Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

The Big Red Marching Band and the Big Red Pep Band perform at C.U. Downtown on Saturday.

September 4, 2018

Third Annual C.U. Downtown Bridges Gap Between Cornell and Ithaca

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Whether it is the weather or the hills or yet another problem set, Cornellians have a reputation for isolation from their very own college town. C.U. Downtown, now in its third year, sought a rare day of mutual celebration by bringing quintessentially Cornell acts from a cappella to Bhangra onto the Commons for Ithacans and students alike to enjoy on Saturday.

Margherita Fabrizio, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Director of the Carol Tatkon Center, co-founded the first C.U. Downtown three years ago to help students learn more about their adoptive hometown.

“I’ve always wanted to help new students see that downtown is close, easy to get to, and a fun place for those much needed study breaks,” Fabrizio said in an email to The Sun. “I’ve heard too many seniors say they wished they had discovered Ithaca sooner in their time here so C.U. Downtown is an attempt to remedy that.” 

Starting shortly after 1 p.m., Cornell student groups began showcasing a diverse selection of acts. A cappella made a strong showing, with performances from The Touchstones, The Men of Last Call and After Eight A Cappella. The opening act, Tarana South Asian A Cappella, cancelled shortly before they were set to begin.

Students and Ithacans arrived in a steady stream and rounded the stage while snacking on free apple cider doughnuts from Littletree Orchards and cider from Wegmans.

The slate of acts reflected diversity in both form and cultural background, representing music and dance from all corners of the globe.

Absolute Zero Breakdance Crew, a hip hop group, lead the first dance routine, followed by Cornell Big Red Raas, Cornell Lion Dance and Cornell Bhangra, which are inspired by traditional Gujarati, Chinese and Punjabi styles respectively.

Musically, the performers also showed quite a range, including the Hawaiian-shirt-clad Cornell Ukulele Club, the Big Red Marching Band and prohibition-era Jazz from the Cornell Original Syncopators.

Joelle Tancredi ’22 came with a contingent of new students from Low Rise 7 and expressed surprise at what downtown Ithaca had to offer. She noted that, while at first she was not sure there would be “as much to do here” as she thought “Ithaca looked like very woodsy and rural,” she found the city “really nice.”

Krista Saleet, the new director of the Cornell Public Service Center, recently moved to Ithaca from Syracuse. She and her husband went downtown to acclimate their children, both of whom sported enormous balloon sculptures courtesy of Brandon Axelrod ’21, to life in the new town.

While tying a princess Ariel balloon for a young girl, Axelrod, who also goes by the stage name The Magic Brandini, said he has practiced magic since he was five and began working with balloons when he was 12. Axelrod said he was invited by the Tatkon Center to join the event.

“The students were especially appreciative once their balloon was sculpted, and as I worked, I took the time to get to know some of the eager freshmen Cornellians,” Axelrod said. 

Unlike in years past, the weekend also included a similar celebration for Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College on Sunday.

In the planning of the event, the Tatkon Center worked closely with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to improve and develop downtown Ithaca. Allison Graffin, marketing director for the Alliance, communicated with TCAT to ensure frequent shuttles and the extension of the typically single-day event into a whole weekend.

“[Fabrizio] came to me with an idea, and we kind of said this has real potential so let’s make it into a whole weekend,” Graffin told The Sun. “We knew that transportation was an important piece so we brought TCAT on board.”

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance provided information to students and Ithacans including maps of downtown businesses, tips on riding the TCAT and a calendar of future downtown events like the Apple Harvest Festival, Wizarding Weekend and Ice Fest.

“We have a lot of events that we host here every year, so our goal is to help them find out about some of these weekend events and get them down and get them outside of the books for a day and help them feel comfortable in their new town,” Graffin told The Sun.

The Downtown Visitor Center on the Commons benefited from the increased foot traffic near their office, giving out “Ithaca is Gorges” stickers and tourist information. Josh Brooks, a senior at Ithaca College, tabled for the center and mentioned the importance of building community with Cornell students.

“I think having events like this and fostering this community kind of in the middle of nowhere gives people an incentive to stay after they graduate, and it’s working,” Brooks told The Sun. “There’s a pretty high rate — and it’s increasing — of graduates that end up staying [in Ithaca].”

Some business owners on the Commons, while not directly tabling or participating in C.U. Downtown, claimed that events and festivals on the Commons are good for business and for getting Cornell students to visit the shops.

Trader K’s, a thrift store, has been on the Commons for 24 years, according to co-owner Jay Sciarabba. Though he said that festivals “aren’t a huge money-maker,” he said his shop enjoys benefits down the road.

“A lot of people on the Commons say festivals and events draw people away because they don’t shop as much, but we see a boost all the time,” Sciarabba said. “They might not be spending the dollars now, but residually, they’ll come back.”