Buffalo, NY –
Photos from test painting by Tim Chen
Some community organizers want to liven up Buffalo's West Side with some colorful "street" art. No, not graffiti, posters, or murals - but actual street art. It would be art that is, quite literally, on the street - crosswalks to be specific.
Volunteers have stepped up to design and paint crosswalks at five intersections along Grant Street. But organizers are still waiting for the green light.
Artist and West Side resident Cornelia Dohse-Peck came up with the idea. She stands at the corner of Grant and Auburn streets describing why the project is needed.
"There used to be a Rite Aid, that's vacant now...then, there used to be a Kwik Fill gas station. It's a bit, not eerie, but what's the word? But you feel blight," said Cornelia Dohse-Peck.
"There is no color here right now. There are the yellow stripes and an off-yellow house and that's it. There's lots of concrete, lots of pavement. It's really very dull and dreary, " said Dohse-Peck.
"It really would beautify this stretch of Grant Street if we could do these five. That would attract people even from other areas, maybe even from outside of Buffalo if Grant Street were that vibrant, that colorful."
She said the colorful crosswalks also would help keep pedestrians safer by clearly marking where cars are supposed to stop.
But the New York State Department of Transportation is worried the crosswalks might be too colorful. The DOT is the last agency to sign off on the project. Catherine Gillespie, who is the chairwoman of the Buffalo Arts Commission, explains why.
"Grant Street is a major road and a major thoroughfare and there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. So, we don't want people to suddenly be walking across the street and stop to look at the design on the pavement, " said Gillespie. "I don't think that's going to happen, but those are the concerns that the state has brought up."
She said the commission, which oversees all public art, has given its blessing. The volunteer board voted to approve the five, multicolored puzzle piece designs for the crosswalks.
Gillespie has advocated for the project with the the City's department of public works. At their request, a test painting was done last summer to make sure the colored traffic paint was durable enough and wouldn't be too slippery to walk on.
It passed the test. And the City said it could halt traffic for the day of painting. Now, the DOT has to give the final o.k. Gillespie said the Commission is eager to see the project get off, or more accurately, on the ground.
"It's actually a fairly inexpensive way to have art. It's something that everyone can enjoy....if you think back when we had Herd About Buffalo...everyone could enjoy that. And I think that's true of the crosswalks too," said Gillespie.
Soon the city will have thousands of visitors to admire them. Organizers are hoping that the crosswalks will be done by this summer - just in time for the big National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in the fall.
But those who support the project said the project would have lasting impact - especially for the people who live on the West Side.
Charles Massey is Coordinator of Houghton College's Office of Urban Connections. The college has many students and grads who invest their time revitalizing the west side as part of the school's urban mission. The college gave a $3,200 grant to pay for the paint and other materials. Massey said it is a small but very wise investment.
"We want to find ways to help these folks connect with the residents and find constructive things that they can be doing that in some cases can improve morale, the quality of life for all of us," said Massey.
Back at Grant and Auburn streets, Dohse-Peck stands in the cold rain with a smile on her face, imagining that brighter day for the West Side. She sees community celebrations that could center around maintaining the crosswalks, painting parties that would bring the multi-ethnic neighborhood out into the streets - and bring them together.
Dohse-Peck said the puzzle designs planned for the crosswalks are a beautiful metaphor for what could be.
"I think it's very symbolic that the people came up with puzzles because, obviously, we are all working together and we are building the fabric of the West Side - all different people, all different kinds are building the diverse community," said Dohse-Peck.
She and the other volunteers would like to see the project eventually spread to other corners of the city. They said every neighborhood could have its own unique themes and designs - beautiful crosswalks that would encourage residents and visitors to come take a stroll through the city.