Ninety years ago, the Buffalo Central Terminal opened and the first train departed, marking the beginning of a bustling era for the art deco station and the neighborhood surrounding it.
On July 13, the Terminal will once again be bursting with activity as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and numerous East Side cultural organizations host a free one-day festival celebrating the rich history of the Terminal and those who have resided in the areas nearby.
“It’s exciting that this building has been boarded up for years and hasn’t had an event of this scale,” said Patrick O’Herron, BPO Director of Marketing. “It will be exciting for all Buffalonians to get a look inside this grand art deco building.”
The festival was inspired by the ongoing efforts of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. to revitalize the historic building and the work of the BPO’s Diversity Council to expand the orchestra’s reach beyond the West Side and downtown.
“About a year ago, Senator Tim Kennedy came to us and asked what it would take for the BPO to perform in his district,” said Wendy Diina, Director of Special Projects and Associate Director of Development at the BPO. “The Central Terminal came up as a location to do a concert, but I had a dream that we could make it a festival that would include our East Side arts and cultural groups and businesses – to celebrate what already exists on the East Side and to highlight what needs to be done there.”
The BPO submitted an application and was awarded a grant from the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) to put together a full day festival and they went to work reaching out to various cultural groups. They created a roster of performers that captured not only the neighborhood’s contemporary cultural diversity, but also that of its history since the Terminal opened.
“As we were discussing what it would look like and who we wanted to bring in to partner, we wanted to highlight what’s already happening there now, because there are some vibrant cultural and arts institutions on the East Side,” said Robin Parkinson, Director of Education & Community Engagement. “We also wanted to honor the history of the East Side as a very eclectic and diverse community.”
Groups performing include the All City Gospel Youth Choir, the Colored Musician’s Club, Pine Grill Reunion, the African American Cultural Center and Paul Robeson Theatre, the Harmony Polish Dancers, the German American Musicians Association, and the BPO itself.
“As this became a festival, we really delved back into the history of the neighborhood,” Diina said. “It really became the East Side in the 1830s with the opening of the canal. First, it was predominantly German, then Polish, then African American, and now we have refugees from a variety of countries. The rich history of the neighborhood determined the repertoire.”
The orchestra will round out the day’s performances with a free, full-length concert titled “A Celebration of Buffalo’s East Side.” The pieces performed will be reflective of the era when the Terminal first opened in the early 1930s. Audience members will be able to envision what the building was like when it was full of life.
“The building is so glorious,” Diina said. “When you look at the images of when the Terminal first opened, it’s full of people. In my mind I see our musicians right under the beautiful arch of windows. It’s going to be a magnificent, majestic moment reminiscent of that first opening in 1929.”
In addition to the music and dance performances, the festival will include a cultural row and artisan gallery featuring East Side businesses and concessionaries. Visitors to the event will have the opportunity to not only enjoy the music in the air, but also support local entrepreneurs and artists from the East Side knowing 100 percent of the profits will be staying in that community.
According to Melodie Rutherford and Otis Glover, co-chairs of the festival and the BPO’s Diversity Council, this event is a significant milestone in their ongoing efforts to make the orchestra itself more diverse, and to expand its reach in the community.
“We always say that the BPO is opening doors, but it’s also important that we as the Council and the BPO as a whole would show itself to be friendly and going out into the community to meet people where they are,” Rutherford said.
About three years ago, the BPO formed its Diversity Council to make a deliberate, long-term effort to diversify their audience at Kleinhans, as well as the orchestra, its staff and board. Their initiatives have included partnering with the Buffalo Public Schools and the local religious community. Their Sphinx program has given young musicians the opportunity to form mentorships with professionals at the BPO. They’ve also brought a quartet to perform at several churches in local communities.
Now, the Council will expand their efforts by giving residents of the East Side a chance to experience a free performance by the BPO in tandem with the groups that make up the rich musical history of their neighborhoods.
“Western New York is a unique community and music is a universal unifier that brings people together over their differences,” Otis Glover said. “You can never get enough of celebrating the cultures that make us who we are and bringing that melting pot together. More of this should be done and the BPO can be the catalyst to make it happen. We’ll be able to show – by walking the walk instead of talking the talk – the type of diversity and participation that we’re hoping to bring about.”
The event will take place on Saturday, July 13 from 1:30-8:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Central Terminal, located at 495 Paderewski Drive. Parking will be free, as is the event – no tickets or reservations required. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. and performances start at 2:00 p.m. A full schedule of performances, artisans, cultural groups and vendors can be found online at https://bpo.org/event/eastsidefestival/.
This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.