Long Story Short: Let's take a look
detail of Adams installation for Proximity
Proximity: Art in person, at a distance
It started about 10 a.m. on Mothers’ day.
Our RING doorbell alerted us to the presence of someone outside. I clicked the live view on my phone and saw a family of three, mother and daughter, sitting in our wet front garden while the father took their picture. Strange behavior? Nope (except maybe the wet part). We were hoping something like this would happen.
This was the first day of PROXIMITY: In Search of Signs of Life & Art, the weeklong socially distanced live art show, now on view on lawns and porches all around town. I’m one of the twenty-two participating artists, and after that first family, there followed a steady stream of art-loving individuals—or people just needing to get out of the house—parking or walking up to view my installation. Most took selfies in hopes of winning one of the prizes for viewers that make it to all twenty-two locations. One woman inserted herself into the installation as her friend snapped a picture. She explained that she’s taking interactive photos with each artwork using her enormous scarf as a prop in an improvised performance.
“Recently, more than ever, I search for news that feels hopeful to act as a counterpoint to the downward spiraling effect that reading and listening to world reports elicits,” says Elisabeth Samuels, one of two woman who make up the collaborative curatorial project known as Resource:art. Samuels read about musicians in Italy spontaneously performing from their balconies—the idea seemed magical.
That impromptu act of song inspired museums in Spain, Germany, and New York City to solicit visual artists to create installations or “interventions” on their balconies, engaging the public from safe distances. “Lately, I've been taking lots of walks in Buffalo neighborhoods,” says Samuels, “and the idea of randomly coming upon unexpected interventions makes me happy.”
Samuels and Emily Tucker—the other half of Resource:art—wondered whether there was a way to transfer the balcony phenomena to Buffalo. “The idea that artists could use their front yards and porches to create unexpected art experiences seemed perfect,” Samuels reports. While she is grateful for all the virtual art programming that’s been popping up online, she misses the ability to experience art in real time, noting, “Art connects people.”
So, in a remarkably short span of time, the two curators pulled Proximity together. Artists were anxious for ways to exercise their creative muscles, after being cloistered in their studios so long. “It’s been so great to read the imaginative proposals submitted by artists,” says Samuels, “and I'm so excited to see the work in person.” Most of the works are in or near the Elmwood Village area, with a few in South Buffalo, Tonawanda, and Snyder.
Scavenger hunt with prizes
The idea of turning Proximity it into a scavenger hunt, with a virtual map, is the duo’s twist on the balcony art concept. And at the last minute, they got the added idea to offer a prize for the first fifteen people who post selfies at all twenty-two installations on Instagram. You can learn here how to win a signed poster, or the top prize of an original artwork. You can also purchase a poster to support the project.
Licking wounds and amending amendments
Some topics are too complex and nuanced to be fully explored in this blog. This is one of those stories. We’ll start with a timely analogy.
Like many people, I took the opportunity during New York’s stay-in-place mandate to address long-overdue household chores—my first choice was cleaning and reorganizing our pantry. I worked for days on what turned out to be a much bigger job than anticipated. When I was done, I presented the results with no small measure of pride to my wife.
Let’s just say, it was met with substantially less enthusiasm than I had hoped for. Having set out to do something positive, it was dispiriting when my efforts fell well short of spousal approval. (To be fair, Renee didn’t like my throw-shit-out approach from the start, so maybe I should have seen it coming.)
The Common Council amendment
In the April 27 edition of Buffalo Rising there was a story about a proposed amendment to the City’s Preservation Standards Article III – Designation of Landmarks and Districts. Councilmembers David Rivera and Mitch Nowakowsk submitted the proposal in response to the unfortunate demolition by Sinatra & Company Real Estate of 184 West Utica a couple months earlier. That demolition occurred two days after the Buffalo Preservation Board voted unanimously in support of granting the century-old home landmark status. The Common Council felt compelled by existing city timelines to approve the demolition permit anyway the day after the Preservation Board vote or face a lawsuit.
Ostensibly, the intent of the Rivera/Nowakowsk amendment proposal adds a fifteen-day moratorium to the current thirty-day timeline for acting on demolition permit requests, extending it to a total of forty-five days. The objective is to give landmark status applications more time to be reviewed.
