When a piece of public art is completed, its life truly begins. Once the paint has dried and the cleanup is complete, this art – be it a mural, sculpture, or wheat pasted photograph – breathes and becomes a resident of the space it occupies. Public art exists and reaches toward varied levels of engagement within the City of Good Neighbors, and engagement is what drove Team Razor Wire and Edreys Wajed to connect to the surrounding community further and engage across physical and psychological boundaries in the latest iteration of Bailey Fights Blight. Positioned on the corner of East Amherst and Bailey (3148 Bailey Ave.) Team Razor Wire, which is comprised of Nicholas Miller and Christopher Kameck, and Wajed are reclaiming the neighborhood brick by brick from the deleterious visual and spiritual effects of post-industrial blight.
Bailey Fights Blight, which is helmed through the ceaseless efforts of Darren Cotton (University Heights Tool Library), is in its fourth year. The mural painted for the 2016 iteration took Team Razor Wire to new heights; the mural, “Stocks are Rising” initiated the artist duo in the community-led, grassroots initiative to aesthetically boost areas along Bailey Avenue most in need of levity, light, and a spiritual boon. This year, Razor Wire and Wajed each participated in a series of Brainstorming Sessions with members of the community before a design was even envisioned.
When asked about what makes Bailey Fights Blight unique within the constellation of public art and installations throughout the city of Buffalo, Kameck speaks to the level of community involvement saying “…even [ as participants] in eighth grade, you can change the neighborhood. When they come back, they will see that their voice actually changed the world around them.” But even beyond the face value of blank walls and boarded windows, residents along Bailey were allowed to air their concerns about everything from violence to traffic safety as they cross the typically busy street to school every day. This moves the efforts of public art into a new realm of community activation whereby tangible, positive change is made manifest from a trio of painters.
Back in May, Darren Cotton from The Tool Library noted that “…the portion of Bailey we’ve been working on has seen a 40% decrease in blighted buildings, 18 improved facades, and a 600% increase in business licenses.”
Adapted from a community development program originally implemented in Cincinnati, OH, Bailey Fights Blight has already seen a measurable impact from the hand-in-glove approach of activism through the arts. Specifically, Bailey Fights Blight has contributed to a 40% reduction in the number of blighted buildings along Bailey Avenue; they have improved 18 commercial facades and helped attract 15 new businesses to the area; they have recruited over 338 volunteers from service events to both reopen the Varsity Theater and improve Bailey Avenue, overall.
All this to say that the arts – being a component of the Bailey Fights Blight toolbox – can be wed with community activation to achieve something that exists beyond a new mural. Artists as activists, or activist artists, such as Miller, Kameck and Wajed actively strive to change and improve the lives of people within the City of Buffalo, people who the city so often forgets. They have seen firsthand how these neighbors, activists, participants and citizens react, reflect, and change course on an individual basis when a spot of blight becomes a speck of beauty.
Bailey Fights Blight will be hosting a Mural Celebration Saturday September 30th from noon-4pm at the corners of Bailey Avenue and East Amherst Street & the Varsity Theater: 3165 Bailey Avenue. The 2017 Bailey Fights Blight mural was made possible through the sponsorship of M&T Bank, Arts Services Initiative of Western New York and the University Heights Tool Library.
Bailey Fights Blight Mural Celebration
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Varsity Theatre | 3165 Bailey Avenue | Buffalo, New York 14215