Michael Weidrich’s homecoming
An artist/repat brings business savvy and advocacy experience to Young Audiences
Photo by Stephen Gabris
Heartbreak brought him home, but with it came opportunity. In January, Michael Weidrich, a South Buffalo native, took over as executive director of Young Audiences of Western New York (YAWNY) after spending the past quarter century in Syracuse and Albany as a student, professional artist, arts advocate, and business development leader. In fall, 2017, the death of a beloved brother-in-law brought him back to Buffalo to live with his grieving sister and her young son. The silver lining: a job here, for which he was qualified, was open.
Weidrich, class of 1991 valedictorian at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, had left town for Syracuse University after graduation. With a BFA in tow, he embarked on a professional life—a multitentacled juggle of his own digital artwork, arts advocacy for others, and business development for urban neighborhoods. A dozen years in Central New York was followed by thirteen years in the Capital District. Weidrich earned an MBA from the College of Saint Rose in Albany and built up an extensive resume that included a successful stint directing Albany’s Lark Street Business Improvement District and the Pride Center of the Capital Region, where he’d started as a volunteer. In 2006, he founded First Fridays in Albany, growing that event over eight years from three galleries to over fifty different venues, including an art gallery at the Pride Center, for what Weidrich calls “reverse outreach,” bringing the straight community into a gay venue.
Since reconnecting with his hometown, Weidrich has neglected his own art, but expects to get back to that. Meanwhile, he’s been supporting YAWNY’s goal of providing arts education, via a team of seventy teaching artists across creative disciplines, to schools in the eight Western New York counties. The mission is personal. “I’ve seen the benefits of the arts in my own life,” he says. We asked Weidrich to tell us more about his personal and professional development.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.
I chose aerospace engineering as a major when I started at Syracuse, thinking to merge illustrative design with academics and start designing spaceships! But then I transferred to the Visual and Performing Arts School at the university; this was just at the birth of a lot of new direction in the arts, with computers in graphic arts, and that led to my BFA in digital arts.
You’ve created a niche in the art universe. How would you describe yourself?
I have the heart of an artist and the brain of a businessman.
Leveraging arts funding is tougher than ever in this political climate. What energizes you?
I just keep at it! When I see the programs, and the kids participating, I know how important it is to maintain arts education in our schools. Also, I like my lattes: a good latte in mid-afternoon always helps.
YAWNY is located in the Central Library. You have a personal connection with the space?
Yes, when I was in high school, BAVPA was located in an old building on Clinton Street. To get the bus home, I would walk down Clinton every day. I’d stop in at the library and check out some books; I was one of those nerdy kids, and it felt comfortable. Never imagined I’d be working in the same space; it’s a great connection for YAWNY to be here. And downtown Buffalo looks so different from the early 1990s—it is a city in transition, on the way up. What I see all around is a deep love of the city, for the city.
What art or artist has particularly inspired you?
I’ve traveled a lot. In New York, I saw Hamilton on Broadway and I must say it lived up to the hype. It still amazes me, that bold stand on the casting, with people of color, and relating history through rap and rhyme. It has spoken to so many people, especially youth. That is truly revolutionary. As for other places I’ve been—or not? London is my favorite city in the world. And one day I would like to go to the Great Wall of China.
Anything you thought you’d never do?
Well, I still haven’t tried skydiving. I’ve taken many leaps in my life but not that. We do have a family plot in Forest Lawn, so I always knew I’d come back here one day. But seriously, life has brought me home to Buffalo right now. My decision to move back has felt so good.
What makes you laugh these days?
My nephew, all the time. He’s ten now, and he could be a stand-up comic. Despite personal tragedy, he remains so vibrant. It just reminds me that life is precious, and those of us still here, well, we keep on living.