By Amanda McLaughlin:
El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera Gallery is pleased to announce its newest exhibit Streetscapes, a photography exhibition showcasing the talents of George K. Arthur, former Buffalo Common Council President. Streetscapes is a collection of twenty-two color images of Buffalo graffiti.
Born in Buffalo, Arthur completed his primary education in the Buffalo Public School System, and graduated from Seneca Vocational High School with a major in photography; he was the first African American in the school to graduate with that major. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953, Arthur continued to hone his photographic skills throughout his tour of duty, and following his honorable discharge in 1955, went on to receive a B.A. in Political Science from SUNY Empire State College.
Following early employment as a photo technician and narcotics counselor, Arthur soon entered the political arena, where in the early 1960’s he was elected as a Democratic committeeman, and later held offices with the Erie County Board of Supervisors, Ellicott District Buffalo Common Councilmember, and Buffalo Common Councilmember-at-large, before becoming the President of the Buffalo Common Council, a post he held from 1984 to his retirement in 1996. Arthur ran for Buffalo City Mayor as the endorsed Democratic candidate in 1985, making him one of only three African Americans to ever seek the office of Mayor in Buffalo, yet he was narrowly defeated by the incumbent, James D. Griffin.
In 1989, Arthur helped to create the Pine Grill Jazz Festival, the widely attended outdoor music festival that takes place each year in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Buffalo’s East Side. In addition, Arthur spent time on the Board of Directors of CEPA gallery, including serving as Board President.) He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the NAACP Medgar Evers Award, the Red Jacket Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, the YMCA Jackie Robinson Award, and the Buffalo Urban League Evans and Young honors. Currently, Arthur serves as the President of the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation, which, under his leadership, has preserved and reopened the Rev. J. Edward Nash, Sr. home as a museum, research center, and heritage tourism center.
Throughout his active career, Arthur has continued to perfect and develop his craft. His photographic works have been hung in numerous galleries including the Nina Freudenheim Gallery, CEPA Gallery, Burchfield Penny Art Center, WNED, Buffalo Niagara Convention Visitors Bureau, Main Place, and the Greater Buffalo International Airport Gallery. Streetscapes showcases the raw, sensitive art that covers many of Buffalo’s buildings. For years, Arthur noticed when “someone in the neighborhood would paint their feelings or make an R.I.P. image on various buildings in full view for everyone to see,” yet acknowledges that he, like many other people, classified the image as graffiti, without dedicating much time to thinking about the image or the person who painted it. “One day,” Arthur said in a statement, “I stopped and took a long look, and began to wonder about that person, did he or she have any formal training or did they, like so many other I know, just have raw talent. What where they trying to say when they drew what I call an R.I.P image–with the colors, the composition, the feelings and the message they were sending to all passers-by. That’s when I said I must photograph as many as I could.” Arthur notes the transitory nature of many of the images, asserting that many times when he returned to the image to snap a second photograph, it was already gone. While some of the work photographed was done with permission by a trained artist, for Arthur, the truly vibrant works were the expressions of grief, hope, anger, or longing that came directly from community members. Says Arthur: “The work that really tells the story is by the artist that wasn’t trained and just lost a friend or loved on the streets.”
Streetscapes runs at El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera Gallery (El Museo) from Friday, January 28th, 2011 through Friday, February 25th, 2011. The gallery will host an opening night reception on Friday, January 28th from 7PM-9PM. El Mueso is located at 91 Allen Street in Buffalo, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5PM, or by appointment. Additional information on exhibits and the gallery can be found by calling 716.884.1912, or online at www.ElmuseoBuffalo.org.