Since I started covering art and theater in Western New York in the winter of 2007, I have often wondered aloud and in print exactly when the remarkable growth of Buffalo’s cultural scene might plateau.
Surely, I thought, a shrinking midsize city that was adding a pair of new theater companies and at least as many gallery spaces every year, along with innumerable individual collaborations spanning all the artistic disciplines, would reach its limit before long. The pace of cultural growth in this city since the late 1990s, it seemed to me, could not possibly keep up forever.
But here I stand, more than six years later, happily flabbergasted that the growth of Buffalo’s cultural offerings is not only continuing, but rapidly accelerating.
Exhibit A is my inbox this month. Much to the dismay of many of those hoping for more in-depth coverage for their projects, it is overflowing with evidence of at least 13 simultaneously running productions from the city’s more than 20 professional and semiprofessional theater companies. At least twice as many exhibitions pepper the kaleidoscopic visual arts scene here, without even factoring in the many major-league offerings of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Burchfield Penney Art Center.
We’re not talking about community theater productions of “You Can’t Take It With You,” or your grandma’s Sunday afternoon watercolor paintings. Weed out the amateur and half-baked offerings, and you are still left with far more activity on the theater and art scenes here than you could possibly see in several months’ time. And that is to say nothing of the breathless literary or growing indie-music communities.
Because I didn’t participate in the much-ballyhooed artistic explosion of the 1970s in Buffalo, I cannot say with certainty whether we are now living in the most culturally diverse and active period in the city’s recent history. But it sure does feel that way.
The trend applies across all levels of culture. The active underground hip-hop, graffiti and b-boy scene peeking its head above ground on Friday for the ambitious “Cuts & Breaks” exhibition at the Vault Arthouse on Main Street. This summer’s Buffalo Infringement Festival – at this point by far the area’s largest arts festival by participation – will shed even more light on the region’s vast below-the-radar artistic ecosystem.
New galleries like Meridian West and the Project 308 space in North Tonawanda cater to broader tastes, while venues like Silo City have arisen as playgrounds for a new and active generation of artists and performers. At the same time, attempts by the likes of art professor and curator Jonathan Katz and others to bring the fascinating work of the University at Buffalo’s visual studies department into the community at large are growing.
The proliferation of Buffalo’s theater ecosystem, which underwent a sea change with the closure of the former Studio Arena Theatre (now the 710 Main Theatre), has been an especially interesting case. For many years, the city could boast of an extraordinarily high number of theaters for a region of this size, but couldn’t crow quite as loudly about the quality of its productions.
Even that is finally beginning to change as theaters such as the Kavinoky are spending more time in rehearsal, and three-show seasons, like that of the excellent Jewish Repertory Theatre, are becoming more popular than substandard, wall-to-wall productions from September to June.
Because of all these projects and many more on the horizon, the city’s quickening cultural pulse won’t be slowing down any time soon.