The proposal initially looked good to LSS, and we’re sure the two sponsoring councilmembers were satisfied that they had done something positive, just as when I unveiled my pantry redesign. They were attempting to address the concerns of the preservation community, which they believed would be pleased. Upon reflection, they might have seen it coming.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara responds
One day after the Buffalo Rising article, a letter from Preservation Buffalo Niagara Executive Director Jessie Fisher was sent to the Common Council—addressed to the amendment sponsors—urging the withdrawal of the proposal. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture, & Culture also publicly reacted negatively to the amendment.
City Hall insiders say the councilmembers were offended by the rejection. “I think their egos may have been a little hurt because they thought they were doing something that would be embraced by preservationists,” says one source speaking on background. “It may not be a reasonable reaction, but it's a human reaction. I don't think they were really being attacked, but it may have felt that way.”
Oh yes, LSS understands.
At their regular monthly (Zoom) meeting, the Common Council sent the amendment to the Legislation Committee, where it will be opened for public input. Preservation Buffalo Niagara might have waited for that meeting to bring up their concerns. But sending a letter in advance, along with their email campaign urging councilmembers to withdraw the amendment—which added to the ego-bruising—seemed more effective with less public spectacle.
This is where things get—as we said at the top—complex and nuanced. According to Fisher, in an effort to patch up the current flawed process with a wordy amendment, the councilmembers actually made matters worse. “As best as I can summarize it,” she says, “the Council is asking the Preservation Board to make decisions about whether something is historic based on financial considerations. Something is either historic or it’s not,” she points out. Fisher says there is already a process in place for the Preservation Board and Common Council to take financial considerations into account later in the process. But this amendment makes it a consideration in determining historic importance, which opens a whole new can of litigation worms.
The wording of the amendment also inadvertently reduces, rather than lengthens, the existing landmark status process from ninety days to forty-five days. And by linking the amendment to the specific circumstances of the 184 West Utica loss, it neglects other types of cases where additional time might be needed. What the city would end up with, in effect, says Fisher, would be two separate demolition permit processes, with bureaucrats making decisions based on their perceptions of people’s motives.
LSS understands what it’s like to work hard on something with good intentions, only to have it meet with disapproval. But the Common Council should lick its wounds and work with the two leading preservation organizations to craft a clean amendment, which—as the letter from Fisher states—"ensures that buildings cannot be significantly altered or demolished while landmark status is being determined.”
Such an amendment would meet with resistance from developers, and the Common Council would still have to entertain objections and suggestions. But at least they won’t be exposing the city to bigger problems down the line.
As for the pantry reorganization, it remains as it is.
Pelion Community Garden, from the street
Full circle garden
Life is full of interesting coincidences for those who pay attention. I was born on Buffalo’s East side, which once had a large German population (I’m mixed European, with the German Kolb clan on my mother’s side). We moved from our East Side home in 1957, when I was five, and I only have hazy memories of life there. I last saw that house around 2008, and shortly after—like so many East Side structures in what had become an impoverished neighborhood—it was demolished, leaving me a little sad. The neighborhood has been coming back in recent years, and one sign of its reemergence can be found in a certain community garden.
Caesandra Seawell is the garden manager and instructor at the Pelion Community Garden at City Honors School. I contacted her last week for a story I was writing on vegetable gardening, but Pelion didn’t quite fit the article about novice vegetable growers. The garden is really an outdoor City Honors classroom, engaging students, parents, nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and volunteers in a collaborative horticultural effort.
My two sons went to City Honors School, the younger one graduating two years before Pelion was founded in 2011. My mother attended the same school when it was called Fosdick-Masten Girls Vocational High School in 1934. Like most City Honors families, we retain an emotional connection to the school community.
Pelion is a complicated endeavor: part learning center, part neighborhood beautification project, and part community food supplier. It’s a get-back-to-nature volunteer opportunity for community members and corporate supporters, and a chance for the school to interact in a positive way with neighbors. “In growing and sharing the food,” says Seawell, “we extend our responsibility to include others; that's community.”
Something for everyone
The garden includes native shrubs, perennials, vegetables, fruits, and herbs planted and tended by students. There’s a living fence of sunflowers, edible flowers, honeysuckle, and other flowering vines, and almost a dozen fruit trees (it is, after all, located on the border between the Fruit Belt and Cold Spring neighborhoods). There are also some community vegetable beds planted and tended to by neighborhood families.
