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Fast work pays off for winning artist

By the time Raylena Cunningham heard about the art contest for City of Buffalo employees and their families, the Oct. 12 entry deadline was looming.

Graphite pencil in hand, the Water Department clerk sat down and rapidly sketched on paper a young black girl lying on her back in a box, knees drawn up, feet propped against one side. The image came to Cunningham from a magazine article about how minorities often seem boxed in, sometimes willingly, by society.

"I usually draw pretty slow," the artist said.

The fast work paid off Thursday when Cunningham's untitled sketch won Best of Show and a $300 prize during the National Arts Program awards ceremony in the City Hall lobby.

Buffalo was the only city in the state among more than 80 municipalities nationwide participating in the art program for workers and their families. Mayor Byron W. Brown handed out cash prizes totaling $2,000 to first-, second- and third-place finishers in various categories for adults and children. Contestants submitted about 50 works, including paintings and drawings in practically every medium, as well as sculptures.

The National Arts Program was established in 1983 to expand and showcase the talents of public employees, their spouses and children.

The contest was again organized locally by the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County, filling a void created when the Buffalo Arts Commission fell victim to budget cuts in 2004.

Judges were Rita Argen Auerbach, Gerald Meade and Junjie Yao.

The exhibition will be on view in the City Hall concourse through Dec. 4.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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