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AK Public Art Initiative Creates Welcome Wall

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Buffalo, NY – Today the Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative completed a new mural at 751 Fillmore Avenue. Philadelphia-based artists Keir Johnston (American, born 1979) and Ernel Martinez (Belizean, born 1975) designed and installed the mural, which incorporates the word “Welcome” in thirteen different languages, celebrating the multicultural neighborhood that surrounds the space.

Formerly the location of the Copacabana Jazz Club, 751 Fillmore has been vacant for more than a decade. New property owners Armad and Shaniqua Ray have partnered with the Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services (BFNHS) and Fillmore District Common Council Member David Franczyk to produce the mural. Languages representing the neighborhood have been identified by BFNHS, which include: Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English, Farsi, French, German, Polish, Seneca, Spanish, Somali, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

Johnston and Martinez have been creating murals for more than twenty years. Their art is designed to advocate for social issues and awareness and to express ideas to broad public audiences. Together, Johnston and Martinez are founding members of Amber Art and Design in Philadelphia, an organization of like-minded artists focused on providing spaces of dialogue for communities in stress. Focusing on collaboration and communication, the artists produce work that is informed and in part physically created by people in the communities where the work will reside.

In addition to their socially engaged work, Johnston and Martinez are master craftsmen of a specific type of mural production that utilizes a non-woven fabric material called Polytab, less formally known as “parachute cloth.” Because the cloth is easily transported and can be worked on in small spaces, murals can be prepared in studios, classrooms, and at a number of non-traditional spaces designed to encourage public participation. The mural can be completed in sections, like a quilt, and later patched together to integrate the work of artists and communities that would otherwise never have the opportunity to collaborate. Johnston and Martinez are committed to sharing their knowledge and have worked with local artists to produce and install this mural to facilitate skill-sharing and intellectual exchange.

The artists created designs based on stakeholder and community feedback in order to arrive at a composition that could be executed in part during public paint days. Because the project can be outlined and preplanned in a “paint-by-numbers” format, individuals of all skill levels came together and participated simultaneously in the project. This ensured a significantly broader audience was able to engage in the production of the mural.

Other recent Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative projects include Bunnie Reiss's Magic Buffalo at 1322 Hertel Avenue; Shantell Martin’s mural Dance Everyday at 537 East Delavan Avenue; Daniel Galas’s mural 72 Jewett at 74 Jewett Avenue; Amanda Browder’s installation Spectral Locus at three separate locations throughout Buffalo during the summer of 2016; Alice Mizrachi’s mural Dream Keepers at the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology; Roberley Bell’s installation Locus Amoenus at the Tifft Nature Preserve; Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn’s mural Noodle in the Northern Lights at Shea’s 710 Theatre; Kaarina Kaikkonen’s installation We Share a Dream, at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport; Jenny Kendler’s Milkweed Dispersal Balloons and ReWilding New York (Community Seed Stations), a two-fold work that took place over the summer of 2015; Shayne Dark’s 2015 exhibition Natural Conditions and residency at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens; Jaume Plensa’s Silent Poets, on view through October 2017 at Canalside; Casey Riordan's Shark Girl; Tape Art’s Buffalo Caverns, a massive, temporary mural made with low-adhesive drawing tape on the north wall of the Central Library branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library; a billboard- and sticker-based iteration of Matthew Hoffman’s You Are Beautiful project, made possible in part through a partnership with Lamar Advertising; and Charles Clough’s collaboratively produced Hamburg Arena Painting, which is installed in the newly constructed wing of the Hamburg Public Library. The Public Art Initiative has also distributed 30,000 art kits to students throughout Erie County.

The Public Art Initiative is an innovative partnership between the Albright-Knox and Erie County established in 2013. The City of Buffalo joined the partnership in 2014. The goal of the Initiative is to create spaces of dialogue where diverse communities have the ability to engage socially, actively respond, and cooperatively produce great public art that is capable of empowering individuals, creating stronger neighborhoods, and establishing Western New York as a critical cultural center.

This mural was made possible through funding provided by the New Era Cap Foundation.

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