I am a firm believer in art helping to heal, build, and strengthen communities. Murals can be a fun and dynamic way to bring art to the forefront of your community, and if you look closely, you’ll see that murals are popping up all over in our cities and towns. Maybe you’re asking how you can get a mural in your place! Here is a story for you!
In Buffalo, my office sits smack dab in the middle of a vibrant Puerto Rican neighborhood and we love it there so much! The food! The people! The music! It’s really so lively and fun. One day a neighbor told me that the Albright Knox Art Gallery and the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY organizations were looking for a blank wall space to create a mural in the neighborhood dedicated to the Latino heritage in our community– a way to plant their flag in the ground and represent their place in the community at large. Everyone was very stressed because several sites had fallen through and they were about two months away from the deadline to finish. They wanted to reveal the mural during Hispanic Heritage month, and asked if I could help.
I knew I had to say yes but I had a lot of doubts and questions. How could I afford it? Would it hurt the brick? How would it look? I was excited and a little nervous, but within a week, the Albright Knox Art Gallery and world-renowned artist, Betsy Casanas, had a concrete plan that answered my worries and were ready to take over my three-story, mixed-use, brick building with the largest and most vibrant mural to date in Buffalo.
I expected something large and beautiful, but what I didn’t expect was the absolute wholesomeness, exhaustion, and community pride that would ensue as we all worked hard to create and build a giant, three-story mural in just a few weeks.
Betsy Casanas is a world-class artist from Philadelphia. You may know her iconic work in Philadelphia– in fact, you can’t go to Philly without seeing it! With our artist on board, the Hispanic Heritage of WNY, the Albright Knox and the Rich Family Foundation came together with Buffalove Development to fund the project.
A MURAL FOR THE COMMUNITY…BY THE COMMUNITY
The community had to play a role– it was a must, and it was easy: show up, grab a brush and paint! The art was done in a “paint by numbers’ style, on fabric panels all outlined by Betsy and her team. A volunteer would pick up a pink brush and paint all the pink areas on the panel. Once that volunteer was done with the pink, they would pick up the orange brush and paint the orange areas. Hundreds of volunteers came in and out to ‘paint by number’ over 120 of these 5’x5’ panels. It was like a giant puzzle! The painted panels would eventually be affixed to the building in a unique way with powerful glue, giving the building a new skin. Betsy would then fill in the gaps and seams with her own special touch. Sounds easy, right? Right…
DETAILS ON MAKING IT HAPPEN
What goes into a mural like this? There is so much to think about! Let’s talk through some important details.
- The art? The art was an ode to the history of the Latino community dedicated to farming, industrial work, and the music and culture of the community. The community met with Betsy to tell their story and build the narrative for her inspiration to create the mural.
- The medium? We painted on panels. Instead of painting on the building, Betsy used her preferred medium– parachute cloth. It is kind of like a dryer sheet– durable and woven, which ensures the building is protected and mural lasts longer. The parachute cloth is then glued on directly onto the building.
- The paint? It’s Nova paint from California.
- The mural? With it being three stories tall, the mural required two lifts, a group of experienced artists willing to get on those lifts to install each panel in order, and a street closure to accommodate the lifts. The whole thing was also coated with an anti-graffiti coat as a finishing touch– just in case.
- The building? Before the mural could be installed, the brick needed to be repaired, windows rebuilt and caulked, and the walls painted in a base coat for a cohesive canvas.
Murals are hard work! For weeks, we all worked tirelessly to make it happen. My Buffalove squad handled getting the non-mural stuff painted and the building repointed. Casimiro Rodriguez at Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY took videos, made sure we all stayed hydrated, and threw one big party to celebrate at the end. The Albright Knox had a dozen local artists come in to help install and prepare the art panels. There were two lifts going at one time! It was insane, really. As I always say, it takes a village. All of a sudden, my Jolly Green Giant became one of Buffalo’s most iconic buildings dedicated to our community.
What really moved me, though, was the title of the work, which wasn’t decided until the day it was finished. Betsy really took it upon herself to help our community remind itself that dedication and love is everything by naming the mural, Patria, Será Porque Quisiera Que Vueles, Que Sigue Siendo Tuyo Mi Vuelo (Homeland, Perhaps It Is Because I Wish to See You Fly, That My Flight Continues to Be Yours).
A MURAL’S LONGTERM IMPACT
Fast forward to a few years later, Buffalove’s offices sit on the first floor where we worked hard to paint all those panels. We still arrive at the office every day in awe. I’m glad I said yes and didn’t let my nerves get to me. Our mural is a stand-out spot on the Puerto Rican Parade route and our team received the “honorary Puerto Rican” title at the Parade. People come from all over the region to see it and it is even a hot spot on the Buffalo bicycle tours. Most importantly, the Latino community has what they wanted – something that celebrates their community for years to come.
You can watch the making of the mural here.
You can learn more about the mural process here.
TAKING ACTION IN YOUR COMMUNITY
You’re probably thinking… how can we get a mural in my community?
First of all, it doesn’t have to be this big. Murals of all shapes and sizes make great impacts in our communities. If you have a blank wall, it can be a mural. We’ve done smaller murals on our own buildings and Buffalo has created murals all over that have high impact and aren’t gigantic and even help keep Buffalo a secret. Second of all, get a program started to help raise funds and awareness! The Albright Knox has an “AK PUBLIC ART” program and focus dedicated on bringing art out into the community, a program that has brought so many murals to Buffalo. Art programs like ours exist in Philadelphia, Rochester and many cities and towns across the country. If your community is in need of public art, I can’t recommend a program like this enough!