Art Students, West Side Community Contribute to Completed Mural

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A much-anticipated mural illustrating the growing diversity of Buffalo’s West Side is now up and available for viewing.

SUNY Buffalo State partnered with Young Audiences of Western New York and the City of Buffalo to commission the mural, “Celebrating the Refugee and Immigrant Experience,” on the south side of Lorigo’s Meating Place, 185 Grant Street.

Funded through a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant and created by well-known muralist Augustina Droze, the 32-by-80 foot composition features historical images of the West Side juxtaposed with portraits of current residents.

"I wanted to make a joyful, celebratory piece honoring the different communities that live here,” said Droze.

Flowers flow from trumpets played by a Puerto Rican man and young boy. An African-American woman smiles beatifically next to an Italian businessman, a world-weary Burmese dancer, and sweet-faced Middle Eastern girl. Above them are historic black and white photographs of three white immigrants taking citizenship oaths.

The mural is located just half a block from the college’s Community Academic Center (CAC), which hosted workshops for neighborhood schoolchildren along with students from Lafayette High School and PS 45 International School who contributed to the mural’s images. Four Buffalo State art students and faculty members Philip Ogle and Candace Masters assisted Droze with painting the mural’s 80 panels.

Community sponsors, including the Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation, the West Side Business and Taxpayers Association, the New York State Council on the Arts, Niagara District Councilman David Rivera’s Office, the Buffalo History Museum, and Lorigo’s Meating Place, matched the $75,000 NEA grant to cover the cost of the mural and the accompanying workshops.

“We see this grant as a catalyst for other arts projects celebrating and promoting the vitality of the Grant Street community, its economic growth, and its quality of life,” said John Siskar, senior adviser for Buffalo State Educational Pipeline Initiatives. “What a beautiful tribute this is to a truly global community where you have descendants of past immigrants and recent immigrants from all over the world working together to better their neighborhood.”

Although the painting took about two months to complete, Droze devoted more than a year to the project, starting with researching the area’s major immigrant groups and working with Young Audiences to host workshops for West Side children.

“I learned a lot in the process,” Droze said. “I didn’t know much about refugees and immigrants in Buffalo and how much they have gone through to get here.”

Children who created drawings that correlate with the project, many of which hang in the windows of Grant Street merchants, used imagery that reflects their often difficult journeys. A number also incorporated the universal images of children everywhere—brightly colored flowers, happy families, and the sun—into pictures that tell the stories of their lives.