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Spark Spotlight: Chantal Calato, Artist 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.


I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY where it is normal to see growing landfills next to your school and grocery store. I spent my childhood a stone’s throw from the infamously toxic Love Canal. It took traveling to many places and living around the world to undo a lifetime of thinking that living amongst waste is completely normal, and to realize that not every community lives with this burden. The industrial history of Niagara Falls has left a lasting scar on the land, its people, and me, and has been a major focus in my art for a long time.

Niagara Falls has been my muse for so long because the depth of history that has impacted the world is fascinating and vast, offering limitless possibilities for an artist to explore. I let the “why” of a piece dictate how I create something, ultimately resulting in a multidisciplinary practice with a sharp focus. In 2015 when my 41-year-old brother Joe became sick with multiple myeloma, I decided I needed to create something that addressed the continuing toxic problems near Love Canal. My most recent installation, “UNSEEN”, explores the mutilation of our environment, and in turn ourselves. The work is deeply personal and looks at the lives of people close to me who have been directly impacted by continued environmental atrocities around the Niagara region. The main element of the multi-media work is a soundscape of voices who describe the sights and smells, along with very personal stories of what it’s like to live in a toxic environment. The project took 4 years and pushed me emotionally, technically and creatively almost to the brink. But, in the end, I was celebrating the strength and resilience of those peoples stories I was telling, as well as my own strength and resilience as an artist and human.

In 2018 I received the Global Warming Art Project grant to help fund “UNSEEN”, my first solo museum show at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in 2020 (lead image). Additionally, my work has been in venues including Castellani Art Museum, Trimania, Buffalo Museum of Science, Artpark, and the Grain Silos for City of Night in Buffalo. After college I spent a while designing massive warehouse parties and outdoor spectacles for Chicago’s Redmoon Theatre in the parks on lake Michigan and I hand engineered costumes that were worn at the official White House Halloween Party in D.C. during President Obama’s administration. I have an MFA in Stage Design from Northwestern University and a BFA from the University at Buffalo.

For more information on UNSEEN please visit www.unseen-voices.com.

Get to know a little more about Chantal!

Who and/or what inspired you to become an artist?

Honestly, I didn’t choose to be an artist, I just came out that way. I come from a line of inventors, woodworkers and artists, it’s in my blood.

What motivates you to keep working and creating?

It is always something very personal, but growing up near Love Canal has been a major focus in my art for a long time.

If you didn’t work in this industry, what would you be doing? What other career do you think you would have and why?

Well I love teaching and I’ve been lucky enough to do that.

What hobbies or likes do you have outside of the arts?

My main hobby is gardening. It is very relaxing and in a way is a much slower paced version of art. Also, I recently took up archery with a traditional Korean Horse Bow.

What is one thing people don’t know about you and/or your work?

I have lived in many places, Chicago, NYC, London and Brazil. Even though much of my art has focused on the WNY region my experiences living in these other places have greatly influenced what I create. And the environmental themes that I have been exploring are universal so eventually I would like to push that further in my art.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or share appreciation for?

Thanks to my collaborators Brett Masteller and Jennifer Kite-Powell as well as the Burchfield Penney Art Center for helping to make UNSEEN amazing. Thanks to my husband Dave for constant support. And I’d like to share recognition of the strength of my brother Joe who has inspired me greatly to keep going when it gets tough.

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