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Exhibit on Syracuse's 15th ward featured in former City Hall Commons

Syracuse’s former 15th ward is the subject of the latest exhibit at the Art in the Atrium gallery, which is a collaboration between CNY Arts and the Black Artist Collective (BAC).

Entitled Paired Pieces, the exhibit showcases eight artists, four of whom are students ad the rest, professional artists from the BAC, which was co-founded by Martikah Williams.

“We had kind of been talking about, within BAC, how do we use our arts and our activism to propel conversation around this issue,” Williams said. “A bunch of us artists have been trying to explore it in different ways across different mediums.”

In the 1960s, Syracuse’s 15th ward was razed in order to create the I-81 viaduct. The spot, which was once a cultural hub for Black, Jewish, and immigrant residents, was suddenly gone. According to a report from, in 1950, eight out of every nine African Americans in Syracuse lived in the 15th ward. A decade later, that number grew 144%.

Recently, the ward has been thrown into the spotlight again as revitalization efforts are growing in popularity, especially as the I-81 corridor is being revamped. With the viaduct that destroyed the ward set to be torn down, conversations about what to do with that land are becoming more and more popular.

“There’s a lot of conversation...happening right now and it is very hot amongst the whole of our city,” Williams said. “To be speaking up for a community this way through the art, I don’t know if it could have lined up more perfectly.”

Artwork being held by a female artist is displayed, featuring both words and drawings in black, brown, and white.
Courtesy of Martikah Williams
Williams' artwork from the 15th ward exhibit was creating using charcoal on canvas and is a combination of words and drawings.

Syracuse is in the process of trying to acquire federal money for neighborhood redevelopment. Onondaga County provided $750,000 for the area last November.

Both Williams and Common Councilor At-Large Rita Paniagua, who is also president of the CNY Arts Board, say with the new revitalization, showcasing artwork of marginalized communities is key to keeping the story alive.

“You know this is part of it, having an exhibit where they can come and bring their art and...find a place to be welcomed,” said Paniagua.

Executive Director of CNY Arts Stephen Butler said razing a ward that was home to people of color, Jews and immigrants "impacted our history and how we've gone forward. I think that visibility for the ward, which is part of community engagement, is very important.”

The Atrium itself also carries an interesting story. The exhibit with the BAC is not the first that has provided a space for marginalized communities to share their artwork.

Previously, the Atrium hosted an exhibit about Pakistan Independence Day, as well as exhibits with Arc Herkimer, an organization that works with people with disabilities who make art.

“We thought about community engagement, most importantly, and how could we bring visibility to communities that were making art, wonderful art, but generally didn't get as much traction,” Butler said. “This was a way of reaching people in the community that might not tend to go into [galleries], but now, they will.”

Paniagua says choosing exhibits is a two-way street between CNY Arts and the groups that might want to showcase their work in the Atrium.

“We know when they have their important dates coming up and celebrations and they either reach out to us because they know us, or we actually do reach out to them too, to make sure that they have everything they need,” Paniagua said.

Paired Pieces runs through March 10 at the Art in the Atrium. The exhibit is free and open Friday through Sunday.

Danielle is an undergraduate student studying Magazine, News and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May of 2026. As a web writer, she helps manage online content for WAER. As a social media manager, she helps manage social media content for WAER. Danielle is from Southern California, and is both nervous and extremely excited for the snow! You can follow her @danielleblyn on Twitter!