Twenty or more years ago, I happened to be in Armory Square during a Syracuse University new student orientation event. It was a lively, colorful parade of students, dancers, larger-than-life size puppets and musicians making their way on foot from the hill down to what had just become their architecture school annex in downtown Syracuse.
It was at that moment that the seed for CU Downtown was planted. Since first moving to Ithaca decades ago, I have been interested in town-gown relations and the partnerships that unique college communities like ours can generate. That SU event was filed away in the back of my mind for years.
Fast-forwarding to 2016, when I found myself in a new position as director of the Tatkon Center for First-Year Students, I floated the idea of a celebratory kick-off to the school year to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. For years, I had listened to students lament they had not discovered Ithaca sooner. CU Downtown was meant to help remedy that.
My goals were simple: help students (new and returning) discover their adopted city and that downtown is close, fun, easy to get to and a true respite from life on the hill; give student performers a way to contribute to the vitality and culture of Ithaca; and invite locals to experience and welcome students in a new way.
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance immediately and enthusiastically embraced the idea in the winter of 2016, and CU Downtown was born. Since the start, the DIA has partnered with downtown businesses to create a scavenger hunt and fun activities for participants as well as with TCAT to secure adequate bus shuttles.
The event has also spawned a sister event for Ithaca College and TC3, and this will be held the weekend before CU Downtown this year.
To date, hundreds of Cornell student performers have ventured down the hill to the Commons stage, and each year, thousands of new Cornellians have joined Ithaca area residents and Cornell alumni to enjoy the festivities.
This is the first visit many Cornell students make to downtown Ithaca, and we hope it’s the beginning of a lasting relationship with our community.
While thousands of students volunteer in the Tompkins County community each year, CU Downtown performers make a unique cultural contribution. The line-ups have been eclectic and include about 15 separate acts scheduled tightly one after the next: Japanese drumming, South Asian dancing, a cappella, breakdancing, a not-to-be-missed balloon artist, jazz, the Big Red Marching and Pep Bands and more. For a second year in a row, the local Fall Creek Brass Band will close out the afternoon capping off this family-friendly event.
The entire community is invited to come out and welcome new students and celebrate our diversity, amazing high-energy student performers, and the start of the school year. The event is free and sponsored by the Tatkon Center for First-Year Students, Student and Campus Life, the Ithaca Downtown Alliance, TCAT and the Cornell Office of Community Relations.
The 4th Annual CU Downtown will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 1 to 5 p.m.
East Hill Notes are published the first and third Wednesdays of each month in Tompkins Weekly.
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