Ever since hearing about the launch of The Cass Project at 500 Seneca Street over the winter, I’ve been wanting to get over to check it out. Partly because it’s always a treat to get inside the big, amazing spaces at the former F. N. Burt box factory, but mainly because I’ve been a fan of Cass Project founder and curator Tina Dillman’s work since she began her first community arts initiative, Project Grant, a few years ago on the West Side. Although I don’t know Dillman well, her efforts have always struck me as genuine, sincere, and in the service of others. The opening of the new exhibit, The Cluffaloes, was just the opportunity to see how things were going with her new venture in the Larkin District.
Until I arrived, I didn’t know where in the blocks-long complex the exhibit would be, so I was delighted to find it right off the bat in the main lobby. And not just because that meant I wouldn’t have to hunt/hike all over the building for it, but because it is right in the spot where it will have the greatest impact on the hundreds of workers and residents who come in and out of the building daily.
We’re so very fortunate that the developer, Sam Savarino, ultimately was able to preserve the entire F. N. Burt complex, which now provides a plethora of dramatic and unique spaces, inviting creative reuse. A great example is the “Weeping Wall” sculpture by Shasti O’Leary Soudant in the atrium, which has become perhaps the building’s signature space and one of its biggest selling points. Although they weren’t part of this exhibit, Dillman also has her eye on other spaces in the building including, according to an earlier article, the former boiler house.
The Cass Project’s namesake, Mary Cass, was a pioneering woman executive and co-founder of Zonta, a “global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy.” According to a Buffalo Rising article announcing the initiative,
The Cass Project will provide a nurturing environment for artists and curators within the historic former F.N. Burt Paper Box Company factory that has been converted into a mixed-use complex. It will feature residence, studio, exhibition and performance space for local and international artists.
The exhibit I saw featured works by Charles Clough, which grabbed my eye right away with their large patches of bright colors. Like Dillman, Clough has also worked with youth on collaborative art projects. In those projects, he told me, the youth paint the canvas with layers of colors. There are no rules except one: any mixing of colors takes place on the canvas. (A good thing, in my view – in my childhood art classes I remember spending more time mixing colors than actually making art.) When the paint is dry, Clough uses a grinder to expose the layers. This is a technique that lends itself to collaborative work, and in fact is similar to the technique used by Mark Bradford, and also in a recent Buffalo collaborative art project inspired by his work by students at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts last year.
But there is so much more to say about Hallwalls co-founder and Guggenheim Fellowship awardee Charles Clough than I could possibly squeeze into a blog format. Fortunately, Buffalo News arts writer Colin Dabkowski rescued me from my plight by sending me this link to his rather thorough piece on Charlie. If you have even a passing interest in Buffalo’s art scene (and if you’ve read this far, you more than do), you really need to read Colin’s article. I also love this 2013 Politico (yes, Politico) piece discerning Clough’s role in the “Pictures Generation.”
Because the exhibit was partly dedicated to John and Shelley McKendry, Clough and I talked about the catalytic role they have played in the Buffalo arts scene. Sadly, earlier this year they hosted their last show at their always rough-and-ready Hi-Temp gallery on the bridge block between the Cobblestone District and Pegulaville. That adjacency meant that, sooner or later, they would get an offer for their building that they couldn’t refuse. That happened last year.
But I was happy to hear from Clough that the McKendrys have been on the hunt for a new art space. Happy, because that would allow them to resume their essential role in Buffalo’s arts ecosystem. But the kind of expansive space they had at Hi-Temp is no longer quite so available in a city of loft conversions. The community must make sure their quest is successful. Perhaps a building somewhere along the Belt Line corridor would fill the bill. Or at Silo City, if there were climate-controlled space useable year round.
In the meantime, I could see Tina Dillman, The Cass Project, and 500 Seneca picking up some of that slack. In the few years she has been in Buffalo, Tina has shown a knack for bringing people together and getting things rolling. And 500 Seneca has plenty of the expansive spaces of brick, concrete, and wooden beams with the no-frills, keep-it-gritty vibe that Hi-Temp wore like a threadbare but beloved pair of jeans.
The Clufffaloes will be on view through September 2017. The gallery is open to the public, Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm.
Artist Talk with Charles Clough in the Atrium @ 500 Seneca: Friday, June 16, 12–1pm.
The Garden Party, a fundraiser for the Cass Project, in the courtyard @ 500 Seneca: Thursday, June 22, 5pm–9pm.
Lead image: Dillman and Clough