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Betsy Casañas mural to instill Pride in Buffalo’s Latino community

How does a work of public art take shape? That’s the question that I posed to Eric Jones, the Albright-Knox’s public art project coordinator. In the case of Buffalo’s latest mural project, which is now underway, it started with identifying a building within Buffalo’s Latino community. The building happened to be that of Bernice Radle, a fantastic painted brick building that she purchased a few months ago, located at the corner of Niagara Street and Jersey Street. Bernice figured that since the building was already painted, why not get it “really painted”.

Next, the AK set out to identify an artist who would represent the Latino community. That artist turned out to be the prolific Betsy Casañas, who has been painting public works of art world-wide for 23 years. She’s also considered “the queen bee of murals” in Philadelphia, according to Bernice. In the case of the Mural (title TBD), this paint is not being adhered directly to the building. Instead, 140 (5’x5′) parachute wrap panels are being pre-painted, which will then be installed on the building. Once complete, the work of art will look something like this:

A rendering of the working design for Betsy Casañas’s mural at 585 Niagara Street. Image courtesy of the artist.

In order to get this massive mural completed, there’s a sort of “paint by numbers” initiative underway. Currently, crews of painters are busy coloring in the panels via a series of Public Paint Days. When I ran into this particular paint group, they had taken over every square inch of Radle’s 800 square foot commercial space, which is currently available for lease (corner spot – next to Jackson Hewitt).

From there, the Public Paint Days will move to the downtown Central Library, where painters will continue to color the panels in order to accomplish an end of August completion date.

Additional Public Paint Days – 1pm to 5pm today, and next week Monday through Thursday, same times).

As an award-winning artist, educator, and social activist, Betsy Casañas has dedicated her practice to empowering neighborhoods through murals that fuse the historical and contemporary imagery of their communities. – AK

According to Casañas, the mural speaks to a people, and tells the story of why they moved to cities like Buffalo, in search of jobs in the steel industry, for example. It’s about planting seeds in foreign soils, and the hardships of leaving home. It’s also about preserving heritage and keeping culture alive. The artwork and the colors in the mural depict the blue ocean waters of Puerto Rico, the famous Peruvian textiles and traditional lace patterns. There’s also a nod to African and Spanish influences.

Highlighting the positive aspects of Latino culture and heritage has always been part of our mission,” said Casimiro D. Rodriguez, Sr., President of the Hispanic Heritage Council. “This mural not only honors our history but will serve as an inspiration for our future. As an artist of Puerto Rican descent, Betsy brings tremendous insight and passion to the project. – AK

The mural is made possible thanks to support from the Hispanic Heritage Council, along with funding from Rich Products, M&T Bank and the AK. The materials used in this process have a lifespan of up to 30 years, which means that this particular mural will be around for a long time. The main wall used in the public artwork faces north, which means that the sun will not fade it much over time.

It’s a new day for Niagara Street (Avenida San Juan). With fresh infrastructure, including bike lanes, Reddy Bike hubs, and more public art to come, this day is long overdue, according to Rodriguez and the residents of the community. Now, there is a mural that speaks to, and for, the Hispanic community who have planted seeds and grown strong in a land far removed from their ancestors. This project is about instilling pride, by waiving a flag high, for all to see.

Mural (title TBD) , 2017 – Lead image (L-R) Radle, Casañas, Jones

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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