On September 26th, several students enrolled in our “Cinema in Exhibition” and “Selected Topics: Activists and Environmental Media” concurrent courses as well as our professor, Bradley Rappa, attended the second annual “Get-Up State” event. This occasion brought together over fifty graffiti artists from around the globe to celebrate hip-hop culture by covering the entire circumferences of the two Cornell University Press Buildings at 770 Cascadilla Street downtown in spray painted murals. The event was sponsored by Tompkins County Public Library, so I sat down with the Library Exhibit Coordinator, Sally Grubb, to discuss the circumstances of the event. Here’s what Grubb had to say:
“How did this event come into fruition?”
Sally Grubb: “Three years ago in 2012, Cornell asked the Public Library to participate in their celebration of hip hop, because Cornell has this big hip hop collection. They had invited Afrika Bambaataa [a South Bronx DJ who’s electronic music from the 1980s is known to have had major influences on the development of current hip hop culture] to come down to become a visiting professor, and they wanted a celebration of the founding of hip hop as well as a celebration of and presentation of their collection. They wanted the community involved as well because hip hop is a community activity, it’s a community culture, it’s not an academic culture. So we said, “Yes, we will certainly participate.” We had an exhibit at the Tompkins County Public Library, which was mostly based on material from Cap Matches Color [a collective that focuses on the preservation and honoring of spray paint use, acquisition, and design of spray can graphics], and then I invited Cap Matches Color to put on a graffiti painting activity. In April 2012 was the first Get-Up State, and obviously we had to do a lot of things like, I mean, I had to go to Cornell and get permission to use their walls and negotiate the licence and all this. Jay Potter [local graphic designer, graffiti artist, and muralist], who knows all about the art, organized the donation from Ironlak Paints. All the donations have been supplied by Ironlak Paints. The only thing the artists are getting is paint, and they’re coming from all over the world.
“Why is “Get-Up State” being held now?”
Sally Grubb: “We chose this time of year because the weather is more reliable than in April. The first one we did was in December, and it was designed to coincide with Cornell’s celebration, and then this time it’s designed to coincide with good weather.”
“How many artists have come to Ithaca for this occasion?”
Sally Grubb: “I don’t know how many artists there are, but there are more than fifty of them. Between fifty and sixty artists, and they’re from all over Europe [Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, England, Germany, Canada and elsewhere], and then ten states of America [Denver, Colorado, Minneapolis, Massachusetts and elsewhere]. You name it, they’ve come, and they’re all excited to be here, because it’s so unusual just to have graffiti writers celebrated and celebrated for what they do. Not because they’re tagging walls or doing something illegal, but because they’re invited to decorate an otherwise big, blank building. So it’s amazing. It’s amazing for them, it’s amazing for the community, and it’s a credit to the Public Library. The Public Library reaches out to do this sort of thing in their community, and it’s only made possible because of Cap Matches Color. It wouldn’t be without them.”
“How were the funds raised for this event?”
Sally Grubb: “We had a small tourism grant from the Tompkins County Tourism Program, and then sponsorship from a number of local businesses. You never think that it takes an awful lot of money to put on something that is free, but they [the artists] have come up. GreenStar Natural Foods Market, Ithaca Bakery, Purity Ice Cream, Ithaca Beer Co., The Westy, Rick’s Rentals… Without them we wouldn’t have the event either… It’s such a big space that you don’t notice how many people are here. Both these buildings are painted right round. So it’s an enormous footprint…This is an exhibit.”
This was an appealing event in relation to our Activists and Environmental Media class for several reasons. The first being that “Get-Up State” was and is a great example of a global and local community of artists, organisations, businesses, and townspeople coming together to make a mostly positive, permanent impression on their community. Creating awareness of a commonly frowned upon artform, and doing so with the help of an Ivy League College and many local businesses is certainly an accomplishment worth recognition. Witnessing people from all over the world meeting in Ithaca in order to celebrate and leave a lasting reminder of an often discouraged form of artistic expression is very powerful. This translates directly to the sphere of environmentalists and activists here in Ithaca and in other small town communities. For years to come, the Cornell Press Buildings will be a lasting reminder of the unlikely and tangible power of a motivated group of people. If the Public Library and the Mayor can endorse a county and tourist sanctioned graffiti mural exhibit in a downtown area, then making almost any cultural or environmental paradigm shift in a local environment must be possible. The writing is literally on the wall, in a positive sense, at 770 Cascadilla Street.
I only say that the impact of this event was mostly positive because I spoke with several concerned Ithacans about the use and disposal of the dozens and dozens of aerosol spray paint containers that this event called for. This unknowing damaging of the environment on the part of the organizers of “Get-Up State” is another reason why this event was meaningful to our course. It is circumstances like these that call for reflection and action on the part of every living human who produces waste. If it appears that there is no solution to using such small, disposable containers of spray paint, then action must be taken on a part of everyone who cares about the near future of our planet to find a solution. If refillable spray paint cans are not feasible, then another solution must be found. Once an environmental problem, no matter how seemingly small, is identified, it must be acted upon. In this case, the problem may not yet have been identified, or it may simply be ignored due to impracticality. Either way, this is worth looking at, as it calls for the attention of all disposable product users, and asks them not only to look at the reason for their waste, but to find a solution to their misuse of valuable resources.
I spoke with other community members at the event regarding the community apart from “Get-Up State”. I asked particularly about the conversations taking place within the Ithaca environmental activist climate. One community member stated, “What I know is that this is a community that is very engaged in that conversation. In fact, if you’re following the news, you know there’s a lot of talk about how much development is good for this community. What will help? What is good? What is good development, you know, environmentally? In this community, everyone wants to have that conversation, not everyone agrees, but at least we’re having that conversation. And what do you mean by environment? I think in this area it has a lot to do with the water issues around fracking, the development issues, and how it impacts if you have too much. The building that’s going on now, that eleven story building is a big topic of conversation.” This refers to the building set to be erected by Texas-based developer “Campus Advantage” in downtown Ithaca at 301 East State Street. They added, “I think we’re in the best place to be during climate change. We’ve got a community that’s thinking…” Now, I believe, Ithacans and people in support of the health of Earth have to focus our efforts on DOING as well as thinking.
For more information on “Get-Up State” visit:
To learn more about the eleven-story building visit: