The Purpose of Public Art

Episode 7 is all about public art, a topic that was inspired by an ongoing project at Buffalo’s Lafayette Court Building. Constructed in 1816, the Lafayette Court Building has existed as a hotel and famous department store before being converted into office space in the mid-1980s. The building is located at 465 Main Street, in the heart of downtown’s Central Business District, and the 190,000 square foot building is a landmark of the Central Business District streetscape. Currently, Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation is in the process of completing a significant renovation to modernize the lobby, tenant spaces, and building exterior, while providing attractive amenities to the public and tenants within the building. Through our renovation process, we saw an opportunity to engage with the city through the street level fascade – public art was the obvious choice given Ciminelli’s past experiences at other downtown buildings like The Sinclair and 201 Ellicott. We were able to partner with a local artist, Danielle Saeva, to create six unique renderings with an obvious Buffalo flavor that we think the public will love! Danielle joined us for this episode to discuss the impact of public art and why it has become such a staple within our city. We hope you enjoy!

Grace: Before I even get into questions, can you introduce yourself and then tell us a little bit about your background as an artist?

Danielle: Yeah, sure. So, I’m Danielle Saeva. I am a painter and I’m an art teacher in Buffalo. I work for a nonprofit art school on the East Side, called Locust Street Art. I’m an art educator, I’m a painter, I also am involved with the Buffalo Society of Artists and Hunt Gallery by Lafayette Square. I’m just continuing to build my art practice and art education and bring those two fields together.

Grace: Can you briefly define what constitutes public art?

Danielle: Yeah. Public art is art that’s for everybody, so accessible art. Art that is in your community, for your community, and for people outside that community who are coming to visit. It’s a type of art that is there to kind of lift up the community.

Grace: Can it exist in multiple formats? Obviously, you did this mural, but what else could it be?

Danielle: Yeah, sculpture, it can branch even towards like performative art, I have seen that too. So, art’s not just painting, drawing, sculpture, it’s also performance as in, theater or music and things like that. Even a band playing down the road or for a parade, I consider to be public art.

Grace: And what is your experience with public art?

Danielle: I’ve done a mural before at a restaurant in Buffalo. Because I work for Locust Street, we do a lot of public art stuff for the East Side and that community, but I would like to do more.

Grace: Is there a program at Locust Street for public art specifically?

Danielle: There is not, but we have a lot of outreach as far as being connected with the community as well as other organizations. My department is drawing and painting. A lot of times when public art will come about for organization, we all kind of come together, figure out what it is we want to do, and then decide if that works with our mission. So not a specific department, but we all kind of come together and figure out what we want to do.

Grace: Very cool. Kind of branching off that, what does the commission process look like for a public art project?

Danielle: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s two major ways. Actually, I mean, kind of three. The first being someone reaches out to you. Someone kind of knows you, and they will kind of tell you what they’re looking for. Sometimes they have something really specific. Sometimes it’s less specific and they’re like: do your thing, give us a proposal, and then we’ll approve it or not. The second way is to look for opportunities. So there’s quite a few in Buffalo, too. ASIWNY, they are art initiative for Buffalo that’s trying to get jobs and opportunities out to artists in Buffalo, and they’re constantly posting opportunities for public work. There was just one for a mural project, so they’ll post the space that it needs to be in, they have a call for proposals, and then you’ll put in your proposal, and then a committee will sit down and pick which one they want for that space. Then, the third one is just kind of reaching out, which I’ve done before. I’ll be like, “Hey, I’ve seen that wall. You need a mural? You know, sometimes taking that initiative, too. I’ve done it, I know many artists have done it, too, but those are the three main ways.

Grace: Side note, I just went to the restaurant, Hombre y Lobo, and I was eating my taco, and then your Instagram handle was face to face with me, and I was like oh my god.

Danielle: It’s so funny because I feel like Instagram handles are now the new artist’s signature. You know, it’s not like adding my signature anymore. It’s just like, alright, slap on the Instagram handle.

Grace: Yeah, but that’s how we find a lot of artists. It’s seeing art on a street or sidewalk and noticing that handle.

