Pakistani families gather in celebration at the City Hall Commons Atrium. Photo courtesy of Alex Korman, Director of Communications and Marketing.

After city officials move out of City Hall Commons this week, the building’s atrium will become a venue for art workshops, classes and exhibits. 

Over the next year, with support from CNY Arts and downstate nonprofit ChShaMa, more than 30 local artists will bring diverse art into an otherwise vacant space. In that time, the groups will operate a multidisciplinary gallery for 20 hours each week and present up to six shows.  

CNY Arts and ChaShaMa are calling the effort ‘Art in the Atrium.’ They will hold their inaugural event – “Syracuse Strong” – this weekend. Local artists will display their artwork centered on downtown Syracuse.

CNY Arts held a soft opening in celebration of Pakistan independence day on Aug. 13 in the atrium.

The City Hall Commons building is currently undergoing a major transition as the city moves its offices out of the building. The vacant atrium will be revamped with public facing art and communal space for artistry, said Eric Ennis, the city’s deputy commissioner of business development. 

“The Atrium is all glass and we particularly loved the idea of working in that space and really activating the square over there with art. So whether the exhibit would be open or closed, passerbys would still be able to look in and see this art,” said Stephen Butler, executive director of CNY Arts. 

Federal stimulus money provided to the city helped create the partnership between ChaShaMa and CNY Arts. City officials also gave ChaShaMa a year-long lease and waived its rent while CNY Arts will manage the space, Butler said. 

ChaShaMa manages more than 30 art venues in New York City. It transforms unused real estate into a communal place for artists and entrepreneurs. The nonprofit works closely with city officials and organizations to locate vacant properties outside New York City.

The New York State Council on the Arts has helped ChaShaMa expand into Ithaca, Niagara, Salamanca, Rochester, and Syracuse. 

“We realized we could bring that model upstate and try to get property donations. But it was kind of outside of our capacity to program the spaces because we just don’t have infrastructure in each of these cities,” said ChaShaMa director of real estate Colby Welsh.

ChaShaMa has been working with CNY Arts to find artists with varying styles and from different backgrounds. The New York City group has been trying to reach underrepresented and underserved groups — especially those who are differently able or who use art as a reparative experience, Butler said.

“We’re open. We like to encourage our program partners to work with visual artists from all mediums through to performance artists, music. It’s really open to the program partners to find the artists that go into these spaces,” Welsh said. 

All Syracuse artists selected as participants for ‘Art in the Atrium’ will receive stipends to pay for materials and as compensation for their work. Artists will be allowed to sell their work at the galleries. 

“It’s access to space and it’s access to the art, and just supporting artists to get their stuff out there,” Welsh said.

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