During the past decade, visitors to the Squeaky Wheel media and art center’s headquarters in a subterranean office suite on the 700 block of Main Street have learned to be on time.
If you showed up late to a screening or performance, you became an unwitting star of the show, ringing a loud buzzer at the front door and then making your way through the venue’s only entrance and across the stage of its mini-cinema, the projection inevitably flickering across your face for a moment before you found your seat in the back.
The speakeasy vibe of the place, along with a number of other space-based idiosyncrasies, will come to an end in February, when Squeaky Wheel plans to open its new location about a block away, on the ground floor of the historic Market Arcade building. The organization will take over a small cinema, gallery, office and equipment storage space formerly occupied by Visit Buffalo Niagara, which moved to a new office on Lafayette Square.
The move, announced earlier this month, comes as Squeaky Wheel prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary providing low-cost video equipment rentals, educational programs and media art exhibitions to the Buffalo arts scene. It also comes nine months after developer Nick Sinatra acquired the historic building from the city for $1.4 million with plans to relocate his real estate business there and to invest in significant repairs.
The new space is about two-thirds the size of the old space, said Squeaky Wheel Executive Director Jax Deluca, who spearheaded the two-year search for a new location. “It’s smaller but it’s more efficient. It’s more flexible. It’s going to be great for live sound and video performances.”
In a statement, Sinatra hailed the organization’s move as a contribution to the cultural importance of the building.
“I knew when we acquired Market Arcade that it had a powerful presence in the arts community, and we want to preserve and enhance that,” Sinatra said. “Squeaky Wheel is doing great work in media arts, and I see them as being a great compliment and asset to Market Arcade.”
While Deluca said that Squeaky Wheel’s tenure in the Ansonia Building was successful, its physical challenges made it difficult for the organization to realize some of its ambitions. For one thing, it didn’t have a dedicated and well-lit gallery space, which Deluca said she considers an integral part of the new location.
“What’s exciting about the gallery in the new space is that it’s got wood floors, white walls and track lighting and it’s a square,” she said. “We have something that artists can work in better. I think it gives it a level of seriousness for people who are looking to exhibit their work.”
What’s more, the pint-size screening room in the new location is closed off from the rest of the venue, which means Squeaky Wheel can run videos all day while hosting workshops and gallery visitors in other rooms. Starting next year, the cinema will run a stream of episodes of “Artgrease,” the public access television program about art and artists it has produced since the 1980s.
The organization’s move also will bring it closer to another longtime Buffalo arts organizaiton, CEPA Gallery, which is spread across four floors of the Market Arcade. Deluca said its new proximity to CEPA will result in plenty of cross-programming, and the organizations will inevitably lean on one another for help.
“We’ll actually be in the heart of the Theater District now, and we’re also sharing a building with CEPA, which is really exciting. I feel like it’s kind of a power-in-numbers scenario,” Deluca said. “The energy down there will be very symbiotic between all the organizations.”
Looking ahead to its 30th anniversary year, Squeaky Wheel will undergo a rebranding process in hopes of ushering in a wider audience and making more people aware of its resources. And its new and much more visible space on Main Street will play a big role in that process, Deluca said.
“This is a huge creative transition for us as an organization. We’re kind of maturing in another way and getting people to see us in a new light. It’s kind of like when you’re in your 20s and all of a sudden turn 30,” she said. “Moving gives us another chance to show a new side to other people, so I’m hoping that attracts some curious onlookers to come on in and see what we’re doing and participate.”