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Buffalo nourishes its artists

For most casual art viewers, Western New York galleries and museums are places where art is displayed. But in Buffalo, more than in many other vibrant art communities, they are also places where a great deal of art is made.

During March, the city's arts organizations will be showing off the fruits of their most recent artist residencies -- programs designed to foster and support artists during the early stages of the creative process.

In the span of a single week, beginning next Sunday , Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center will feature three artists who have worked in its residency programs during the past year.

Kicking things off next Sunday, Pennsylvania artist Brent Green will present a live film performance of his acclaimed work "Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then," which was recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Green is now nearing the end of his Hallwalls residency, during which he and his collaborators have been working on scripting and recording music for a new feature-length project.

On March 9, Hallwalls presents a concert from the California-based composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and his Golden Quartet, who will conduct workshops with students from the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts as part of its residency project.

And as this column goes to print, filmmaker Sarah Baker is preparing to shoot a scene from her upcoming "multimedia soap opera project" called "Our Time" in the Darwin Martin House. Baker has been filming the project, which is featured in an exhibition opening March 10, at various locations around Buffalo since the beginning of the year.

Carolyn Tennant, Hallwalls media arts curator, stressed the importance of residencies in the local artistic ecology.

"The one thing I can say about the Hallwalls artist residency program is that it provides artists opportunities at various stages in the working process," Tennant said.

At Squeaky Wheel Media Arts Center, the residences are often more locally focused. Four Western New York artists -- Catherine Archias, Debora Berganozzi, Patrick Cain and Thomas Stoll -- are working on projects that will premiere March 10.

Residencies like those at Hallwalls and Squeaky Wheel run counter to the idea many of us have of the artist working alone in a studio and pitching work unseen to whichever gallery will have it. Some art is made that way, but some of the most lasting and meaningful work -- the kind that truly resonates with the community -- is the result of community-oriented residencies of the kind that have long flourished here.

Buffalo has a rich tradition of nurturing artists in their formative stages and spurring them on to greater things. One result of that is now on glorious display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where a grand retrospective of work by former Buffalo State College student and early Hallwalls artist Cindy Sherman is set to open Tuesday.

There are dozens of other examples, too, from work shot in Buffalo by Hallwalls artist-in-residence Kevin Jerome Everson that made its way to an exhibition in the Whitney Museum in New York City to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's sponsorship of an ambitious community project with Los Angeles-based artist Ingrid Calame in 2009. The Albright-Knox will follow that up later this year with another residence, this time featuring local artist Dennis Maher.

Since the fertile period of the late 1960s and '70s (soon to be explored in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's sprawling show "Wish You Were Here") Buffalo's arts organizations have never lost sight of their mission to participate directly in the creation of new work.

In this town, the work that goes on behind the scenes is just as important as what shows up on gallery walls.