Buffalo, NY – Stocks are rising at the corner of Bailey Avenue and Stockbridge Avenue thanks to a new mural on the side of a long vacant building. Bits of painted over graffiti and the remains of an old plywood sign have made way for an electric green background punctuated by gold and copper lines that ascend to the building’s roofline. Artist Nick Miller partnered with the Bailey Avenue Business Association (BABA) and University District Community Development Association (UDCDA) on the piece of public art as part of a broader initiative called Bailey Fights Blight.
Started in the Fall of 2014, Bailey Fights Blight is a community-based project that seeks to board up and secure blighted and vacant storefronts along Bailey Avenue, while incorporating public art as a way to beautify the neighborhood, re-imagine vacant or underutilized properties and help redevelop the commercial corridor. The project has brought over 200 volunteers from the community, area schools and universities, and businesses to board vacant and blighted buildings, prep and prime walls for murals, weed and mulch tree pits, clear out storm drains, and maintain vacant lots.
“All too often, the focus is on big ticket development projects across the city, yet it is these small, incremental improvements made over the course of years that can lead to significant improvements in quality of life for existing residents and businesses” stated Roseann Scibilia, Executive Director of the UDCDA.
Funded through a $2,000 Arts Service Initiative of WNY grant, the mural is the latest addition to Bailey Avenue’s ever-evolving streetscape. The design for the mural developed out of a number of community brainstorming sessions lead by Nick Miller. Presented only with construction paper, scissors, a glue stick and some books for inspiration, residents, business owners, and students were challenged to reconsider their traditional ideas of murals as scenic landscapes or portraits, and instead focus on things like color, shape, and pattern. Members of the Stockbridge Avenue Block Club attended one of the meetings and shared the phrase “stocks are rising” as a motto for their street. This would ultimately become the inspiration behind the mural, which is composed of an upwardly darting gold and copper line set against a vibrant green background. The design, which carries across three sides of the building, is meant to give the viewer a sense of being uplifted.
“Communities become great when they’re built for and by the people who use them. Bailey Fights Blight is demonstrating that residents armed with nothing more than paintbrushes and rollers can transform their communities for the better” said Ibrahim Cisse, President of BABA.
Community painting days were held throughout July and August, and, despite the 85+ degree weather, over two dozen volunteers were part of the painting process. From AmeriCorp VISTAs working in neighborhood schools and Tool Library members and volunteers, to business owners and residents, volunteers worked collaboratively with the artist to tape and paint the design. By keeping the design bold yet simple, Nick has made it easier for the mural to be maintained by the community for many years to come.
The completed mural is just one of a number of positive developments happening on Bailey Avenue over the last year. A new farmers market sponsored by the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood is bringing fresh and affordable produce to the neighborhood at the corner of Bailey Avenue and Dartmouth Avenue. The Varsity Theatre located at 3165 Bailey Avenue held its grand opening in February after nearly $400,000 worth of renovations and being shuttered for over a decade. Over half a dozen new small businesses have sprung up on Bailey Avenue between Winspear Avenue and Kensington Avenue and the UDCDA was just awarded a $300,000 Better Buffalo Fund grant to assist business owners with façade improvements and building renovations along Bailey Avenue.
Bailey Fights Blight has helped bring together key community stakeholders, such as the Bailey Avenue Business Association, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, Junior League of Buffalo, LISC Buffalo, University at Buffalo, University District Block Club Coalition, University District Community Development Association, University District Council Office, University Heights Collaborative, the University Heights Tool Library and Villa Maria College. Through these partnerships, Bailey Fights Blight hopes to continue its blight mitigation and public art activities into the coming year.
With nearly 20,000 cars traveling down Bailey every day, turning vacant and blighted buildings into pieces of art and visual statements on the neighborhood not only transforms Bailey’s physical fabric, but also can begin to change people’s perceptions and attitudes toward the street. They can capitalize on the cultural and artistic vibrancy of Bailey that is oftentimes overlooked or ignored. By looking at the issues of vacancy, vandalism, and graffiti as opportunities for community-driven change, artists, business owners, residents, and students can work together on community-based solutions to quality of life challenges.
For those interested in getting involved, please visit www.ourheights.org/baileyfightsblight