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Can Syracuse Public Mural Project Help Bridge Racial, Cultural Divide, Bring Pride to City?

photo provided
Frank Malfitano/Jonas Never (artist)

A new public art project in downtown Syracuse could honor the city’s history while making the city more welcoming and progressive.  The purveyors hope the project could become a downtown attraction.


What if you were walking or driving downtown and were greeted by huge artwork on buildings with notable figures from sports, music, social change?  That’s exactly what Frank Malfitano was after when he saw other civic murals.

“I saw them in New York, I saw them in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and I was really impressed.  It’s really the contemporary art form of the 21st century.  And I thought, ‘wow, these are great.  Why can’t we do that in Syracuse?’”

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Malfitano doesn't see a brick wall here; he sees a canvas for public art. 

He’s secured agreement to make Syracuse’s first mural in the project on the Monroe Building on East Onondaga Street.  It will feature figures, he says, have had impacts on social justice, racial equity, and female empowerment.

“Earl Lloyd was the first African American player in the NBA in the 1950s and he went on to become the first African American champion in the NBA when the Syracuse Nationals defeated the Fort Wayne Pistons.  And his teammate, Dolph Schayes, is one of the top 50 NBA players of all time.  That was a period of Jim Crow segregation.  It was also a period of great anti-Semitism.” 

Add to them Manny Breland who broke the color barrier with Syracuse University Basketball and was the city’s first African American school principal.  And to round out the canvas, Breanna Stewart.

“Breanna is a two-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm; she was a four-time NCAA collegiate champion.  And she’s been very active with the Breonna Taylor Black Lives Matter movement, and she’s really taken a very public stance for equal pay for women in sports.”

Credit Provided photo by Frank Malfitano / Jonas Never artist
Jonas Never artist
Artist Jonas Never created this work in Los Angeles.  He will be coming to Syracuse for the first mural project. 

You might remember Malfitano from more than 35 years of Syracuse Jazz Fest … he wanted to do this project to give some hope as art and cultural venues are shut down due to the pandemic.    And, he argues, it speaks to the times, and what’s needed in Syracuse.

“It needs to celebrate its greatness; it also needs to celebrate and embrace its diversity.  My feeling is that we’ll never come together as a city unless we do things that make us come together as a city.  If you look at this, it’s multi-racial; it’s multi-generational; it’s multi-gender.  That comprises who we are as a community.”

Malfitano has secured artist Jonas Never, who’s painted Kobe Bryant and Jackie Robinson in Los Angeles.  The hope is that the project can continue if more funds can be raised … and if more businesses agree to have their walls become an artist’s canvas for Syracuse’s cultural jewels.

Hear more from the interview with Frank Malfitano about the Downtown Mural Project, it's connection to social justice movements of today, and the possible future of more murals downtown.

Credit Provided photo by Frank Malfitano / Jonas Never artist
Jonas Never artist
One of Jonas Never's most recent murals. 

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.