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Spark Spotlight: CEPA Gallery, Organization of the Year Finalist

The Spark Awards celebrate and recognize outstanding individuals and organizations from across the Western New York arts community for their dedication, talent, and impact on the arts and cultural sector. This year’s presentation will be streamed for free on our YouTube page on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 7:00 pm.

Click here to learn more about the Spark Awards.


The Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts (CEPA) is one of the nation’s foremost presenters of contemporary, photo-related art. Established in 1974, CEPA’s mission is to foster the exploration of photography and contemporary visual art to nurture creativity and encourage active learning. To execute this mission, CEPA curates significant exhibitions of world-renowned art by diverse, underrepresented artists; provides creation, exhibition, and teaching opportunities for artists at all stages of their careers; and, perhaps most importantly, educates WNY’s diverse populace with award-winning programming that is community-driven and outcomes-based.

Photo by Tito Ruiz – Darien Chandler Lead the People

In 2020-2021, CEPA Gallery was impacted by COVID like all other arts organizations. However, instead of just focusing on adapting their work to the new COVID safety protocols, CEPA launched several projects that promoted advocacy through art, supporting the social justice movement that spread across the country.

From the moment of the shutdown, CEPA looked for ways to get the work of their student artists out to the community when the community couldn’t go to them. Their solution was the Photography Works program, a series of 20 bus shelter ads featuring the photography of their students. They also worked to ensure each student’s work was placed in a bus shelter near their home so the students and their families could easily see their work on display through July and August of 2020.

CEPA’s first exhibit after reopening in July 2020 was by emerging local artist Tito Ruiz titled “Hope, Rebellion & Justice.” The local artist’s photography exhibition featured striking portraits, emotional action shots, and powerful street photography celebrating the intersectional fight for justice taking place right here in WNY.

Stacy Robinson’s #BlackJusticeMatters billboard design

Finally, they launched another public exhibition in the form of billboards called “Black Matters.” The 12 billboards featured original artwork by Arthur Schomburg fellow and University at Buffalo MFA graduate Stacey Robinson with positive messages, such as #BlackHealthMatters, #BlackJoyMatters, and more. In an effort to reimagine the interactive exhibition in a COVID-safe way, they decided to highlight the realities of systemic racism, police violence, and other challenges of the Black community in a larger than life exhibit right on the street for all to see. The text and image cohesion was designed to speak directly to local governments and communities and to create dialogue around the “isms” in our society with the hope of inspiring calls to action for lessening communal inequities.

The philosophy and methods leading to the success of their programs last year are something CEPA is planning to continue in the future.

You can learn more about their work and upcoming projects by visiting their website here.

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