During the school year, the garden is used for science lessons in biodiversity, botany, ecology, insect study, and pollination (the garden has two beehives), among myriad other topics. Art and writing lessons also take place there, and, the way Seawell tells it, with a little imagination, there are opportunities for teaching just about any subject.
Gardening in a pandemic year
Due to COVID-19, the garden operates a little differently this season. “We are switching our usual growing strategy to create our version of a Victory Garden,” says Seawell. Over the summer months, Pelion is prioritizing higher nutrition foods—such as beans, kale, beets, and squashes—rather than the usual mixed beds. These late summer harvest crops will be donated to the nearest food pantries and neighbors. When school begins, students will replant mixed cool weather crops to harvest in late fall.
In the meantime, Seawell has been growing seedlings of other plants—starting from seeds in her kitchen—to be distributed to the community. “We will be giving away over twenty different seedling crops,” she says. Her hope is that the plants will be grown in yards throughout the neighborhood, and when the food is harvested, some of the yield will also be donated to food pantries. In addition, those growers will be asked to harvest seeds to use next year when the school resumes their usual mixed bed plantings. In that way, City Honors “continues to make our school garden useful to our community,” says Seawell, “ensuring viability of the seed stock.”
Help in challenging times
Seawell believes people are looking for ways to be helpful during the pandemic. “I think many people feel just staying home is not enough,” she says. “It doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice compared to the stories we hear from the days of rationing or growing [wartime] Victory Gardens.” She feels that raising healthful crops is a meaningful way to contribute, and she expects the community will support the expanded pandemic-year project. “Sharing the harvest with people who cannot grow their own, cannot afford fresh produce, or shouldn't risk the grocery store trip, means we're keeping other people safe too.”
Where is this garden anyway?
As I researched this story, I kept wondering where the actual garden is located. From my sons’ days at City Honors, I couldn’t imagine what part of the Fosdick-Masten Park campus might be utilized. Turns out, Pelion is actually located across the street in what were once four litter-strewn vacant lots, where dilapidated homes had been torn down.
The address of the garden is listed as 206 Best Street—the address of the house I moved from in 1957, twenty-three years after my mother graduated from the school across the street, and thirty-seven years before my older son entered. Learning this, any residual melancholy over the loss of my childhood home was replaced with gratitude that the land is now used to educate students and help feed a community.
Life is full of interesting coincidences for those who pay attention. You can view an excellent short documentary about the transformation of the vacant lots into the Pelion Community Garden here.
Everyone wants to show appreciation for the women and men on what’s frequently called “the front lines” in the battle against COVID-19. Most prominently among them are those working in the medical profession.
So, I guess if you happen to have a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and a couple Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets sitting around all fueled up (and fuel being cheap right now), you might decide that a quick flyover is a perfect way to honor those folks. That’s what some members of the U.S. Air Force are going to do.
Look, up in the sky…
It’s billed as a salute to Western New York healthcare workers, and it happens tomorrow (Tuesday, May 12) beginning at 11:45 a.m. “On behalf of a grateful Air Force, thank you to all healthcare workers, essential personnel and emergency responders across Western New York,” says commander of the 914 Air Refueling Wing Col. Brian Burr in announcing the tribute. “Your selfless service to our community is a testament to the toughness this area of our country is known for. As we fly over, know that we stand united with you.”
The pilots have planned a route taking them over local hospitals where patients are being treated. The flyover is scheduled to begin above Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport and continues past the following locations: Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Niagara Falls International Airport, DeGraff Memorial Hospital, University at Buffalo, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, Buffalo General Medical Center, Erie County Medical Center, Sisters of Charity Hospital, and the VA Western New York Healthcare System.
The aerial salute should wrap up around 12:12 p.m. over Kenmore Mercy Hospital, which means they will make it to all those locations in around 25-minutes. You have to hand it to these pilots; I would get lost driving to these locations using a GPS, but they are going really fast up in the sky where street signs are all but impossible to read.
"Even flyovers for the Bills, we've never done it with fighters," said Lt Col Ben Canetti. "Even for us as pilots, it's going to be pretty cool." Times and locations are subject to change. Don’t forget to practice social distancing while looking up.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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