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Cortland DRI Public Art

Written by: Al Aloi


The City of Cortland NY, home of the mighty Tioughnioga River, sits at the center of seven high, green glacial valleys. Partly due to its central location, as well as its fertile farmlands, and pristine water Cortland would become a hub of commerce, industry, and travel. Cortland’s impact would be felt Statewide, and in 1808 the City of Cortland would be granted the seat of the County Government officially forming Cortland County.

The City of Cortland and its 17,500 residents continue to be a regional center of government, education, commerce, and culture. In recent years Cortland has made strides towards the goal of updating its infrastructure and creating a walkable downtown with a distinct identity that represents all Cortland has to offer. Cortland’s Gateway Project is one recent example of this.

In further pursuit of these goals, the City of Cortland applied for and received the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant in 2017, the cornerstone of New York State's economic development program.   An award of $10 million  ear-marked with the express purpose of “transform[ing] downtown neighborhoods into vibrant centers that offer a high quality of life and are magnets for redevelopment, business, job creation, and economic and housing diversity.”

As a requirement of the Downtown revitalization project, a strategic planning process was initiated.  $200,000 was identified and set aside for the creation, display, and maintenance of public art in downtown Cortland. A subsequent Public Arts committee, with extensive involvement from Mayor Scott Steve, and the City was formed to acknowledge the great need for public art with an understanding of its many benefits while simultaneously creating an official process for project development and community education around the funding and display of public art in relation to the DRI and future projects.

It is our hope that the City of Cortland’s pursuit of the DRI and future public art endeavors will have a positive impact on our community from helping to create a sense of identity and community, to invigorating downtown, to engaging the creative minds and hearts within Cortland.

Cortland Corset Building Mural by Crystal Lyon

It is no secret that many NYS communities such as Cortland have felt the strain of a changing economic landscape. Much of the heavy industry that constituted the backbone of Cortland’s economy has moved in recent years leaving other industries such as health care and education to fill the economic void while our creative and cultural resources go largely untapped. 

According to a study cited by New York State, the arts sector generates $763.6 billion for the US economy annually. More than the agricultural or transportation sectors. Many New York Communities such as Buffalo, Oneonta, and Albany have seen great success leveraging their cultural assets and DRI funding to generate income and interest in their downtown area. 


Of the $763.6 billion generated annually, New York arts and cultural industries account for $114.1 billion or 15% of that total. According to the State of New York “the cultural sector accounts for 7.8% of the value added to the state’s economy” ranking above construction, transportation, and retail. This places New York second among all states in arts and cultural value added to the economy as well as in arts and cultural employment. Tapping into Cortland’s creative potential is an investment in our economic future.

Mural located at Cortland's highly frequented Suggett Park Basketball Court, designed and painted by local arts Educator Molly Reagan.  More of Molly’s art and community engagement projects can be found at

“Bounty” by Muralist Nico Cathcart is located at Food & Ferments warehouse at 181 ½ South Mainstreet, Cortland. A product of local crowdfunding efforts and private funding which has added vibrancy to Cortland’s South end. Find more of Nico’s national work at

Cortland Corset Company Mural and Restoration is located at 75 East Court St. Cortland. Designed and painted by artist and art educator Crystal Lyon after receiving funding from the CNY Arts decentralized grant for individual artists as well as a local crowdfunding effort. In recent years the Corset building has become a hub for local artists and crafts folk. More of Crystal's work can be found at

Public art can provide a sense of place, identity, and culture to a community. It can challenge our notions about our community while creating opportunities for reflection about who we are. Public art allows us to explore our history and cultural identity in a way that engages the community as a whole. It allows for community attachment and helps create a sense of pride and ownership amongst its residents while engaging them in the planning and creation process.

The creation of public art allows us to hear from voices we otherwise may not hear and provides an opportunity for creative expression to those in our community that otherwise would not have a platform for such expression. Cortland has many creative voices and a strong history of creative influence from well-known musicians such as Roni James Dio and Spiegel Wilcox, to nationally renowned painters such as Francis Bicknell Carpenter. Creating a space for those voices to be heard adds untold value to our community and helps us in sharing our unique story.


From Crown City Mural Fest to various upcoming public art projects Cortland artists will have more opportunities to engage with the community they love.

 Jean Robert Edourd Jr.
Rock on hand gesture.jpeg

Studies have shown a direct link between access to public art and public health. Public art has been known to reduce stress and anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and provide a general feeling of well-being. Simply put – we feel better when we are in an aesthetically pleasing environment that engages us on an emotional and intellectual level.

For some in Cortland public art is the only art they will encounter. According to 2020 Census data, 11.7% of Cortland County Residents live below the poverty line, with a per capita income stalled at $28,407. Public art allows those who are economically disadvantaged the ability to engage with art and all its benefits. It opens doorways for those who have not been exposed to art to cultivate a love for it as well as explore their own creativity.

There are wonderful artists in our community whose potential remains untapped. Investing in Community Public Arts is undeniably a worthy investment in the people and culture of our community.

Participating Organizations

City of Cortland New York
Cortland County Business Development Corporation Industrial Development Agency
Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce
Experience Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau
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