Syracuse Cultural Workers still here after 27 years

Curiously, for a city so many people seem to want to get out of, Syracuse gets some of its best reviews from its ex-pats. Jan Phillips is one of those, a photographer and author now based in San Diego. In 1982 she was one of the five co-founders of Syracuse Cultural Workers, called together by Dik Cool -- Karen Kerney, Jack Manno and Linda Perla were the other original three -- to carry on the annual Peace Calendar that the Syracuse Peace Council was abandoning after 11 years. The peace and justice publisher and distributor still creates the annual Peace Calendar with its "peoples' history" annotations and now sells an ever-widening array of posters, cards, t-shirts, children's item, buttons and stickers, books, flags and mugs. Syracuse Cultural Workers also operates an international mail-order business out of the building that houses its Tools for Change storefront and offices at 400 Lodi St., in what used to be Corona's Restaurant, on the edge of the Hawley-Green historic district on the city's near northeast side.

Last week Phillips said by telephone from San Diego, "If you didn't get outside Syracuse you might not see the impact. I've been to 20 or 30 states doing workshops. We made a significant impact on schools, on U.S gay and lesbian culture, on women's issues. Even in places you wouldn't expect -- Green Bay, Wisconsin, or South Dakota, or Wyoming -- almost every classroom I'm in, there's a poster on the wall that came from the Cultural Workers. The catalogue is carried in all the English-speaking countries. But the biggest thing was, we created space for artists who wanted to create work of consequence and get paid for it."

Last Friday morning as a chill wind whipped the flags out front of Tools for Change, I also sat down for a wide-ranging conversation about the founding and evolution of Syracuse Cultural Workers with co-founders Dik Cool and Karen Kerney -- Karen left for a period of years to devote herself to On the Rise Bakery -- and associate publisher Donna Tarbania, who arrived in 1997. Midway through our conversation City Eagle editor Ellen Leahy joined us to take photos and we stopped for a tour of the building, after which we resumed the interview.

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