Another round of proposals for African American Corridor archway

Jun 24, 2015

Valeria Cray displays her design for the Michigan Avenue archway
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission is once again calling for designs for a symbolic gateway at Michigan Avenue and Broadway. The first request for a place-making icon, intended to welcome visitors to Buffalo’s African American Heritage Corridor garnered only one response.

That came from Valeria Cray who proposed an unconnected metal archway for the corridor, symbolic of Buffalo’s past and the struggle of all those bound by oppression.

“The archway is the doorway to freedom,” said Cray. “The stainless steel stands for the strength of the people. The light down the column of the piece which is blue stands for the water they had to go through to keep the dogs from chasing them and picking up their scent. And the star that’s in the middle of the piece stands for the North Star they were reaching up towards, because the North Star guided them to the way that they had to go.”

But Cray says she was only able to meet the project’s short deadline because she had come up with the design ahead of time. She says the paperwork required by the Buffalo Arts Commission was excessive and lacked the right focus.

“I feel the information was just too complex for some artists to fill out,” complained Cray. “And artists really concentrate on their work and idea. And I think that’s the thing that [the Arts Commission] should really concentrate on. What can the artist do for this area, instead of trying to find out so much information from the artist.”

Cray’s son recommended a three month window for submissions, in order to accommodate artists who have other full-time jobs. The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission will work with the City to establish a new timeline for requests, and a new deadline for submissions.

The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission is also encouraging artists incorporate the area’s anchor properties in designs. They include the Colored Musicians Club, The Nash House Museum, WUFO radio, and the Michigan Street Baptist Church.

At the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission’s regular meeting on Tuesday afternoon, commissioners voted to create a sub-committee to work with the City of Buffalo on the archway project. Chair Karen Stanley Fleming says it is a necessary partnership due to the size of the project.

Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission Chair Karen Stanley Fleming (right) discusses the archway project with members of the Commission, alongside members of the Buffalo Arts Commission
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

“It’s really a big joint process because the public works department is involved,” Fleming said. “They’ve already done a lot of engineering work around identifying sewer lines, electric lines, things that have to be worked around in the existing infrastructure and what the base and support of such an artistic element would have to be. So we’ve got public works, and we’ve got the arts commission, and you’ve got the Michigan Street Corridor.”

Fleming says she’s hoping for more archway submissions to choose from so the Commission can spend the project’s publicly-provided funds in the best way possible.