Author: Seth Tyler Black
Buffalo’s creative workers are ready to have more visibility, support, and accessibility during the rebuilding of the economy within Buffalo’s city limits to generate income, and economy, for the city that hasn’t seen the likes since the 50’s.
Code yellow, orange, red, in the “clear.” It has been a rough year for us. Our state has often been waking up daily, having to focus our gaze on how we felt we laid on the spectrum: mask or antimask, science or skepticism, with the liberals or with the conservatives, and even polarities with no clear defining answer like shutdown or pro-small business.
Can’t we be both? No matter how the coin lands on our viewpoints, we can all agree that there is going to be a period of major rebuilding once this fire settles. Is it time to focus not on rebuilding what we had, but instead take note of our history’s successes and create anew with a different point of view?
Over the past two-hundred years, Buffalo grew, Buffalo struggled, and Buffalo rose again. What correlated with Buffalo’s success? The streets of Buffalo used to be filled with photography studios, music halls, film theatres, and all of the support shops. The people that worked at the film exchanges, and played in the numerous theatre orchestras, mattered. Their world shifted when the visibility of their workspaces slowly dwindled one by one due to a mass exodus from urban areas after WW2 and a disengagement of the arts began. The nation began ramping up war supplies in the 1940’s, and in 1950 the Defense of Production Act was signed around the same year that we see the artist supply stores, framers, and musical instrument repair shops slowly start to fall out of the phone directory, as their workers shifted to the needs of modernity and the assembly line. There are many other factors that led the businesses themselves to fall out of favor, including technology advancement, however it is still an overlooked hit to the Buffalo economy, that could have been overcome with some creative critical thinking, that cannot be forgotten when we rebuild.
Many of these buildings do not exist anymore (turned into parking lots), but many do. Some are holding strong, like the Colored Musicians Club on Broadway. Some though, like 674 Main: Tent City [which should be known as the Wurlitzer Building], are sadly only historic examples of what the creative economy used to be. They sold pianos and organs [starting in the 30’s] to the many theatre spaces, large and small, that were popping up in every neighborhood. They also employed workers to do repairs to the pianos at these venues and people’s houses. They also gave lessons to future workers of these downtown theatres and music venues. The Wurlitzer Building was a music hall itself, hosting smaller chamber concerts for the public’s inspiration and enjoyment. This story is the same as countless other places in Buffalo throughout its years: places that enriched the lives of the community while adding revenue and worth to the city.
After the 1918-19 influenza pandemic was the roaring twenties. We are on the precipice of the same, another roaring 20’s. So many people have been longing for that in person experience that grows out of a thriving and supportive community. But what does a town that was once lined with photography shops look like when everyone has a camera in their hand? What does a street lined with film exchanges look like when over 90% of exhibition is digital and almost everyone can get access without leaving their house?
We just, once again, need a spot at the table, not the kid’s table.
Experience, I say. The workers of the creative industry have infused this city with an energy for the arts that seeped into the pores of the preserved buildings within its limits. The artists are around. The dancers are here. The musicians are waiting. The time and the technology has changed, but we are ready at the gate to be supported [through visibility and space] to bring this community back to where it should be with artist studios, piano bars, local clothing shops, jazz clubs, artisan markets, framers, frame builders, music instructors, supply stores, and more. We are ready to rebuild the space and make a huge dent in uplifting this economy again through engaging the public visibly. There is so much more that we have to offer than more apartments and a Tim Hortons less than a mile away from the next… we just need the access. We are ready, and we are reengaged to engage others. We just, once again, need a spot at the table, not the kid’s table.