Danielle: Exactly, and being able to engage with them further and see what they’re doing and continue to see what they’re doing

Grace: Awesome. What is the importance of public art in the Buffalo community and what has its impact?

Danielle: Yeah, so this one is one of my favorites. Buffalo just loves anything that’s new, right? Like, I feel like Buffalo is so welcoming to public art, and public art is important because accessibility, right? Albright-Knox right now is closed, so where do you get art? Where do you consume that art? People who aren’t in the art field or aren’t really involved in fine art, they can still have and see and reap the benefits of public art. It’s just engaging art that the whole community can kind of come together and recognize and identify with. Buffalo specifically, too, we have a lot of like smaller public art, right? Shark Girl was one of them. There’s just this little statue in Canalside, and it just took off. You see merchandise for Shark Girl. I think Buffalo is so willing to accept anything that comes their way, especially just within the art community. I find that in Buffalo, the reason I stayed here too as an artist, is because I find it to be really welcoming and there’s not really a competition there because everybody just wants art, right? Everybody wants to engage in those things. So I think that bringing that beauty of art to Buffalo, everyone loves it, everyone’s on top of it, and it just creates a closer tight knit community.

Grace: Are there specific pieces of public art that you think make it effective or is that kind of situational?

Danielle: I guess that actually, for me, comes from “what do we define as good art?” But I think the other component is what is the meaning behind it, right? Is it engaging the community in a way that relates to them or is it just something that somebody from outside of Buffalo or who doesn’t understand the community that they’re serving? Is it detached? A lot of times I think what makes better art or good art is that it has the community in mind.

Grace: Have you experienced that impact in public art in other cities or have you seen other elements that would be really cool to bring here?

Danielle: Yeah! Every time I think about public art, I think of like Chicago and like the big Bean, right?. And why is that so successful? Because it’s so engaging. It’s huge, and it warps our sense of perspective of ourselves, and you can see this huge scope of people even though you’re standing in one space. So I think bringing something like that to Buffalo, I’d be really interested in of something that large of scale, that includes that many people that kind of warps that perspective. It becomes like a staple.

Grace: Yeah, it does. I mean, are you visiting Chicago if you don’t have a picture of the Bean?

Danielle: Exactly. Exactly. Because it’s so big, it’s so huge, and it’s so impactful.

Grace: All right. All right. So shifting a little bit of gears here. Yeah, it’s really about the mural. You just as well. What was your inspiration for this Buffalo centric mural facing Street?

Danielle: I was thinking about all these elements of like, how do you like engage the community? I really wanted it to be super engaging, like, “Okay, I recognize this place.” Even the skyline, I wanted it to be backlit by the sunset because we all know that the sunset comes over the water. Then having these little kind of like Easter eggs that people could go search for, right? The guy jumping into the table, like I love Buffalo’s passion so much. I’m from Buffalo, I grew up in Buffalo, and I’m now helping grow Buffalo’s art scene, and I really just wanted it to be joyful and reflect how passionate and beautiful Buffalo is, not just our architecture, but also within the people in our community.

Grace: What’s your favorite piece of that mural?

Danielle: I really like the skyline because it just reminds me of coming home from wherever, and the skyway, and seeing the city kind of backlit. And then I really do like the Josh Allen one. I just really like that little kid being like, “What’s up?” and then Josh just hurdling.

Grace: That one and the table is what we have seen people take the most photos of so far. Even during installation, they were like, “This is sick.”

Danielle: It’s just so fun, you know? It’s so fun.

Grace: Can you talk a little bit about how that piece relates to the history of Buffalo?

Danielle: One thing that I love about Buffalo is our architecture. Buffalo has such a strong history that’s reflected just within our architecture and the buildings that are there. So I really did want to incorporate the old with the new. A lot of the elements that I added, these are kind of newer things of Buffalo, like the Bills and even the Buffalo Strong, and on Sean McDermott’s shirt, he has “Choose Love,” so bringing those old elements of architecture and that kind of history that we see in front of us into a new context with these newer things that Buffalo is experiencing and also are becoming part of our culture.

Grace: How do you hope the community engages with your public art?

