A yellow banner is fixed snugly on a building
at 340 Delaware Avenue. Its casual
embrace marks the somewhat understated facade of the building that houses
Starlight Studio and Art Gallery, an open-art studio for people with
Passing through the doorway reveals a gallery
full of light. Given the studio’s
modest exterior, it takes the eyes by surprise with its immediate dynamism and
displays of vibrant work.
It becomes immediately clear that there is
something special here – not just in the building itself, but also for the
program and the work that it fosters.
The atmosphere is a curious commune of art,
artists, teachers, and energy; there is a friendliness here that isn’t found in
more popular, perhaps even stuffy, art galleries. The artists here greet you with a handshake and subtle, knowing
smiles. I would soon come to believe
that this group of artists was hiding something behind those smiles – an
understanding, likely, of the remarkable experience that I was about to have as
someone new to their studio.
There in the gallery, I was greeted by Starlight’s director, Ms Carrie Marcotte,
for a scheduled interview for Buffalo Rising.
Marcotte led me beyond the gallery, revealing
a vast workshop that doubles as an exhibitory space. All types of artistic media are on display throughout a
stretching, beckoning, open succession of workspaces, offices, and lounges. Each room, and almost all of the space,
plays its part in the extensive exhibition of work.
As she led me through on a brief tour, I could
not help myself, or my feet rather, from stopping. As I did my best to focus on her words, I kept finding myself
somehow rooted, closely examining the pieces.
(This is not a good interview technique – but in my defense, the Spirit
of Starlight caught my feet, and it was not willing to be ignored.)
Marcotte had to turn around probably a dozen
times, as the artwork had again and again stood out somehow between us, having
emerged from its space on the wall, or a shelf.
“This happens every time,” Marcotte said,
I returned the gesture – I knew then that the
Starlight had put its hook into me.
Eventually, Marcotte corralled me into the
conference room, so that we could discuss the programs. There, we were joined by Marc Hennig, the
Deputy Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of WNY, for
a history of the spaces and the faces within.
MARCOTTE AND HENNIG
Marcotte introduced herself, not as a Buffalo
native, but someone who attended college here, and never looked to leave. “I found the area to be a strong art
community,” she recalled, “and the cost of living is very affordable.”
Hennig was born in Buffalo, and had been
working in Oakland, California in a similar studio. Upon returning to Buffalo in 2000, he was surprised to find that
there wasn’t a studio for people with disabilities here in the Queen City. After
working to secure grants, he contacted Marcotte in the Fall of 2004, who was
then working at the Albright Knox with people with disabilities, and Starlight
was soon born.
Hennig set up a support network with The
Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York (LDAofWNY), with funding
from the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD),
under the New York State Options for People Through Services (NYS-OPTS)
The Studio is now flourishing, and is even
committed to sharing its space with artists from the community. Cynnie Gaasch, William Cooper, and Dave
Gusmann have all displayed their work in Starlight’s Gallery. Artists from Starlight work with
many visiting artists through workshops, presentations and visits to their
“It’s really interesting to see people emerge
as artists, and identify as artists,” said Marcotte. “In one sense, the directive is to help habilitate the
participants, but this emergence, this identity, is a very powerful ascension
for the students.”
The program may be to habilitate, and to encourage, but there is a power
behind that word emergence that
indicates a much more profound growth for the students who attend Starlight.
The studio provides a large inventory for its
students, as well as individualized guidance, goal setting, technical
assistance, demonstrations, and critiques for the cultivation of artistic
expression. Painting, drawing,
printmaking, ceramic sculpture, fiber arts and multi-media work is available to
every student. This unlimited
availability of material and experience is the foundation that provides for the
emergence of the students as they pursue their programs.
All of this shows in their work.
“One of the artists, Ricky Hogan, has come to
secure a seat on the board of directors, involved in self-advocacy for other artists in relationship to services of
disabilities. He’s not the only one;
there’s a group that responds and blossoms into making bigger decisions,” said
That’s a pretty big step for anyone to make,
whatever their life circumstances may be.
