The cavernous concrete silos of dozens of grain elevators and hollowed-out spaces of countless industrial buildings that dot the shores of the Buffalo River have stood vacant and crumbling for decades.
But on Saturday, the sprawling collection of elevators and buildings known as Silo City swelled with crowds as the city's cultural community converged on the site for a one-night festival of art, music and dance.
City of Night, an event conceived by the local organization Emerging Leaders in the Arts Buffalo spearheaded by artist Dana Saylor, was a de facto declaration that the long-empty buildings of Silo City were once again open for business. Or at least for art. In the Marine A elevator, where the silo floors were pooled with rainwater from the recent storm, more than a dozen artists presented installations custom-tailored to the circular spaces.
Just after the event began at 4 p.m., artist Tara Sasiadek, her face covered in paint, was reconstructing a meticulous 360-degree chalk drawing on a silo wall that was washed away by the rain the previous night. The piece, a religiously themed drawing called "Our Lady of the Lost Spaces," reflects Sasiadek's concern for abandoned structures like Marine A.
In another silo, Thomas Webb presented a 360-degree cityscape on pieces of cardboard hung from the a large metal chute just above visitors' heads. Elsewhere, trees installed by artist Kelly Gregory Tomasello sprouted from the elevator's enormous metal hoppers to create a striking picture and an elegant statement about new growth around Buffalo's old industrial core. In a dark silo illuminated only by a small fluorescent lamp, artist Fotini Galanes sat in an armchair hard at work on a small, painstaking drawing that she was aiming to complete by the time the festival ends at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
In a space called The Malthouse, dozens of artists exhibited and sold their wares, and the adjacent Perot grain elevator hosted a photo exhibition curated by local photographer Christina Laing. She said the fact that people are finally being invited into spaces like the Perot elevator and others formerly off-limits has sparked the public's curiosity. "Because it's so old and decayed, and it's kind of like a forbidden space that you're actually allowed to go in, it's very alluring for photographers and everyone," she said. "Everyone wants to know what it looks like inside."
For Chris Hawley, a Buffalo city planner who was preparing to lead a group of wide-eyed photographers on a "shutterbug" tour to the top of a grain elevator, the revitalization of Silo City is a positive sign for the city.
"I think like a lot of post-industrial cities, our manufacturing legacy is being repurposed, and places that were used for transshipment, for manufacturing, are now being employed for cultural uses," Hawley said. "[Buffalo] has the largest number of them anywhere and also the largest concentration of such grain elevators. So it is a landscape unlike any other place on the planet, and it's something that folks in Buffalo are starting to realize exists and is now being seen as a resource for cultural and economic revitalization."