Buffalo public art project to recognize contributions of civil rights leaders

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- African American leaders and their contributions will be recognized through a series of murals in Buffalo. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is working on a project to highlight 29 local and national civil rights leaders.

It’s part of the Gallery’s Public Art Initiative, which is supported by Erie County and City of Buffalo.

The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor is known by landmarks including the Nash House and Colored Musicians Club but soon it will have a new entryway.

A 300 ft. long blank canvas at the corner of Michigan Ave. and East Ferry St. will become a showcase of African American civil rights leaders.

“This will be a real marker, real moment where people realize this is a place of cultural activity and there’s more to be had,” said Aaron Ott, Albright-Knox curator of public art.

The wall is nearly 11 feet high and surrounds the NFTA Cold Spring Bus Maintenance Depot. It’s across the street from Buffalo’s oldest black church, Bethel A.M.E.

It’s broken up into 29 sections and each section will have a portrait of a current or past African American leader.

Buffalo Artist Chuck Tingley hopes to start working on the mural by the end of May 2017, to be finished by August.

Ott told News 4 they have been working for more than two years with Tingley to come up with the idea. Open Buffalo, Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and Bethel A.M.E. Church are all partners on the project.

The biggest task right now is narrowing down which current or past leaders will be depicted. Residents made more than 130 suggestions in the first public meeting.

“National players and local players, past and present in this location, we hope will really spur a really robust dialogue in our community about what civil rights has meant to them and what it continues to mean to them,” said Ott.

Karen Stanley, with the Michigan Street African American Heritage corridor, told us she’d like to see portraits of Niagara Movement founder Mary Talbert and Buffalo’s first black architect John Brent, among others.

Stanley said it’s important to show African American contributions and demonstrate to young people that one person can change history.

Buffalo historian Eva Doyle told News 4 she would like to see Buffalo settler and businessman Joseph Hodge depicted, along with Jesse Clipper, Buffalo’s first African American to die in World War I.

“We know a wall isn’t going to encapsulate the story of civil rights so our hope is this work is chapter one in a multi chapter book,” said Ott “The corridor has many spaces that are right for additional pieces of work”

Ott said they already have additional projects planned for the East Side this summer.

Buffalo State College students are working with Albright-Knox to generate biographies for the individuals represented on the wall. They also hope to incorporate African American history through web content.

You can offer suggestions of who should be portrayed on the wall at a public meeting Tuesday, Feb 28 at 6:00 p.m. at the Merriweather library on Jefferson Ave.

There will also be public meetings on the project on March 22 and April 3 but the locations have not been determined.

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