Grantee Spotlight: Sculpture Space

Like other former industrial strongholds along the Rust Belt, the city of Utica (New York state’s 10th largest) faced a serious reality check when factories began closing in the 1960s and ’70s.

As it has steadily worked to reinvent itself over the decades since, one of the engines of redefinition has been Sculpture Space, which was founded in 1976. The organization connects with the city’s roots but has also opened up new pathways for its future.

Mark-Anthony Polizzi, a development associate who is also a sculptor, says Sculpture Space has gone from being a place for “metalworkers who wanted somewhere they could make art” to “a home for a wide range of community-based projects. It’s been quite an evolution.”

Sculpture Space selects 18 to 20 artists a year across what Polizzi half-jokingly describes as an “insanely broad” spectrum of sculpture (everything from projected light to metal to glass to site-specific outdoor installations) to come to Utica for two-month residencies. While these opportunities help advance their careers, they also offer the public a valuable opportunity to meet innovative artists and learn about contemporary sculpture. The aim is to promote commingling of the artists with the community not just in Utica but in the surrounding region, including colleges and universities like Hamilton, Colgate and Syracuse.


Some 500 artists hailing from not just the state but dozens of countries have come to town since the beginning.

Sculpture Space artist at work
Artist in Residence Laetitia Hussain. Photo Courtesy of Sculpture Space.

NYSCA has supported Sculpture Space over the decades, providing an anchor as it redefined itself at a time when Utica itself was doing the same.

One example, Polizzi said, can be seen the organization’s main studio space, a 5,500-square-foot building just off Oriskany Street and near a bend in the Mohawk River. With NYSCA grant funding, Sculpture Space was able to install a heating system that wasn’t part of the original, seasonal concept of New York City artists coming up over the summer to sculpt.

“It’s great to have NYSCA providing overall support as opposed to helping with just specific individual projects,” Polizzi said. When he first arrived at the start of this decade, the space was still heated by a single wood-burning stove. “I remember spending days here when it seemed like all I did was throw logs into that stove,” he said.

The diversity of work championed by Sculpture Space has continued to increase. Last spring, at a celebration for the organization’s 40th anniversary, the work of Syracuse sculpture Sam Van Aken served as a striking centerpiece. He planted a tree that he has called a “tree of 40 fruits,” a rare creation that takes shape after years of grafts combining 40 different varietals of fruit into a single tree. The tree becomes a living sculpture, yielding stone fruits such as peaches, plums, apricots and cherries and blossoming in various colors during the year.

—Dade Hayes

Cover image: Work by Sculpture Space artist-in-residence Iliana Scheggia.