Art-in-Motion puppet project comes to life in September

It seems strange to assign a neighborhood a gender -- male, female, neither, both?

But that's one of the first questions Open Hand Theater's Geoff Navias asks participants as they begin to conceptualize the puppet that will personify their community in a downtown performance in September.

Navias, Syracuse Stage's Lauren Unbekant and Imagining American director Jan Cohen-Cruz are serving as lead personnel to bring the three groups together as the force behind Art-in-Motion, a collaborative experiment that will stage its inaugural city-wide 'Spectacular' on the lawn of the MOST on Sept. 11. The event will feature a parade of puppets created by neighbors in Syracuses' South, Near West and North sides, and Eastwood.

Before the puppets can go on parade, community members have to come together to build them.

"Each one of these neighborhoods is exploring its own vision of itself," Navias said.

The final product for each quadrant will identify the community's culture, through its own lens. Which means community members have to determine just how they see themselves, and how to project that to the city as a whole.

On the Southside, through the Southside Coalition, that vision has been sculpted to portray both a contemporary African-American woman and a traditional African wooden mask.

With the help of sculpor Juan Cruz and the Spanish Action League, Near West Side community members and elementary school students developed a puppet that highlights the grandmother figure of Latino culture.

Last week, Navias asked Eastwood residents participating in the puppet project how they could incorporate the neighborhood's prominent Main Street into their puppet.

The group began building a prototype of their vision with clay, which, at this point, includes a nod to The Palace Theatre and the village-atmosphere retained by the neighborhood.

Eastwood community organizer and blogger Lonnie Chu said she hopes the project will help remind neighborhood residents of what their community has to offer.

Beyond that, the Art in Motion project aims to remind residents throughout the city of what each neighborhood represents and offers to the community as a whole.

The Art-in-Motion performance will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday Sept. 11 on the green in front of the MOST in Armory Square.

For more information, or to participate in the puppet project, contact e-mail vadelpra@syr.edu or call 443-8590. The Eastwood group meets Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. at the Reformed Church of Syracuse, 1228 Teall Ave. All Eastwood residents are welcome and encouraged to attend; visit walkeastwood.org.

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