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Spark Spotlight: Shea’s and Buffalo Police Department, Arts Integration

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.


Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Buffalo Police Department are collaborating to bring body language training workshops for all new police recruit classes. This program has garnered national attention for its innovation and premiere community engagement and has been featured in The New York State Chief’s Chronicle March 2021 issue.

The body language workshop, led by Thembi Duncan, Director of Arts Engagement and Education at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, was added to the curriculum for new cadets in May of 2019. Duncan leads this module with an actor’s approach. Officers were led through theatre exercises and taught lessons on character, emotion, and how being mindful of body language can enhance existing skills for de-escalation techniques.

The program will continue to be a part of every BPD cadet class going forward and will evolve with input from both Shea’s and the Buffalo BPD. Duncan plans to explore similar programs with other law enforcement agencies in the WNY region, taking a collaborative approach to program design that will include ride-alongs, officer interviews, and community conversations.

Click here to read the full press release about this program.

Thembi Duncan is a director, actor, playwright, and teaching artist who has been developing and executing theatre-based body language training for nearly two years in the city of Buffalo. She holds a B.A. in Theatre, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Maryland and currently works as the Director of Arts Engagement and Education at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

Lieutenant Craig Macy has served as a community police officer for the BPD Housing Unit and has worked as part of the department’s Neighborhood Engagement Team. His background is in military service, having been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the New York National Guard. Lt. Macy has been honored by the Erie County Bar Association and the Police Athletic League for his community service.

Captain Steven J. Nichols has been a Buffalo police officer for 24 years. He oversees the department’s Community Police Officers and Citizen Police Academy. Cpt. Nichols directs all of the department’s special events, has been honored by Crime Stoppers Buffalo, and has been interviewed about community policing on multiple media platforms.

Learn more about Thembi!

Thembi Duncan

Who and/or what inspired you to start a career in the arts?

I started my career in my 20’s as an actor in regional theatre in D.C. The power of storytelling and the in-the-moment nature of live theatre were the two most magnetic forces of the craft for me. I was, and remain inspired by African American poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, actors, and other cultural griots to pursue a career in the arts. I want arts to be my legacy.

If you didn’t work in this industry, what would you be doing?

I’d be a real estate developer creating diverse, accessible live/work/play communities in cities and towns around the world.

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

I appreciate that BPD Commissioner Byron Lockwood agreed to sit down with me and develop a new law enforcement training strategy. The program is effective because he gave me the latitude to refine it as we went along. Ret. Captain Steven Nichols and Captain Tommy Champion deserve appreciation for their above-and-beyond dedication to the positive engagement of law enforcement officers with the community. Finally, I thank Shea’s President Michael G. Murphy for his vision to serve all communities of WNY through a variety of innovative arts programs.

Lead image: BPD Training Photo by Kathleen Washington

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