Jacob Allen Roberts –
With equal parts celebration and advocacy at heart, Syracuse University College of Visual & Performing Arts Alum (’96), seasoned painter and public artist, professional arts administrator, political, social and environmental activist, Jacob Alan Roberts, is exhibiting a series of fresh, dynamic and provocative paintings for the first time in Syracuse, New York in over a decade.
After graduating with a BFA in Select Studies in the Fine Arts (a self-crafted degree) from Syracuse University in 1996, Jacob quickly got to work plugging himself into the Syracuse community. While still finishing his final courses that spring, he partnered with a few fellow VPA students and opened the subterranean Janus Gallery at 161 Marshal Street, next to the former Coffee Cave (now DJ’s on the Hill). “Although the gallery itself only had a six month life-span, that first project opened my eyes to the opportunities and possibilities alive in ‘Cuse”, said Roberts. “We had a number of very well attended traditional art exhibits, with students, faculty and “locals” coming out in great numbers. But the juice really started flowing when we started doing more performance based events to compliment the visual arts… that was a powder keg! All of sudden local and University DJ’s, emcees, dancers, poets, singers, musicians and those that appreciate that fresh energy started packing the house and not wanting to leave until the sun came up the next morning; that was it.”
Soon after, Jacob and another collective of SU grads and local artists moved down to Division Street on the Northside and began rehabbing an old bottling factory to use as live/work art studios. That is when his early efforts to blend the arts and creative self expression together with his passion for community development and environmental stewardship coalesced. “I’m from the City of Springfield Mass; the bricks. Even though I was truly blessed to get an arts based scholarship to attend one the oldest and finest private schools in our country, I was a poor city kid at the core – and I still am! – so, moving off the hill into the ground zero of urban blight and stress that is the inner ring neighborhoods of Syracuse allowed me to fully be home. We did community clean ups, painted murals, made junk sculptures in vacant lots and engaged the youth, all while hosting art parties and gatherings that started to de-mystify the “hood” for many University students who thought that coming into a place like that equaled a mugging.”
Jacob began meeting local artists and entrepreneurs like Sarah Lashomb (No Borders No Boundaries), Joshua Collins (Phaedrus), Michael Barletta (Day Light Blue Media) and Michael Swatt (The Evergreen) who owned Metaphorestry Gallery near the Dinosaur BBQ, Ty Marshall (Center for the Arts, Homer), Ashley Cox (Professional Victims), the SkyeHigh DJ Crew, and many other young people who were moving and shaking, working to make Syracuse a better place through the arts. The lightbulb went off and, as they say, the rest is history.In 1999, together with Barletta and Swatt, and a number of other independent, unaffiliated artists, Mr. Roberts and his colleagues began hosting a number of multi-media, pop-up cultural events throughout downtown to ever increasing and diversifying crowds, eventually leading to the incorporation of ThINC, The Institution of a Now Culture, as a 501c3 in the fall of 2000.
Fueled primarily by hundreds of dedicated hands-on volunteers and a undying passion to leave a positive mark on the community, ThINC parlayed small grants from the Cultural Resources Council, NYSCA, CNY Community Foundation, Gifford Foundation, Senator DeFrancisco and Mayor Matt Driscoll into a mind- boggling array of project and programs over the next five years.
“Serving as its co-Founder and Executive Director, I have a certain, biased perspective as to what we were able to accomplish. If it weren’t for the piles of news clippings, film and video archives, and living history to point to, I might actually accuse myself of misrepresenting the impact we had. To be blunt, as an underfunded group of rag-tag young artists, we shifted how many people saw Syracuse and how they saw themselves engaging with Syracuse – we opened a lot of eyes and hearts during those halcyon days. Many of us didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but we had each other, and for what we were out to accomplish, it was all we needed”.
in addition to his work with ThINC, Jacob also provoked and co-established efforts such as the Arts and Cultural Leadership Alliance (ACLA), 40Below and it’s first Public Arts Task Force, as well as Syracuse’s Cultural District Commission, serving as a founding member. After leaving in 2005 and transferring leadership of ThINC to its Board of Directors and a new executive, Jacob took a much needed break in retreat at Ratna Ling, Nyingma Buddhist Center in Sonoma, CA.
Continuing to follow his passion, Jacob returned to Ithaca, NY and in addition to a stint as the Director of the world-renown Ithaca Festival and serving to help revitalize a now thriving Public Arts Committee, he co-founded Connect Ithaca, a citizen-led development group that, in partnership with Cornell University, TCAD, and Syracuse-based C&S Cos, received NYSDOT and NYSERDA funding to research the feasibility of building a sustainable Automated Transit System (“PodCar Network”) to serve the City while opening up urban land-use for more pedestrian friendly planning and dense, infill development patterns. in 2012, Jacob and his partners handed the project off to Cornell and the Aerospace Corporation of Pasadena, CA.
His latest stint has been in Brattleboro, Vermont where he and his companion opened Equilibrium, a “Positive Lifestyle Environment”, a healing arts / creative arts center, and Superfresh! Organic Cafe (100% non-GMO Vegan), named by Boston Globe as one of New Englands premier new eateries and a “best bet” for a trip on a tank of gas from metro Boston. He also served as its (National Main Streets) Downtown Coordinator for a year and volunteered as a trustee for the Arts Council of Windham County and the Town’s Public Art Committee.
“This journey back to Syracuse, after exactly ten years, is coming full circle for me. I’ve learned so much about myself, my place in this world and how I can truly apply myself in making this a better world from my child, my friends, family, my neighborhood brothers and sisters and my surrounding environment. This art show on the 29th is the beginning of re-establishing myself here. It brings together the evolution of my own art form and the messages I want to convey.”
His recently completed body of work, consisting of 20 new pieces, takes on the horrific man-made catastrophes we have recently suffered in our Planets’ oceans; namely the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, the BP Gulf Oil Spill, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These surging, “toxic” pieces of art were crafted from found and discarded paints and other “trashed” mediums and canvasses that were on their way to a landfill, such as old doors, billboard sheeting, etc.
Through an aggressive, multi-layered and yet flowing style of application, the intended consequence was to relay and emote a natural oceanic gesture, all while being constructed with material what would otherwise be considered waste. These pieces are, therefore, raw and unpolished by nature, yet they also relate to the viewer a sense of natural, veiled “beauty”.
“Ultimately”, Jacob explains, “my life’s objective has been to help bring peace and love to our world by acting as a community builder who employs creative self expression and clean, sustainable living as core tools. As artist, citizen, volunteer, business owner & not-for- profit administrator, I have immersed myself in a wild and wonderful world of innovative people; their scenes, their dreams, their work, their triumphs and their struggles. I truly believe that if we open up and allow a poem, painting, film, novel, meal, song or dance reveal to us a broader perspective of life on earth ~ of other cultures, beliefs and ways, as well as our unique place in the natural environment ~ we become more able to expand our empathy, compassion and self-awareness and creativity will flow, allowing us the resourcefulness to thrive in a rapidly evolving world ~ and this is what is needed”