Schenectady park showcases first sculpture in Juneteenth festivities

2022-06-19 01:34:51 By : Ms. Sunny Chen

SCHENECTADY  — A sculpture of Ogun, the West African god of blacksmithing, stands sentry, ringed by a base of dozens of rusted-out car brake rotors on a parcel of land where blighted buildings once marred the landscape.  

“We saw him both as a way to begin the foundation of our new journey of the Arts Center and also as a symbol of someone who will fight for our people because of all the police violence in the country,” said Rachel Conn, executive director of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center on Friday, adding that Ogun is considered the foundation of civilization.

Before you even set foot in the center's Sankofa Sculpture Park, a segment of the sidewalk in front across from the center is awash in sea blue to symbolize the ocean and a slave ship contained within mostly orange and red flowers.

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The sidewalk art is the work of Schenectady-based artists Bianca DiLella, who also worked with city youngsters from a job training program on creating a mural on a fence paying homage to the Black Lives Matter movement and transgender lives. 

It also bears recognizable names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor who had died at the hands of police.     

The gradual transformation of the area bounded by Schenectady and Paige streets into an outdoor museum is also the future home of what officials at the center hope will be a new $1.5 million Hamilton Hill Arts Center to replace the former one that closed because badly needed repairs rendered it uninhabitable. 

Conn pointed in the distance toward the Paige Street side where the new arts center will one day rise. 

"The idea is that we'll have performance and exhibit space over here, both indoor and outdoor, and the (old building) over there will be our arts and education building where we hold our classes and also some museum space and our library," she added. 

Currently, the center is holding its program and classes at Emmanuel-Friedens Church on Nott Terrace.   

For now, the focus is solidly on the fledgling Sankofa Sculpture Park, which at 2 p.m. Sunday will host the official unveiling of the Ogun statue as part of the three-day Juneteenth celebration and a Father's Day celebration.

An African market will open on Saturdays starting on June 25. 

The roughly half-acre site is adorned with several benches, including one embedded with mosaic made out of grout and assorted tiles, painted rocks, an unfinished mural paying homage to the Black Lives Matter movement and transgender community. 

The park also features Afrocentric painted garbage cans for park-goers to discard trash and part of the fencing closer to Paige Street is covered with glossy brown barrels stacked one atop the other in pairs with flower pots set on a small shelf in the middle of each of them. 

Conn said it’s not uncommon for people strolling by the park to volunteer to help when they see others doing cleanup work and that its existence has injected a sense of pride and renewed optimism among neighbors. 

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Recycled barrels line a section of  fence at Hamilton Hill Art Center's Sankofa Sculpture Park. 

One of the trash cans  at Hamilton Hill Art Center's Sculpture Park.  

“The more the neighbors see what we’re doing, they start to fix things up to try to help, and it’s really been something that we began, but that the community has given us help,” she said. "The idea is that the park will evolve over the years, but each year we will improve the infrastructure and hopefully put in a new sculpture, and then we’ll focus that year on education around the principles of whatever sculpture is brought to it.”  

Arcell Marbley, DiLella's uncle, is something of the park's unofficial volunteer groundskeeper. 

"I just wanted to be a part of it, it's something in the neighborhood, and knowing Bianca, and ... what Rachel's dream was, I wanted to be a part of it," he said Friday. "First we had people driving by, now they stop and ask 'what's this, what's that?" 

Conn said that a woman whose house abuts the park allowed them to paint the mural and is now part of the fundraising committee.  

Conn said next year, Oshun, the goddess of fresh water, will be added to the park, and though the details are still being worked out, the idea is that the sculpture will also be a way for youngsters to get water on a hot summer day, perhaps by filling up small empty water bottles. 

A GoFundMe page is setup online. Conn said they will gladly accept monetary donations to help with the cause.      

"This is a neglected neighborhood, and part of what this park shows is that you can make something out of nothing with just hard work, love, and creativity," she said.  

Paul Nelson covers cops and courts in Schenectady County as well as the suburban towns of Niskayuna and Rotterdam. Contact him at or 518-454-5347.