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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Adding to Buffalo's riches

By Dick Hirsch

Nobody ever said it was dull living in Buffalo, did they? Let the observers and demographers from elsewhere write whatever they please; if you are paying attention you can testify this is an exciting, amazing and embracing place to live. Permit me to cite the most recent example:

A few days ago a remarkable cross-section of community leaders---philanthropists, artists, educators and elected officials---proudly participated in a ceremonial ribbon cutting prior to the opening of the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College. It is a stunning new museum, scheduled to open with its first exhibition in late November.

It is the first new museum built in the city in over 100 years and it emphasizes the paintings of Charles E. Burchfield, while also featuring the work of regional artists. Burchfield’s career in Buffalo evolved from designing wallpaper to gaining international recognition for the distinctive and evocative watercolors he quietly created in the small studio in the backyard of his home in Gardenville.

Just an hour before I joined about 700 others to attend the ceremony and tour the building I was reflecting on the latest nasty news about Buffalo. There it was again: Buffalo the third poorest city in the US, preceded by Detroit and Cleveland and followed by El Paso and Memphis. I filed that story, along with the one published a month ago in Forbes Magazine, ranking Buffalo among the 10 fastest dying cities. I read all those stories but try not to dwell on them. That’s the kind of press we’ve been getting for years. Back in the ‘60s, there was a municipal furor when a west coast sportswriter wrote a story calling Buffalo “the armpit of the east.” By doing so, he became something of a local celebrity, and had his expenses paid to fly back here and appear for a TV interview and have lunch with the mayor.

We should be adjusted and desensitized by now. Who cares what the distant commentators claim? We know the truth.

At this moment, you should be phoning or e-mailing your relatives in Houston or Charlotte and raving about the Burchfield Penney, a $30 million project that was built with an impressive combination of private and public money. The result is a spectacular new destination, an 84,000 square foot building that is flooded with natural light bathing the spacious exhibit areas. This is a remarkable building, the exterior massive, but settled comfortably in its campus environment on Elmwood Avenue, the interior characterized by an innovative use of the space and a series of compelling angles and vistas. It will soon be added to Buffalo’s list of architectural triumphs.

Poorest city? Phooey! We’re quite comfortable...thanks for asking.

If you think of it, you should tell your relatives in Phoenix or Atlanta about the reconstruction of the Darwin Martin House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s true masterpieces, nearing completion, as well as major enhancements underway at the Buffalo Zoo.

The arts and cultural community is strong and vibrant. The closing of the Studio Arena Theatre has been a setback, but there will come a future time when the place will be revived and they will once again turn on the house lights. The Studio Arena, with its rich history, didn’t deserve its fate, ironically becoming a victim of a flourishing theater community. There is considerable competition in the performing arts, from places large and small, places like Shea’s Buffalo, the Irish Classical Theater, the Kavinoky Theater, MusicalFare and other producing groups. The Studio Arena, with a sizable facility and an overhead to match, wasn’t nimble and perceptive enough in recent years to develop a following that filled the seats with the needed regularity.

Using the completion of the Burchfield Penney as a springboard, this column was definitely conceived as an attempt at boosterism, an approach I seldom follow in print. I’ve found it beneficial, however, occasionally to remind myself and others of some of the very real benefits we have. My wife, Lynn, offers impressive testimony, based on her work for years with young families transferred here. Most of them came reluctantly, with foreboding, based on negative reports they had read, usually about the weather and the shrinking city. After two or three years, their outlooks changed. They were embraced by the community and its qualities and people. They stayed, an indication that sometimes it takes a different perspective to recognize truth.



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