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Tina Dillman’s ‘Project Grant’ bodes well for Buffalo art scene

Buffalo’s newest art exhibition has no opening or closing dates, no specific venue and no explanatory wall text.

It began its Buffalo run last November and will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the foreseeable future.

The name of the show is Tina Dillman, a multifaceted art institution who also happens to be a living, breathing human being.

“My work is all-encompassing,” Dillman said during a recent interview in the tiny yellow house she rents at the twee address of 195ø Grant St., which looks inside and out like the set of a Wes Anderson film. “Everything has a point and purpose. From that candle to where those works are hung, to how that bookshelf is laid out, to the clothes I’m wearing today. Everything is very formulaic in a sense. That’s who I am. So it goes into all facets of my life. My life is my art practice.”

Like her house, which is filled with carefully chosen artworks by Dillman’s fellow artists from the Bay Area and elsewhere, Dillman’s art-life hybrid is the product of wide-ranging vision and fastidious planning.

Since moving to Buffalo last fall after spending a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dillman has inserted herself into Buffalo’s visual art and progressive political culture with astounding speed and marked success.

She arrived with one big goal, to launch a crowd-funded artist residency project based in her diminutive house, and formed a dozen smaller ones. Within two months, she raised her target goal of $3,000 to launch “Project Grant,” which will bring three artists to Buffalo for six-week stretches beginning in June to create new work with Dillman and her rapidly growing network of community partners.

Already, Dillman has forged partnerships with an impressive range of cultural and community organizations, including Squeaky Wheel, where she now works as a part-time programmer, as well as PUSH Buffalo, the WASH Project, CEPA Gallery, Big Orbit Gallery and Buffalo Arts Studio. Her first local solo exhibition, “San Fran Buff Non Stop,” opened in Big Orbit Gallery in January, less than two months after her arrival here.

Rarely if ever has a new arrival on Buffalo’s art scene come on quite so strong, but the connections Dillman has forged seem to bode well for organizations in need of Dillman’s experience as an arts administrator and “Project Grant,” which is designed both to strengthen pre-existing bonds across the artistic community and form new ones.

Dillman, who hails from the small city of Sherrill in Central New York and co-founded the popular WE Artspace in Oakland, Calif., first visited Buffalo in 2010 and said she was taken aback by the charm and beauty of its architecture and the kindness of its people. When a family emergency forced her to come back to Central New York last year, she naturally gravitated toward Buffalo as a place that seemed far more friendly to her artistic goals and budget than the Bay Area might be.

“It just seems like there’s a lot of room for movement and growth here,” she said.

And her experience in Buffalo so far has proven that suspicion correct.

“When people hear about my project, they are just really excited. Everyone is in any way or shape possible wanting to give something to the process, whether it’s in-kind donation of equipment from Squeaky Wheel and CEPA or space, like potentially using Big Orbit for a pop-up event,” Dillman said. “Buffalo Arts Studio is donating the space of their community room that they have, with a full kitchen. The Western New York Book Arts Center wants to do a collaborative project with my artists.”

Squeaky Wheel Executive Director Jax Deluca called Dillman a “powerhouse” who arrived in Buffalo, and Squeaky Wheel, at a crucial moment.

“Her expertise is exactly what we’re looking for and she has a fresh outside perspective that’s really helping to shape our 30th anniversary activities. She’s really a dynamic and personable character,” Deluca said, characterizing Dillman’s residency project as a missing ingredient on Buffalo’s art scene. “We need more people like Tina to come here and make this an arts destination. She’s ambitious, and what’s even better is that she’s so driven that it won’t fail.”

Beyond the ambitious “Project Grant,” which if all goes to plan will include dozens of public events and as-yet unimagined collaborations, Dillman plans to make the most out of her house on Grant Street.

She’s already launched two monthly events: “The Dinner Party,” a gathering for those who contributed to her fundraising campaign; and “ArtzTalk,” an informal session on the third Thursday of every month for artists and students to get feedback on their work, which will be hosted in the house’s partially finished basement.

“I’m really excited about using my home as sort of an incubator space,” she said. “It’s really important that things are made accessible to people, to remove those boundaries and present things in an alternative format ... That’s really important to me: diminishing those boundaries so you can create your own relationship to these things that should be accessible to you anyway.”

Once the residency project starts in the summer, she added, she’ll also hold monthly backyard barbecues where the public can meet visiting artists and rub shoulders with Buffalo’s creative community.

If you’re in Buffalo’s art scene or even just floating around the edges, you are already in Tina Dillman’s orbit. Her house on Grant Street has the potential to become yet another miniature nexus for the city’s vibrant visual arts community, feeding its growth even as national enthusiasm about Buffalo’s creative spirit is growing. It, and Dillman, couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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