From Mr. Hogan’s bio card: “As a kid I would look through a telescope at the
stars and make up stories about life in other galaxies,” says Ricky Hogan when
discussing his inspiration for creating art.
Ricky was raised in Buffalo, NY.
Ricky remembers from childhood always feeling a need to be creative.
Drawing spaceships and aliens, creating leather billfolds and wallets, or
dressing as a clown while working at a carnival, Ricky has always let his
imagination guide his creative impulse.
“We were all struck by Rosita Scott when she
discovered chalk pastels for the first time in her life,” said Marcotte,
“and she was just a natural. And
we were all in awe. She describes this
trance she goes into, when she is making art.”
Hennig added, “Her work has a certain
spiritual nature to it.”
Marcotte nodded in agreement, saying, “It kind
of transports her when she is making it, and it also transports the viewer, you
get that sense from it.”
Scott (who created the piece headlining this article) is 40 years old, proud of her age and heritage. African American history
plays an important part in her creativity. Stories passed down from her
southern relatives inspired her as a child to begin making dolls and dollhouses
from household items. Since that time she has continued to create on a constant
basis. Strongly influenced by color,
nature and music, she especially loves the looseness and fluidity of
pastels. She uses color with vibrancy
and passion. From Ms. Scott’s bio card: Setting her drawings in intimate and personal
situations, Rosita loves a sense of mystery and sites Sherlock Holmes and
Alfred Hitchcock as influences.
Shirley French is one more of the many artists
who have bloomed within the embrace of the energy of this studio. Her confidence in assessing her work is
obvious – and that is evidence of much personal and artistic growth.
From Ms. French’s bio card: “Learning more about how to make art and all of the
different techniques is what inspires me,” says 52 year old Western NY native,
Shirley French. Shirley began attending
the Starlight Day Habilitation program in August of 2007 and felt a little
unsure of her skills. “I used to belong
to the Spectrum Social Club in 2002, where I did a little painting and came up
with an idea for a mural project, but it wasn’t until I came here where I learned
patience and became open to trying new things and became excited about making
art that I became inspired.” Shirley
enjoys attempting figurative drawings, but says her real interest at the moment
is creating drawings with unique geometric designs. “I never thought I’d get
the chance to show and sell my work at places around the city. I had work hanging at the Albright
Knox! I was stunned!”
Marcotte has a unique understanding for her
artists. “My background as an art
therapist has taught me that anyone and everyone can express themselves in a
graphic form, and we are just massaging that,” said Marcotte, acknowledging
that confidence and growth that French found at Starlight.
A PUBLIC PLACE
Both Marcotte and Hennig wanted to emphasize
that Starlight is open to the public, Monday to Friday, from 9-4.
“This is a public place, and we want to
encourage the public to come in – it’s a place really to find some surprises,”
explained Marcotte. Guided tours can be
set up by appointment, and artists are very happy to explain to visitors the
project that they are working on.
now getting a lot more notice and notoriety for the art, which is nice,
especially for the artists,” said Hennig.
Marcotte also wanted to announce that “Our Spring exhibition
of Starlight artists’ work, ‘Fables and Truths,’ will open on Friday, May 8th
from 6-9PM. Some of the participants will be performing an original song that
they wrote with singer/songwriter, Bass Reeves.
The song is called The Ballad of Peter Pan, and
it is beautiful.”
And yes, the art is for sale, so if you decide
to go – bring your checkbook. It’s
easier than walking away from a piece you really like – trust me.
After leaving the interview and the building,
I had turned around twice on the walk back to my car, assessing my
finances. A few of the artists mingled
under the yellow banner. One of them
smiled. This time, I knew much more of
what that smile meant.
I plan to return soon.
To find out more information about becoming an
artist at Starlight, you can visit their website, contact them at
(716) 842-1525, email email@example.com, or write 340 Delaware
Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14202. Newsletters
are created by the participants, which are also available through a mailing