Buffalo Days: More dimensions for public art

Elmwood mural by Augustina Droze and Bruce Adams

Elmwood mural by Augustina Droze and Bruce Adams

PHOTO BY BRUCE ADAMS

Here’s WBFO’s Press Pass interview on this topic.

From Niagara Street to the Central Terminal and from Black Rock to downtown, building facades, walls, highway overpasses, and even traffic signal boxes have burst out in bright colors and bold imagery. This is the year of the mural in Buffalo.

We even have resident muralists, like Augustina Droze, who has completed public murals throughout the US and in Nagpur, India. Her work can be seen at Elmwood and Bidwell (where she worked with fellow artist Bruce Adams) and near McKinley High School (where she worked with McKinley students). Droze’s representational imagery relies on symbolism and artistic shorthand to express a sense of place and subject matter.

Another largescale artist, photographer Max Collins, has covered several walls, sometimes in collaboration with other artists. His most recent mural can be seen on the facade of Allen Street Hardware, while others are still up at 152 Allen and on the facade of Grant Street’s Sweetness_7. Collins wheat pastes his supersized photographs, a technique that is popular among street artists from Paris to Brooklyn. The images are imposing and approachable at the same time.

Still other outdoor murals reference underground art, such as Ian DeBeer’s tribute to comic book artist Spain Rodriguez on the side of Allen Street’s Holly Farms and another anonymous Rodriguez tribute near the Central Terminal.

And some of the city’s murals are simply street art—done by someone.

These projects represent the only thing approaching public art that Buffalo has seen in recent years. However, they are on privately owned buildings, and can be removed with varying degrees of difficulty, depending on their media. Which is fine. Most murals are not intended to be forever.

The last major public art project completed in Buffalo—public art intended to be permanent, if properly maintained—is the same project I would have cited ten years ago: the Metro Rail art projects, completed in 1985. While some of the 2001 Pan American artworks remain here and there and there have been a few (a very few) one-off sculptures completed, the Metro Rail pieces are the only comprehensive, planned series. Also thanks to the NFTA, we have a public art project installed in the floor of the airport—granted, it pales in comparison to the art installations other regional airports can boast.

Yet, Buffalo has a percent-for-art program, which can require any project costing over a million dollars (if it includes city money) to allocate one percent of the costs to public art.

The initiative is not mandated, however; it was not invoked with the recent one billion dollar school reconstruction project. If it had been, we might all be one million dollars worth of art the richer. It could be argued, of course, that the enhanced school structures are works of art in themselves. But what a shame that no public art initiative has accompanied the inner and outer harbor improvements, for example.

As Buffalonians, our expectations are often far too low. Yes, we should celebrate the new murals and the even newer signal box paintings. We should also demand that some long overdue municipal attention be paid to a new plan for public art.