Today I caught up with Bronwyn Keenan, Director of the Collaboratory at UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, to discuss an exciting new venture – a permanent brick and mortar incubator space in Downtown Buffalo.
Bronwyn arrived to Buffalo in January of 2019 – she came from NYC (born in The Bronx). “My brother went to UB in the 90’s,” she told me. “As for the Director’s position, it sounded like an interesting arts start-up in a conceptual stage. So I came up and interviewed. Ultimately, the Collaboratory wanted me to put my stamp on it.”
While in NYC, Bronwyn wore a lot of hats pertaining to the arts. “I started at Christie’s East in the late 80’s, and then got into contemporary artwork. Then I opened a gallery – Bronwyn Keenan Gallery. After that closed, I went to the Guggenheim where I got into events and special projects, before going to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. During that time, I was involved in enormous complex productions. I must say that my primary role was to make sure that nothing broke during the events [laughing]. It was constant free-floating anxiety. I realized at that time that I needed to get back to art.”
One of Bronwyn’s newest roles at the Collaboratory is opening the brick and mortar location – a fluid incubator space – at 431 Ellicott Street, next door (and adjoining) the relatively new Fitz Books, owned and operated by Aaron Bartley. It turns out that Aaron was the one who suggested that the Collaboratory move into the empty space, now known as “The Space Between.”
The Space Between creates a downtown presence bringing East Side and West Side artists, writers, and performers together.
“Aaron offered us the space, and a chance to collaborate and synthesize the spaces,” Bronwyn explained. “It was out of the blue, really. But it’s an important piece of the puzzle, especially coming out of the pandemic. It’s also nice to have the flexibility, for people living in the city, to interact with UB arts instead of hitting the 20 minute haul (to the Amherst campus).”
If you put this into perspective, this is what many of us have been calling for for years – another UB tentacle reaching its way into the downtown core. It’s also an extension of the critical Main Street spine that links the South Campus and the Medical Campus (and beyond), all connected by the MetroRail.
The Space Between offers the potential for greater understanding and recognition and celebration of the diversity of cultures in our city.
“We’re building another bridge between the University and the community,” Bronwyn, agreed, when I proclaimed my enthusiasm for the project. “We’re integrating it into the community. Creative people are among the best messengers. I came to Buffalo for the arts. The incubator will be amplified by the spirit of the book store – Aaron is already involved with our first project. Another reason that I came to Buffalo is to have a larger role in democratizing art – making it for everyone. This is the perfect chance to do that. There will be a real arts dialogue, with a pipeline into other places, inside and outside Buffalo, including NYC.”
The Space Between is a completely fresh approach for encouraging both emerging and established creatives to work together in new ways and places.
One of the initial projects that Bronwyn worked on, over the course of a year (upon arriving to Buffalo), was the development of the Artists Index, Arts Map (under construction), and the Show Your Art installations, which allows artists at all levels to “strut their stuff” and connect with each other and potential supporters (buyers, audiences, etc.) The Space Between will be a place where all of these components will reside in the actual world, populated by artists, art enthusiasts, and people that want to learn about the art landscape in Buffalo.
This new gallery-esque incubator will be a great addition to the blossoming Buffalo art scene, and a very welcome addition to Downtown.
To start, The Collaborative is launching a project with Victoria-Idongesit Udondian that kicks off February 27. “Aaron connected her with PUSH Buffalo and there’s a collaboration with recent immigrants and first Generation Americans, to share their stories,” said Bronwyn. “That’s one aspect of the project. She has the space until March 28.”
- The first month-long project at The Space Between will be led by UB Center for Diversity Innovation Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Victoria-Idongesit Udondian. She will use it as an arts studio, inviting recent immigrants and first generation Americans to collaborate and share stories.
Then there’s Cecily Brown‘s residency in the Working Artists Lab. Needless to say, The Collaboratory has a lot on its plate at the moment, aside from getting The Space Between off the ground.
- The Working Artists Lab: Twice a year, the Arts Collaboratory welcomes a visiting artist who is a recognized leader in their field. In Spring 2021, the Working Artists Lab will be led by renowned painter Cecily Brown in partnership with Artist/City, Stefania Bortolami, NYC. As the weather warms, Brown will collaborate with a group of artists, accompanying them out of their studios and classrooms and onto the streets of the city to create a mural intended for all of Buffalo. The story behind the mural will come from their own lived experiences, with Brown acting as facilitator and advisor.
“At their core, Artist/City projects are about local communities,” said Stefania Bortolami. “I am looking forward to building an understanding of the Buffalo arts community, and to helping create a platform for Buffalo artists to share their work. I cannot wait to see the path that Cecily and the Buffalo Storytellers and Artists decide to follow for the community mural, and I am very excited to be working with the Arts Collaboratory’s Working Artists Lab for what I am sure will be an extraordinary project.”
“This will be the first truly public art piece I’ve ever worked on, and the first time I’ve worked with a team, and I could not be more excited,” remarked Cecily Brown. “Buffalo is such a vibrant and interesting place and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved with something that will become part of the fabric of the city.”
“We want to bring down barriers between the arts and artists, and make new introductions,” said Bronwyn, who noted that the new incubator is a manifestation of the UB initiative’s goals, under the umbrella of ‘Let’s Make Art.’ “The Collaboratory’s goal is to help desegregate Buffalo’s artistic community, connect artists with collaborators and potential supporters, and create an infrastructure that promotes the sharing of ideas.”
To me, this is a very “Buffalo” attitude – one that more and more people are embracing these days.
“It’s so nice to make this city my home,” Bronwyn added. “Buffalo is a city for everybody.”
For further information, visit ubartscollaboratory.com. Ongoing interviews, films and the work of collaborators can be found on Instagram @artscollaboratory and on the Collaboratory’s YouTube channel. Major support for the Arts Collaboratory comes from M&T Bank and Savarino Companies.