Danielle: I mean, I hope they take pictures! But I really hope that they’re just able to relate and see the passion that they all have. That’s the reason why it’s there. We hold a lot of these things on such high pedestals, like I said, with Shark Girl, for instance. What other city is going to take this small, little, public art piece and make it into an icon? Same with the Bills players, same with you can see the passion in the Bills fans, so I really hope that they see themselves within it and the culture that they built. None of those elements would have existed if it wasn’t for the people of Buffalo.

Grace: Can you share your process creating this piece? I mean, first of all, it’s a temporary piece, so that had to come into play. Second of all, it’s such an odd medium—you’re not painting, per se, and this is going to be a digital format that is printed on vinyl and then applied to windows—so what did that look like for you?

Danielle: It’s actually a really good question. I find that digital art is kind of fun because you can do so much with it. Because I created these things and now they’re being printed on these vinyl, that although the vinyl is temporary, you can make those into another poster, you can make them into merchandise, or whatever it may be. But it is such a different process. I’m a painter, so normally, I’m getting messy, it’s a very physical work, while this is a very like in your house, a lot more conservative type work, which is fun in its own regard, too.

Andy: Your comments about kind of working digitally, I mean, I think it’s a testament to your ability, really. That’s a hard transition to make. You kind of downplay it, but I think that’s a real legitimate point, like that really speaks to true talent that you can kind of make it happen.

Danielle: It also comes from because I’m a teacher, too, right? So I actually don’t teach kids, I teach adults. I teach anyone from like 14+. Most of my students are older, and a lot of them don’t know how to use tablets and things like that. I see their art, and I’m like, you need to use a tablet, so I got to learn how to use a tablet, you know? So a lot of that, I can do all these mediums because I have to be there for my students too. But it’s so funny that you work in a tablet for a while and I said, I’ll be in a painting and I’ll double click with my fingers to go there. I do like the idea of temporary art, too, because then there’s sort of an urgency to it. Like, “You guys, you got to go see this now because it’s not going to be there forever.” Part of that, though, I do kind of enjoy, even though it’s like, “oh yeah, it’s not gonna be there forever,” I kind of like that. It gets people excited too, about the new building as well.

Andy: And so that urgency that you that you talk about, I mean, what a great way for us to make a building exciting for a time, right? To like build and build and build, and then here it is. So I think that public art is kind of the perfect way to deliver that that message. Something’s happening here, you know, and like to your point, like get there.

Danielle: Absolutely. Why not make it fun? You know, I’ve seen so many, you know, buildings are going up and you see their logo, and you’re like “something’s happening.” But, you know, to like, really something’s happening, but like, oh, you know, something fun is also like currently happening, you know, and I can engage with.

Andy: I mean, you have to appreciate that our direction on this was we were talking about two sets of windows, right? And then I don’t know who said it, but we were like, we should do them all. Yeah, it got quick buy in, and we were able to pull it together pretty quickly.

Grace: What is the biggest canvas you’ve designed to date?

Danielle: On canvas?

Grace: Canvas. Or, I guess, I would consider even the mural a canvas, so any piece that you’ve done.

Danielle: Probably the mural at Hombre y Lobo. I think it was like 15 by something feet, so it was pretty large. That’s probably the biggest one I’ve done, and I have a couple mural stuff lined up, so there’ll be bigger ones soon.

Grace: So without giving too much away, where can we see more of your work?

Danielle: You can see my art in Hunt Gallery, I was a resident there, and I just kind of graduated. You can find my work there; they just bought a piece of mine. I’m involved with Buffalo Society of Artists. I’m an exhibiting member, and I also am working for them, so you can see my work at BSA shows. But now also I’m trying to also reach out to the community, so hopefully within some buildings and hopefully outside of some buildings pretty soon, so I’m trying to kind of hit all corners.

Grace: Can we find you on Instagram?

Danielle: @danielle.saeva. Exactly my name with a dot right in the middle. Nice and easy.

Grace: Awesome, well thank you.

Danielle: Yeah, thank you for having me.

To read more about the renovations occurring within the Lafayette Court building, check out the links in our show notes. The Buffalo mural can be found at 465 Main Street in the heart of downtown. Thank you again to Danielle Saeva for turning our idea into a reality with her incredible talent and to VSP Graphic Group for the beautiful vinyl work.

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