The Syracuse Cultural Workers are based at 400 Lodi St., in the Hawley-Green neighborhood, but their impact extends well beyond Syracuse. They ship the Peace Calendar and other items to individual households across the United States and Canada and to well over 300 wholesalers — food co-ops, museum gift shops, independent bookstores, and others.
And while SCW is clearly a small publisher, they are not a tiny operation. The Peace Calendar for 2024 has a press run of 12,000 and continues to fulfill two fundamental objectives: creating a visually dynamic calendar; discussing themes such as ecology, civil and human rights, grassroots organizing, political and economic democracy.
Andy Mager, SCW’s Wholesale Manager and Social Movements Liaison, says every calendar begins from scratch, with a committee discussing, planning, debating the merits of various artworks. One basic objective is selecting illustrations that people will want to view over the course of a month.
Many calendars work exclusively with photos, but the Peace Calendar samples varied media, not only photographs but also reproductions of paintings and drawings, as well as digital illustrations.
For example, the page for October features a reproduction of an elaborate acrylic by John Simkins. It encompasses striking colors, depiction of a structure recalling Noah’s Ark, animals and birds that are currently endangered and some that are extinct.
A second illustration, for March, is based on a mural overseen by the Clarion Alley Mural Project in San Francisco. It portrays an Iranian woman cutting her hair; the colors of the Iranian flag are in the background. The illustration refers to the case of Mahsa Amini who was arrested by religious police in Iran for not covering her hair. She died in police custody, sparking mass protests throughout the country.
Then there’s Elan Shapiro’s artwork created with print pens. It’s centered on a circular design, with rings named for basic needs– among them, affordable housing and healthcare.
And the calendar’s 2024 edition does include photos. There are images of Starbucks employees organizing for union recognition, of youth taking part in a 2021 demonstration regarding the climate crisis, of members of ADAPT, a national organization of disability-rights activists. The latter illustration is a photo collage; a powerful image shows demonstrators crawling up steps toward the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Although the Peace Calendar is probably SCW’s best known product, it’s definitely part of a larger portfolio. The Cultural Workers create and sell an annual women artists datebook, buttons, postcards, T-shirts, and posters. “Earth Values,” a series of notecards, combines text by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an author and professor at SUNY ESF, and artworks by Wendy Harris.
Mager says SCW evaluates both sales of individual items and overall income. In one respect, they are dealing with an alarming trend. When Donald Trump was in the White House, sales soared. Since the election of President Joseph Biden, sales have decreased by roughly 25 percent.
According to Mager, the SCW staff is looking at several strategies to enhance sales: sending out fewer catalogs and doing more digital marketing, finding better ways to connect to younger consumers, contacting more community groups willing to sell the Peace Calendar as a fundraiser and expanding community outreach.
Locally, the Cultural Workers have long had a presence at the Plowshares Craftsfair, held during the first weekend of December, and the Downtown Arts and Crafts Festival. This summer, they set up a table at a Syracuse Mets baseball game, on a night celebrating Haudenosaunee people. “The night at the park went well,” Mager said. “We’re considering other possibilities.”
In addition, the group is dealing with internal changes. Dik Cool, SCW’s co-founder and longtime publisher, retired, and so did Karen Kerney, a co-founder, graphic designer and creator of “How To Build Community,” one of SCW’s best selling posters. Rae Kramer, a member of the calendar committee for 25 years and a proofreader for many calendars, died in March 2023.
Even as SCW processes those changes, the staff is in the midst of a busy fall. The last quarter of the year is prime time for selling calendars and other items.
Finally, the year’s end is followed by a new cycle of originating the Peace Calendar. “The calendar committee begins meeting again during January, 2024,” Mager said. “The process starts all over again.”
The 2024 Peace Calendar, a 12×12 wall calendar, is on sale for $16.95. It can be purchased at SCW’s showroom at 400 Lodi St., by calling 1-800-949-5139, by accessing syracuseculturalworkers.com. The showroom is currently open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and will have expanded hours starting Oct. 31.
Carl Mellor covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 through 2019. He continues to write about artists and exhibitions in the Syracuse area.
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