Long Story Short: Holiday Edition
illustration by JP Thimot
A Brit in Buffalo
Dominik Czechowski is an art critic from London, England, who spent four hectic days visiting Buffalo earlier this month. His mission: explore the local art scene and write about it for Art Monthly (AM), the United Kingdom’s leading magazine of contemporary visual art. He came; he saw; he took a look around. Then he resumed his hectic traveling schedule. This week, Long Story Short caught up with him for a brief interview.
A few questions:
LSS: How did this visit and article come about?
Czechowski: I pitched a review of the Wanderlust show (UB Art Galleries) to AM and though they liked the idea of it, they were even more keen to get a full picture of the artistic scene in the city—a sort of round-up/overview of the most current and interesting initiatives and projects within the contemporary visual arts environment there.
What did you see and where did you go?
I saw an extraordinary amount of people and spaces and exhibitions: UB Galleries, Anna Kaplan Gallery, Resource:Art, Albright Knox, CEPA, Squeaky Wheel, Hallwalls, Eleven Twenty Projects, Torn Space Theatre (I was invited to a play there), Buffalo Arts Studios, 500 Seneca Street/Tina Dillman, Claire Schneider, Silo City, Dennis Maher/Fargo House/The Church project, Stephanie Rothenberg, Joyce Hwang, Nina Freudenheim, Benjaman Gallery/Emily Tucker.
What were your impressions?
Well, I would say you will need to wait until my article has been published to find out the full lowdown, but in short, [I was] impressed with the pulse and the vibe in the city, and people working hard on the ground, and the energy, stamina, and commitment to plough through with artistic/creative force during a yet undefined/transitory period for Buffalo and the region, which does sound very positive overall.
Anything else you want to throw in?
I was put up at Hotel Henry and it was a special and unique experience—not just because of the art on display there (Resource: Art) but also because of what the place was—and has become—now! Also, I was well looked after by colleagues and peers in the city, who often offered to drive me to that next meeting, were generous with their time, knowledge, and experience of Buffalo. All the people I met were fantastic, generous, and giving.
A business leader and Buffalo booster passes
It was national news when Robert G. Wilmers, longtime chairman and chief executive officer of M&T bank, died unexpectedly Saturday, December 10, at age eighty-three. He had led the bank for thirty-five years, increasing its assets from $2 billion dollars to $120 billion dollars during his tenure. And he was the catalyst behind a regional expansion of the bank, from a Buffalo-based operation, to one with nearly 800 branches across the eastern United States.
But there was more to the man
Everyone agrees that Wilmers was a brilliant banker. He believed in Buffalo. He recognized the city’s potential, and was rewarded for his faith with enormous success, having acquired twenty-four smaller institutions, turning M&T into one of the nation's twenty biggest banks. Beyond that, he brought business, political, and community leaders together to plan the city’s future. He served on Buffalo's control board, and nurtured the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation.
He was also a major supporter of Buffalo’s arts and cultural institutions, because be believed that business can only flourish in a strong community. To that end, he was also an advocate for education, helping to establish Westminister Community Charter school and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, a tuition-free early childhood education center.
A personal story
The previous director of The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Louis Grachos, once brought Wilmers to see an installation of my paintings, during the regional art biennial, Beyond Western News York. Grachos introduced Wilmers, and, with keen interest, he questioned me about my work. I replied inelegantly, thinking that the conservative businessman might be put off by the irreligious theme of the work. At some point, I mentioned that my wife, Renee, worked for M&T bank for many years, though as a loan officer, she never met Wilmers personally. He asked what department she worked in, and, after a bit more chit-chat, he and Grachos went on to the next exhibit. The next day, my wife got a personal note from him at work, saying that he had met me, and thanking her for her service. The M&T CEO remembered her name, and sought her out. The thoughtful gesture meant a lot to her, and said a lot about the man.
Electric Tower gets a holiday upgrade
Buffalo’s Beaux-Arts Classical Revival Electric Tower was built in 1912 on the triangular corner of Washington, Genesee, and Huron streets. The design was inspired by the Tower of Light at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition, as well as nineteenth-century archeologists' utopian reconstructions of the lighthouse at Alexandria. It was billed as one of the first “fully electrified buildings.” But to many Buffalonians, with fond childhood memories, it’s the Christmas Tower.
Since as long as anyone living can recall, the three-tier wedding cake top of the Electric Tower has been specially lit for the holidays. Traditionally, there was a sequence to the lighting effect, which (as I recall) went like this: bottom tier lights up red, middle tier lights up green, top tier lights up white; white string lights outline the three tiers, outline lights twinkle. Then dark. The whole thing took maybe twenty seconds, then it would cycle again. For kids, that familiar sequence provided a warm feeling inside, telling them Christmas time is here.
Thirty years ago, this week, a new holiday tradition was added to the Tower: the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop, making it the most holiday-engaged structure in downtown Buffalo. This year, the Electric Tower got a $100,000-dollar lighting makeover, with powerful new LED lights that provide more intense and varied colors at much lower cost. Next Monday, the ball drops for the thirtieth time.
There are some traditions that are remarkable for their simplicity, and the rush of nostalgia they supply. The Electric Tower holiday displays are one such tradition.
Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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