Local haikus, artworks combine for annual Syracuse Poster Project

From left: Poet Peter Allen & Artist Aaron Lee; Poet Laura Braaten & Artist Dani Pendergast; Poet Sherry Chayat & Artist Steven Peters

Since 2001 the Syracuse Poster Project has produced more than 200 posters celebrating local neighborhoods, culture, architecture and encounters with nature. The posters, each of which combines a three-line poem known as a haiku with an illustration, have covered subjects ranging from lunchtime at Columbus Circle to blues festivals, from the solitude of a winter day to the joy of a young boy cuddling with a family dog, and from abolitionist Frederick Douglass to the Tipperary Hill traffic light with green in the top slot.

From the very start, the nonprofit group has pursued a community-art agenda. The poets and artists who contribute to the posters come from the Syracuse area. The posters are exhibited in public spaces, in downtown kiosks, at the Mulroy Civic Center, in libraries, offices and restaurants. Each January, for example, the posters are hung on the walls of Provisions, a bakery and restaurant in Armory Square.

On Thursday, April 18, the project will debut its posters for 2019 in a kickoff event beginning at 6 p.m. at City Hall Commons, 201 E. Washington St. Those posters, as usual, explore various topics. Mary Jane Bevard’s poem and Erin Nowak’s artwork reference the State Tower Building. Eagles flying at Onondaga Lake first inspired Michelle Madonna’s haiku and then an illustration by Alyssa Dearborn. Poetry by Aubrey Cooper and art by Cayetano Valenzuela come together in a poster depicting goats on a farm.


On one hand, the process of producing the posters is much the same. Jim Emmons, the project’s coordinator, says the organization continues to solicit submissions of poetry and artworks, to select finalists and match up haiku and art, and to ensure that a new series of posters is ready on time. The work is shared by Emmons and a corps of volunteers and interns.

On the other hand, there have been two changes. The 2019 portfolio consists of 18 posters, an increase from the usual 16. In addition, for most of the group’s history, illustrations were created by Syracuse University students. However, starting in 2018, the artists’ competition was opened to the general public. Ultimately, that led to inclusion of works by Dearborn, Nowak and Valenzuela for 2019.

From an organizational perspective, Syracuse Poster Project, like many grassroots groups, continues to operate with a modest budget. It has no government funding or institutional support. According to Emmons, its income comes from grants, personal and corporate donations, and selling products such as posters, postcards and notecards. The posters, for example, are available at the Syracuse University Bookstore, Syracuse Soapworks and other venues.

Yet the group is self-sustaining, able to raise enough money to pay for production costs. Moreover, it clearly has assets, one being the reputation it has earned by producing posters every year and by striving for high-quality pieces. Over the years, its posters have included the Douglass portrait; an illustration in which statues in the Soldiers and Sailors monument at Clinton Square hold jazz instruments; and an image of a dog sitting alone in a car, as the first line of the accompanying haiku states, “Dare I Hope Again.”

Another asset is the project’s archives, which hold dozens of poems and images. Emmons says there’s consideration of additional avenues for utilizing the archives. One possibility is setting up a rotating menu of poems which would be shown on screens at a public space. The same could be done for a selection of posters.

Lastly, Syracuse Poster Project still has the vision shared by Emmons and Roger Demuth, an artist and SU professor, when they co-founded the organization 18 years ago. “Our goals are the same,” Emmons said. “We want to produce good quality art on time and to engage the public.”

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