Author: Nicole Murray
Hispanic Heritage Month is the annual celebration of the history and culture of the Hispanic and Latin communities in the United States. The tradition began in 1968 as “Hispanic Heritage Week ” under Lyndon B. Johnson and later expanded to encompass a month-long span, September 15th to October 15th, under Ronald Regan in 1988 (read more).
Today’s spotlight is Michele Agosto:
If you are involved in the art scene in Buffalo, NY the odds are that you have seen Michele Agosto (Lead image: fifth from left) out and about. Michele’s background in the arts is vast and her passion for arts education shines through in everything that she does. Prior to her current job as the Director of Arts for the Buffalo City School District, Michele was an art teacher at Black Rock Academy, School 51 where she taught grades 3-8 and a teacher at North Park Academy. When she’s not working in the schools or sitting on the board of any number of Buffalo arts organizations, she is representing her Puerto Rican heritage with the Latinx arts collective she co-founded, “Los Artistas del Barrio Buffalo.”
Michele recently had the opportunity to reflect on the origins of Los Artistas del Barrio (LADB) at their “La Extravaganza” event which took place earlier this month, commemorating their fifth anniversary and new home in Asbury Hall in Downtown Buffalo. The collective began as many collectives do, with several like-minded artists coming together; in this case, Aileen Gonzalez Marti, Michele Agosto, William Rodriguez, and Vinny Alejandro.
Their first gallery opening drew a devoted crowd made up of friends, family, and the Latino community and so they thought, “Why not do it again?” Their second opening was bigger, this time with spoken word artists, and Michele remarks, “People came. There was a desire to see Latino artists. We didn’t expect to sell anything, we just wanted to come together and have a party.”
Since then, LADB has grown to 14 members, 12 of which are active, and they are moving on to tackle bigger projects. Literally, bigger, as the collective has recently completed their first mural of baseball legend Roberto Clemente on the corner of Niagara and Hudson in the Hispanic Heritage District of Buffalo. (See photo below)
For those who may not know, Roberto Clemente (1934-1972) is a hero on the island of Puerto Rico as well as to baseball fans around the world. He was a right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons and was the first Caribbean and Latino baseball player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His legacy stretches far beyond baseball as he was also a notable humanitarian and often did charitable work in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Clemente died tragically in a plane crash while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.The original mural of Clemente was made of simple wheat paste and was in decay; falling off the side of the Efrain Burgos Hair Salon. The hair salon owner, Efrain, along with several other community supporters enlisted the help of Los Artistas del Barrio to restore the mural over this past summer with LADB muralist Vinny Alejandro leading the charge. Now completed, this beautiful mural is a bright beacon on the Avenida de San Juan, which has long served as the landing place for Puerto Ricans who have since settled in Buffalo.
Now that the mural is complete, Michele and the other artists of LADB are excited to continue their mission by offering more workshops and events accessible to artists and non-artists alike. “I’m hoping that we can continue to work with our local Latino organizations to create beauty in our community. Whether that’s a mural or an event that includes music, we just want to continue making those connections,” said Michele. “Everyone in the Latino community has a story and sometimes those stories aren’t heard. We would like to give them that opportunity, to share their story, and maybe ignite something and inspire something that they didn’t even realize that they had.”
You can see the work of the artists in Los Artistas del Barrio on October 1st at the Hispanic Heritage Celebration in Amherst at the Amherst Center for Senior Services (which is Amherst’s first time celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month!). And then, on October 2nd, they will be hosting an “Art In Nature Walk” in collaboration with the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeepers and Tifft Nature Preserve. For more information, visit their website here.