When Ithaca College opened as The Ithaca Conservatory of Music in 1892, the school didn’t stand on the South Hill — it was part of the downtown community. In fact, it would never have made it to its current home without Ithaca’s creation of the Friends of Ithaca College in 1958, according to Elayne Nicholas, a member of the Friends.
The Tompkins County History Center will hold the grand opening of a new exhibit about the college’s relationship with the city, titled “From Downtown to South Hill: Ithaca College is Ithaca’s College,” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The exhibit was created by Mari Shopsis, the former interim education director for the History Center and member of the Friends and the History Center.
“The whole idea for the exhibit was the relationship between the Friends and the college,” said Raechel Lutz ’07, who worked on the project as an intern at the History Center last semester.
Nicholas, who is also the director of special campaigns for the college, said the exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Friends.
“[The Friends] has always given financial support to the college dating back to the ’60s,” she said.
The exhibit showcases the college’s history with photos supplemented by music specific to the era of the photos. The photo panels begin with William Grant Egbert’s founding of The Ithaca Conservatory of Music and continue chronologically to the present. The first photos show the conservatory and its students when they ate and lived with city residents.
Judy Dietz ’76, the History Center’s community liaison, said it is important to recognize Ithaca’s role in the college’s history, a relationship that started with the founding of
“There wasn’t this big distinction between Ithaca College students and the community,” she said. “They were one and the same.”
As visitors walk through the exhibit, the photos show the evolution of the campus and a video describing the college’s unique architecture. Dietz said visitors will leave the exhibit with a new perspective of the college.
“I think if you spend a little bit of time walking around and reading the panels, you’ll sort of get a sense of what really happened,” she said.
The exhibit dedicates a section to the Friends of Ithaca College. Nicholas said the relationship shown through the exhibit is unique to Ithaca.
“Most colleges don’t have community support groups,” she said.
Lutz said she had to do extensive research to help put the exhibit together. She said the college and town benefit each other.
“The town wouldn’t survive economically without the college, and the college wouldn’t survive without the town,” she said. “They rely on each other. There’s a healthy relationship between the two.”
The exhibit will be on display until February as the center’s main attraction. In addition to its grand opening this weekend, the center will also host events surrounding the exhibit in the next few months. Dietz said the creators of the exhibit hope its visitors will be able to learn, remember and delight in the school’s history.
“There was a real collaboration between The History Center and the college,” she said. “It worked really well.”
Nicholas says this partnership between the Friends and the History Center was intended to be a celebration of the Friends’ 50-year anniversary, the school’s Capital Campaign and the matured relationship between the community and the school.
“It’s a wonderful gift to the community,” she said.