on asking an artist to do artwork specifically for the calendar. Anderson did an acrylic piece celebrating socially conscious hip-hop bands like Public Enemy, Broadcast Live, from Albany, and Mystic of Oakland, Calif. The piece traces a line of continuity from African storytellers to activists such as Angela Davis to independent hip-hop artists. It also rejects glorifying violence or stereotyping women.
And SCW creates work in-house. Kerney, in collaboration with SCW staffers Dik Cool and Donna Tarbania, designed “The ABC’s of Living Green,” a primer dealing with recycling, organic farming and other ways to respect the environment.
She also did a digital collage observing the Syracuse Peace Council’s 75th anniversary. Her work shows five figures, in colors ranging from blue to red to orange, linked arm-in-arm, referring to the notion of solidarity. Each figure represents a strain of activism. In addition, the piece recalls the calendar’s history. For 12 years, it was a Peace Council project before the SCW took it over in 1982. Cool was heavily involved in the Peace Council’s production of the calendar; today, he is SCW’s publisher.
That collage, Kerney noted, was selected only after SCW looked at other possibilities. “We did a group photo of people holding signs in the Thornden Park Amphitheater,” she said. “It wasn’t strong enough. We looked at other options.”
This reflects an annual process in which a six-person committee tries to match topics with images. That committee works from a prime imperative: Content can’t trump visual appeal. Each person who buys the calendar will look at an illustration over the course of a month. Hence, each illustration slot is precious.
“We always ask the same question,” Kerney said. “Will it work on the wall? If it doesn’t, we can’t use it.”
Some of the illustrations that appear in the calendar reference a specific issue or struggle. Others evoke a mood or feeling. For December, Souva’s fiber collage “Winter Woods” celebrates the quiet majesty of a forest in winter, projecting calm and refuge from everyday stress and holiday time shopping rituals. “Her piece works particularly well for December,” Kerney said. “It speaks to personal and communal renewal.”