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After two years of wandering, Sugar City lands on Niagara Street

For the past two years, the members of Buffalo’s tight-knit Sugar City Arts Collaborative have operated in guerrilla fashion, mounting pop-up art and music events throughout the city while searching for a permanent home.

On Friday, after months of exploring potential venues, the group’s itinerant status will end as the venue opens its new headquarters in a former nightclub on the suddenly sexy 1200 block of Niagara Street.

The two-part grand opening starts in the collective’s new all-ages space at 1239 Niagara St. with live music from Tracy Marrow and Magi Chippi, Cages, The Blood, Johns and a new group called Brass Pro and the Waterfront Revivalists. Art by Marissa Paternoster of the New Jersey-based punk group Screaming Females also will be on view. At 11 p.m., the party will move across the street to the Resurgence Brewing Co. (1250 Niagara St.), where several DJs will spin decade-specific sets of music from the from the ’60s through today.

A recent visit found the space very much in its raw state, with studs exposed, sheets of plywood serving as temporary flooring and contractors working furiously to complete structural repairs in advance of the opening.

The bar, which served thousands of patrons of the space’s former tenants Compton’s After Dark and the Playaz Club, among others, remains intact with a new finish made from reclaimed lath by Sugar City co-founder Aimee Buyea. The front room will serve as Sugar City’s visual art gallery, with a hallway leading to its main performance space, perhaps five times larger than its former stage in the back of a storefront on Wadsworth Street.

Sugar City’s seven core organizers, who call themselves Sugar Citizens, have put dozens of hours of sweat equity into the space to save on construction costs. Delays moved back the opening from June to August, but members said they’re thrilled to finally be able to meet their mission of providing low-cost space for performers and visual artists.

“It made us a stronger group, the last two years,” Buyea said.

Looking toward the future, the Sugar Citizens seem confident they’ll hold onto the space for several years. Buyea said the group has a favorable lease with landlord William Breeser in which the rent they pay is based on how much money they pull in from concerts and other events. And last year, the group was one of two Buffalo-based cultural organizations to receive the surprise news that it had been awarded a $30,000 grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Even so, there’s a built-in acknowledgement that as organizations like Sugar City, Resurgence Brewing and BT&C Gallery make the block safer for investment, ballooning rents may once again force the group out in the years ahead.

“We have our own feelings about that sort of gentrification,” Buyea said, voicing the independent, DIY spirit that has defined Sugar City. “Even though we’ve been successful for five, almost six years, we still consider this an experiment.”


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