The Circus Comes to Town

Circus Culture, Ithaca’s very own circus school, will open to the public this July.  Circus Culture’s mission is to provide circus education and opportunities to all in and around Ithaca. The organization invites individuals and groups to engage with circus as an art form and a life tool through classes, workshops, performances, parties, memberships, camps, and more.  Circus disciplines that will be taught include: Aerial (static trapeze, silks, lyra), Juggling (scarves, balls, rings, clubs, contact), Props (diabolo, flower sticks, plates, hoola hoop), Acrobatics (handstands, group pyramids, tumbling), Tightwire (low and high!), Equilibristics (unicycle, feathers, rolling globe), Clowning, and more.

Why Circus? Historically, the circus has been a place where anyone and everyone is welcome and the possibilities of human potential are expanded. It comes to town and becomes the central gathering place, a community hub, and a source of inspiration.  As a hybrid of art and sport, circus is comprised of a myriad of disciplines, from juggling to trapeze, partner acrobatics to tightwire. As a result, it not only includes people of varied skills and abilities, but actually requires this diversity to be whole. When practicing circus arts trust, coordination and communication skills are experientially developed and risk taking curiosities are played out in a safe and controlled environment. Circus imparts a myriad of developmental skills on participants including; object permanence, resilience, and physical literacy. The non-competitive yet physical nature of the form makes it a unique and beneficial outlet for all ages.

Circus Culture is located in Press Bay Alley, the vibrant block of businesses at 116 W. Green Street. The organization is currently raising $25,000 via the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to match a donation of start up funds that were acquired earlier this year. The funds raised will pay for mats, aerial equipment, juggling equipment, energy efficient lighting, and a fresh coat of paint for the space.  Perks of the campaign include everything from stickers to class cards, year long memberships to living room performances.  The circus school will boost the local community and economy in downtown Ithaca by increasing foot traffic, providing diverse entertainment options, and increasing activities for kids, teens, and adults in the downtown area.  Circus Culture has plans for all kinds of gatherings including circus movie nights, morning dance parties, and guest circus artists circus from around the USA. Once the school is established specific programs will be developed to serve individuals with special needs, elders, and rural youth.

The presence of Circus Culture highlights a growing trend of circus education being available around the USA.  Historically circus skills were passed down through family lines or via apprenticeship, however the past 30 years has seen an explosion of institutions dedicated to circus learning in the US and around the world. The American Youth Circus Organization’s 2010 census found that there were 200 circus schools in the USA and a growth rate of 10 new programs per year.  

Circus Culture’s founder, Amy Cohen, has been cultivating the vision for what is now Circus Culture since she was a sophomore at Ithaca College where she earned her degree in Theatre Arts Management in 2008.  Her post-college journey brought her to California to study at the San Francisco Circus Center, to London as a Fulbright Scholar researching the emergence of contemporary circus in the United Kingdom, and to New York University, where she created her own Masters Degree program at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

Concurrent to founding and directing Circus Culture, Cohen serves as the Executive Director of the American Youth Circus Organization, a national 501(c)3 organization that is dedicated to promoting the participation of youth in circus arts and supporting circus educators.  She has spoken about circus education all over the world.

Circus Culture’s space is in the Ithaca Journal building where the printing press used to be located. In June the final construction phase will be completed. The space will then be outfitted with mats and a professional circus rigger will travel to Ithaca to install all of the aerial equipment.  The space will open to the public in July with four different summer camp options in July and August. Camp registration is currently open at

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