100-year-old Utica landmark plans improvements

Project to enhance campus, community space among city’s massive revitalization efforts

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UTICA — The Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute has received a $50,000 grant from The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida County to help the 100-year old center for the arts revitalize its landmark campus in the heart of the city.

The 50% matching grant was awarded to MWPAI, at 310 Genesee St., after the center had raised $100,000 on its own from its Centennial Campaign fundraiser in 2019.

In a press release issued by MWPAI, center officials said the money will also help to establish new programming initiatives along with major campus improvements. Community green space, outdoor art installations and new landscaping is just part of what MWPAI President and CEO Anna D’Ambrosio said is on the drawing board.

“It’s not about any one specific area,” D’Ambrosio said. “It’s about looking at the campus overall, planning for the future and how to utilize the campus and make it inviting to the community.”

The enhancements to the MWPAI’s 10-acre, 25-building site go hand-in-hand with a host of potential improvements as part of Utica’s $10 million, state-funded Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which was announced in November by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The Community Foundation helped to prepare the application that went before the selection committee. Currently, the city and its partners are formulating the possible improvements, holding community meetings, visioning sessions and other collaborative efforts.

The DRI is on top of other key improvements in Oneida County’s most populous city, including the construction of a new downtown hospital, a major overhaul of Utica’s Oriskany Boulevard corridor and the construction of the 170,000-square foot, $40 million Nexus Center, next to the Adirondack Bank Auditorium. The Nexus Center is to have venues for sports tournaments, including hockey, indoor soccer and lacrosse.

Both MWPAI and the Community Foundation foresee a bright future ahead for the community.

“The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties is a community-based, social impact investor,” said Jan Squadrito, Community Foundation senior community investment manager. “The Foundation has granted more than $90 million to nonprofits in Herkimer and Oneida Counties and beyond since 1952. These investments support projects and programs vital to achieving our vision of a vibrant region for opportunity for all.”

D’Ambrosio said that the process at MWPAI is moving forward — despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A consultant will come and will evaluate how we use our space; he, or she will make recommendations about how we can better use our space,” she said. “We’re mostly talking about the campus and its intubation into the neighborhood. It will delineate the campus with some signage that will be part of it but also making more open spaces for our visitors and our students.”

D’Ambrosio also said the green space in front of MWPAI museum that runs along Genesee Street from the dance studio to Cottage Place is the largest expanse of green space on the busy Utica street. Part of this campus “master plan” will be to convert that space and make it more accessible to the community and more of a center of community activity.

“The idea is to use the steps out front of the main museum building, which we know is a natural amphitheater,” she said. “We learned that from the success of the Hot Glass Road Show we did last summer and to make that space available to the community.”

For example, D’Ambrosio said, the site could accommodate Utica’s popular Refugee Day, which is organized and hosted by the Resource Center for Refugees of the Mohawk Valley. “We could collaborate with them and hold the event right here on Genesee Street,” she said.

D’Ambrosio said some of the other ideas are to put new sculptures out front, a band stage and renovate the steps leading to the museum.

“We also currently have a number of buildings that are unoccupied,” she explained, including one at 503 Henry St., across from MWPAI’s back parking lot. “ We have one we want turn into an artisan residence/studio living space with public studio space on the ground floor.”

The Community Foundation has similar hopes for the progress of the MWPAI renovation through the DRI master plan.

“This project complements the work that has been done in the Oneida Square area,” Squadrito said. “It’s an important component of the new initiatives and upgrades to come through the DRI and other activities. Having more, public outdoor space is a great asset to the community and local residents.”

“I’m excited, delighted and think this is very dynamic,” D’Ambrosio said. “It positions us for the next 100 years and we completed last year a five-year strategic plan that this project is a part of. One of its goals is to not only maintain our existing programs but to enhance our community engagement. This master plan will create a lot of opportunities to work even more closely with our neighborhood in collaborations and partnerships.”

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