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Buffalo art goes boom

Something is definitely happening here. Momentum is building. A critical mass is developing in the art community. Small galleries are popping up at an unprecedented pace. Buffalo Artscape on Elmwood Avenue is just the latest high profile gallery to materialize recently (see article below). Allentown’s First Friday, where galleries remain open for evening hours, continues to attract lively crowds as snow and the winter chill finally makes their inevitable arrival. I attended exhibitions at Indigo Art, CEPA, Studio Hart, Buffalo Big Print, Gallery 164, El Museo, and College Street Gallery this past Friday and was amazed by the number of people mulling around at each site, enjoying art and lively conversation while sipping wine—or beer; it’s like a monthly art party.

Another indication of the vitality of the community is the number of holiday exhibitions and sales occurring around town. Ten years ago I only recall Big Orbit and Bryant Street Studio featuring exhibitions of smaller artworks, suitable for December gift-giving. Now, with the proliferation of Facebook and email as promotional tools, there are art sales, small-works exhibitions, and open artist studios occurring everywhere, too many to even list much less keep track of. What’s more, people in Western New York seem to be buying local art in greater numbers as the word gets out that Buffalo is a hotbed of first-rate artistic activity where art is priced well below that of other major cities. It’s a gradual process, but word is spreading.

Yet another indication that regional artistic activity might be building to a new level of vitality are the “underground” venues quietly mounting exhibitions of mostly younger artists, often without publicity, just word-of-mouth promotion. The Vault is one such storefront venue at 701 Main Street, across from the B-District Buffalo Police Station where the subway emerges from underground near Tupper. Operated by Amanda Giezkowski, this warm and casual venue is only open evenings for now, allowing theater goers to drop in along with younger art enthusiasts who enjoy the unpretentious atmosphere.

The next exhibition of all black and white works by area artists opens Friday, December 11. The whole building, which was the former home of Hallwalls and CEPA years ago, is in the process of being quietly transformed into an art and music center without fanfare or help from the city, by building manager Brian Wantuch of Wasteland Studios. This may be the beginning of a revival for one section of downtown dotted with unoccupied storefronts, as the arts are known to have done in other cities.

Then there’s Nobodys, chugging along at Elmwood and Forrest, still mostly publicized by word-of-mouth (hint: look for the lit “open” sign in the window). I’m particularly fond of Nerd Night (most Wednesdays), which is just what it sounds like. Those comfortable with their inherent nerdiness drop by to listen to casual (usually exceptional) live music while playing board games or Atari video games as a Hulk Hogan movie plays silently on a portable TV for added nerdish ambience. Real nerds unapologetically indulging in nerd activities in an art atmosphere; very Buffalo.

College art students are venturing into the community more as well, thanks partly to people like Associate Professor of Visual Studies at SUNY Buffalo Sylvie Bélanger. For the past several weeks Bélanger’s students have been exhibiting in every nook and cranny throughout the city as a requirement of her course. There are many stories of art students who came to town for an education and stayed for the affordable lifestyle and dynamic art scene.

Of course Buffalo needs even more people attending art exhibitions and supporting galleries with memberships and art purchases. While the big flagship venues like the Albright-Knox and Burchfield-Penney and the nationally recognized art centers like Hallwalls and CEPA form the core of our well-deserved reputation for great art, to continue to grow and gain greater attention, the art community needs a thriving economic base. Money spent on regional art stays in the area, and helps our economy grow.

Buffalo Artscape:
Another commercial art venue makes its debut.

Recently opened at 569 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo Artscape is the latest gallery to attempt making a go of it in the economically challenging Elmwood Village. Directors Heath Bartel and Melanie Glucksman are taking a multidiscipline approach, a strategy many new art galleries seem to be using. In addition to ongoing art exhibitions, their gallery/store carries unique handmade objects including jewelry and crafts from local artists and artists around the world. They also feature fair trade items from Africa, and Central and South America, and handmade objects unique to their store like hand carved cinnabar (a red mineral), Navajo sand paintings, and gemstone globes. Bartel and Glucksman are actively looking for area artists to exhibit.

Following on the heels of their first exhibition of Bartel’s own paintings, is the work of Patti Harris, whose highly textural assemblages and collages owe a debt to the work of Joseph Cornell. Like the pioneer of shadow box art, Harris assembles her work from found objects such as old and unusual boxes, wood foundry patterns, photographs, papers, metals, stamps, books, and other often vintage and discarded items. The exhibition continues to December 31.

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