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AK Innovation Lab’s SACRA Project Recognized with NEA Our Town Grant

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Buffalo, NY – The Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Innovation Lab and its partners have been recommended by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town program for an award of $100,000 for SACRA, the Society for the Advancement of Construction-Related Arts, a collaboration with Assembly House 150, an organization founded by artist and University at Buffalo professor of architecture Dennis Maher. SACRA will bring together local tradespeople, developers, craftspeople, artists, and artisans to teach trainees key skills in high demand within the construction market today. The Erie County Department of Social Services (DSS) will play a vital role in this ongoing project as the recruiter for student participants.

The NEA Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA received 274 applications for Our Town this year and made 89 awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, totaling $6.89 million.

Building upon the legacy of artistic and design excellence demonstrated by Buffalo’s architectural heritage, SACRA has two main goals:

  • Create teaching/learning opportunities where exceptional quality, historical understanding, and richness of imagination in design and construction are encouraged.
  • Teach the necessary skills for employment in the fields of carpentry and woodworking.

The Department of Social Services will act as the main recruiter for trainees to learn construction skills while they work on the renovation of existing environments and the creation of new, unique spaces in the city. In addition to DSS, the project will bring together the Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Program, the Western New York Area Federation of Labor, Harmac Medical and Bailey Green, and the Roycroft Campus, among others, to incorporate life enhancement and job skills to best assist the trainees with their transition into the workforce.

With a focus on high-level craftsmanship, SACRA will create an environment where a culture of new construction excellence can flourish, while also helping to satisfy a current need for skilled labor in the region. The City of Buffalo is well known for its historic architecture and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it has the oldest housing stock of any major metropolitan area in the country. This statistic highlights the city’s dire need for housing maintenance and repair at a time when the artisanal skills and craftsmanship that gave birth to this architectural heritage are disappearing. As a museum of modern and contemporary art, the Albright-Knox has a substantial interest in not only preserving the architectural and design heritage of Western New York, but also laying the groundwork for the heritage of the future to emerge. 

“SACRA serves as an exemplar of the Albright-Knox’s vision to flourish as an exceptional hub of artistic and creative energies that enriches and transforms people’s lives in our community and beyond,” said Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén. “Art museums in the twenty-first century should be collaborating agents of positive change, encouraging the growth and development of people from all walks of life. Through this multi-faceted partnership, we seek to prepare and empower tomorrow's artisans to preserve Buffalo’s rich architectural heritage while providing gainful employment to those who need it most.”

“Erie County’s resurgent economy needs skilled workers to drive it forward, and the Our Town grant dovetails with county workforce development efforts by bringing people with construction knowledge together with students eager to learn a trade,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “This great partnership between the Erie County Department of Social Services and the Albright-Knox’s Innovation Lab will give trainees the skills they need to be productive members of the workforce and change agents in our community.”

“The Department of Social Services is proud to collaborate with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on this innovative initiative. The Department will recruit public benefit clients who are required to participate in work-related activities to take part in this project. These individuals will learn a trade that may lead to well-paying jobs, decreasing their need for public assistance,” said Commissioner Al Dirschberger, PhD.

“We have exceptional craftsmen carrying on the legacy of the Roycroft Campus and restoring the extraordinary designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, H. H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan, and others. We have many neighborhoods, residences, commercial, and public spaces in need of restoration or inspiration,” said Maher. “We have a newly thriving construction market experiencing a boom unlike anything seen in Buffalo for decades. And we have a key population in our city in need of jobs and opportunities. We are merely bringing all of these pieces together in a creative and innovative way.”

SACRA instructors will be artisans, contractors, and tradespeople who are local practitioners with specialized expertise. The program will have a project-based curriculum, focusing on the design and construction of signature projects that have the potential for high impact and visibility within the community. Every participant will have an opportunity to use new tools and learn new skills while working toward a common goal. By bringing together participants from diverse backgrounds and with varying degrees of experience, SACRA will help to bridge the social and economic gaps that exist in our community.

SACRA will also work closely with local developers, construction companies, and manufacturers. This will enable the project to nurture the specific skills and resources required in the workforce. It will also provide a direct pipeline for the students from Social Services and tradespeople trained through the program to more easily secure work, as the training is designed to respond to the needs identified by potential employers.

The first SACRA class is planned to begin in early September with a graduation date targeted for early January. Russell Davidson, manager of the Innovation Lab, along with Maher and the Department of Social Services, will work together to identify, interview, and assess potential trainees, with recruitment for the program beginning this summer.

The AK Innovation Lab was founded with leadership support from The John R. Oishei Foundation, The Seymour H. Knox Foundation, in conjunction with an anonymous family foundation, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The SACRA program has been made possible through the generosity of The Vogt Foundation; Edwin and Alex Johnston; Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation/LP Ciminelli, Inc.; Annette M. Cravens; John Somers, Harmac Medical Products; and Gilbane Building Company.

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