With the experience of an unpredictable 2012 fresh in our memory and the whole of 2013 spread out before us like a big blank canvas, trying to prognosticate what the year will hold is a fool’s errand. But that won’t stop me from making a few modest wishes for Western New York’s arts scene over the next 12 months:
• In previous wish lists, one item has rarely failed to make an appearance: The return of the former Studio Arena Theatre, which closed in 2008. In 2012, that wish came true when Shea’s Performing Arts Center arranged the opening of the newly rechristened 710 Main Theatre. In the new year, I’d like to see 710 Main have a hit with its first full-scale production, Road Less Traveled Theatre’s “The Circle Mirror Transformation,” opening Feb. 1.
After that, it would be great to see collaborations among more Buffalo companies on big, challenging and popular productions on the 710 stage. This approach, properly executed, is one of the few real chances the theater community has to expand the audience – and as a result the financial stability and overall quality of theater – in the region.
• A related wish is for Buffalo’s Theater District, for far too long a lackluster zone that only comes creaking to life when shows are playing, into a bustling, mixed-use community. The return of traffic to Main Street may play a role in that, but there needs to be a renewed effort from the city to make good on the promise of a vibrant Theater District that has never fully materialized.
• One of the big stories last year was the reawakening of the century-old buildings along the Buffalo River, especially its grain elevators. I’d love to see a large-scale collaborative effort to draw more sustained attention to the elevators for reasons other than one-day events, performances and festivals.
• As groups like the Arts Services Initiative, the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance and Give for Greatness continue to grow, 2013 should be the year for them to fully coalesce around a single and powerful goal: To transform the political landscape into one that understands and fully exploits the connection between taxpayer-funded cultural endeavors and the vitality and national reputation of Western New York. This could be the year that we stop thinking of culture as a condiment.
• One of the major reasons the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Burchfield Penney Art Center have struggled to engage the full spectrum of Buffalo’s community is because they maintain expensive admission prices. In 2013, as Buffalo continues to rank high on the list of the poorest cities in America, both museums need to make it a priority to eliminate admission charges and usher the entire community through their doors. Everyone will benefit.
• Let’s hope this is the year that Allentown’s always-burgeoning, never-quite-peaking gallery district comes fully into its own. The monthly First Fridays gallery walk continues to grow in popularity, but its reach could extend even farther with a more concerted effort to brand the district, the event and the city that hosts it, as a destination.
• Beyond/In Western New York, the mega visual arts exhibition that knocked the socks off of unprecedented numbers of visitors in 2010, is on hiatus this year. Here’s hoping its organizers reconvene to mount another major event in 2014 or 2015. The effort will be worth it.