Note from the editor: New to the blog this semester is a feature that is near and dear to me. I have lived in Binghamton for a long, long, LONG time and I have seen it grow and evolve into an area that is supportive of public art and small business in ways that didn’t exist even ten years ago. In addition, community initiatives in mental health, access and equity, and workforce development are changing the area in ways that I am only beginning to understand. As a result, I have developed a segment of the blog that highlights local initiatives that take community to heart. The “Communitarian Spotlight” feature will focus on community members and students that are doing something awesome. Not necessarily “bright lights, big budget” awesome, but the kind of work that is impacting the lives of people in positive ways and embodying CCPA values. I find out about these communitarians through an informal nomination process, because that grassroots method of collecting information is something that I believe is powerful. I hope you are as excited as I am to meet these communitarians, and as you read you may ponder ways to connect and support these initiatives as they continue to develop and impact our local area. For the greater good.
Communitarian Spotlight: Emily Jablon
Chances are if you have driven in downtown Binghamton, you have seen her work. Whether on the multi-colored giant flower pots on Water St., or that certain sparkle across from River Read books overlooking the Chenango River, to the beautiful flower boxes across from Burger Mondays, you have seen Emily Jablon’s artistic vision of a vibrant Binghamton. Jablon partners with her mother, Susan Jablon, at Susan Jablon Mosaics and Club Bling, in a 6000 sq. ft. facility on Binghamton’s east side, employing a local crew of artisans that assist in the creation of custom backsplashes (among other things) in what is the largest mosaic tile supply center in the country. Yes, this is happening right here in Binghamton. I recently spent some time over coffee discussing her vision, what motivates her to continuously donate time and materials, and what she wishes to accomplish moving forward.
Emily Jablon is an artist. Her focus is on making art. In conversation, however, you discover that it’s so much more than that. You can hear in her voice and in her words how much she cares about making art accessible. Having worked with the Regents Academy at the Columbus School in downtown Binghamton, partnering with David Sloan Wilson of EVOS at Binghamton University, she began to see the impact that working on these projects had on the students there. She saw the students engage in a way that inspired her to think about mechanisms to avail creative work to local students (her studio, Club Bling, was named by students she worked with at the Regents Academy). Her vision includes working with teams of students, involving them in the process of engaging with and caring for their environment. Jablon discusses that vandalism isn’t really a concern because so many hands are involved in the process, and those participants make sure that the pieces are looked after. The whole experience made her want to do more work with the public and specifically with high school students, building their confidence and their pride in their area, and harnessing youth energy to make a local impact.
Focusing specifically on the product can be challenging when you work with the mediums and canvasses that Jablon does. She discussed the supportive relationship she has with the administration in the City of Binghamton. “They’ve been really supportive. Permits, red tape, everything is handled and we get it done quickly. I am very lucky.” When I asked her what her dream project would be, she said without hesitation, “the flood wall. But I can’t. It’s a federal thing.”
A tour (bonus!) through Jablon Studios, where I meet Cookie the Bull Dog, is where Club Bling is housed, and offers and array of classes and workshops, including succulents, mosaics, yoga, and soap making. Building up the shop and making it into something where local artists and artisans can rent affordable studio space, as well as a place where the community can come in and make something fun and creative is a big piece of what Jablon is working on now. Jablon’s community vision moving forward includes opening up sponsorship for her idea of “adopt-a-spot,” which will give local businesses the opportunity to make a donation and sponsor a mosaic project in what Emily terms “forgotten areas.” As she discussed this initiative, and others, Emily’s focus on art as activism and community engagement became infectious, and I thought about ways I can connect her with different programs like Broome County Promise Zone and Upward Bound at Binghamton University, and other programs that work with local students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Jablon makes it clear that though the end result is gorgeous, it is a process that has its less glamorous moments. For one, it is a lot of squatting. You end up getting covered in mortar. I personally saw her outside over the summer working on Water St.; it was hot. She had mortar stuck to her. I thought “that is what commitment looks like.” After speaking with her, I now realize that that is what a communitarian looks like: sweaty, covered in mortar, with a pile of tiles and a vision of the greater good.