Buffalo Arts Studio at 30

By Maria Scrivani

Published on

In an artful melding of promise and purpose, Buffalo Arts Studio (BAS) is celebrating its 30th anniversary in its Tri-Main Center home.

A main tenant in the former auto factory that became one of Buffalo’s first, and arguably most artistic, adaptive re-use projects, BAS has honed and expanded its footprint over the years.  Still guided by its original mission, BAS, located in and surrounding Suite 500, offers affordable studio space for working artists, public exhibitions, and arts education programming for youth and adults.

Photo by Buffalo Arts Studio

When the pandemic forced postponement of its major fundraiser last year, BAS transformed it into a three-day live mobile auction.   This year the fundraiser is back, and bigger, albeit with health and safety protocols in place.  Live on Five 2021 is an exhibition of nearly 800 original 5’’ by 5” artworks by more than 200 local artists, available for purchase via mobile auction, open now through April 24, with bids starting at $25.  

Now through April 24, the artwork can be viewed online, or in the gallery (with masks and social distancing).  Currently, hours are 11-5, Tuesday through Friday, and Saturdays, 10-2.

Artwork available for purchase – Photo by Buffalo Arts Studio

The breadth and scope of this endeavor is emblematic of artists who continue to work here, despite the difficult year we have all endured, according to Alma Carrillo, BAS executive director.  “We are a community.  It is really important that we support each other.  We are staying hopeful; we see all the assets we have.  And we stay very true to our mission.” 

At work in their studios, open to public view at times, artists find the space conducive to creativity.  There is a diverse age range, and various media in use, making for a fertile collegiality, according to Laura Borneman, who is also a teaching artist.  Adds artist and printmaker Kathleen Sherin, who has long had a studio at Tri-Main, “It’s like having a bigger family.”

As so many others found, last year was particularly devastating for the many artists who must support themselves with other jobs, like restaurant workers and substitute teachers, Carillo says.  “We helped them get grants, to pay their rents.  We had to be there for our artists, and the community.  We pay our teaching and exhibiting artists, and we are trying now to pay them more fairly.   For comfort and safety, we recently installed a new HVAC system; we’ve renovated educational spaces.  We were teaching remotely for a time, and reopened in July when it felt safe. It’s important to show up for our community, and for our artists.”

Artwork classes – Photo by Buffalo Arts Studio

Besides the pandemic, the year past brought major civic unrest, and BAS programming was responsive to pressing community issues.  Panel discussions and art exhibits that showcased social justice were held, with topics ranging from climate change to the pre-election media assault.  

Artists as activists is a time-honored tradition.  Staying successful in challenging times is a matter of being able to shift quickly, Carrillo notes—to see what is happening in the present, and into the future.  It is an interesting and perhaps unanticipated perspective; illuminating an arts studio in what was once a thriving industrial plant.

Tri-Main Center – Photo by D-Day – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24598136

How the space at 2495 Main Street—where assembly-line workers toiled in a mass-production template—became this space, a refuge from the mundane, and haven for creative expression—is a Buffalo story with a happy ending.   Ford Model Ts were produced here from the building’s 1915 inception, until 1927; Model As until 1931, when the facility was sold.   Various tenants then leased the site, including Hercules Motors, maker of diesel engines for the Navy and Bell Aircraft Corporation.   Eventually, the building housed Bell’s secret wartime assignment to construct America’s first jet engine warplane.  In 1947, Trico Products Company, the world’s largest maker of windshield wipers, founded by John R. Oishei of Buffalo, purchased the building, which became known as a Trico Plant.  

What is today known as the Tri-Main Center was, in 1989, Buffalo’s first large-scale rehabilitation of a vacant industrial complex.  Today, with Buffalo Arts Studio as an anchor tenant, it is a mixed-use business and arts center – a cornerstone of Buffalo’s burgeoning arts community and cultural economy.   

Buffalo Arts Studio, Tri-Main Center, 2495 Main St. Suite 500 / buffartsstudio.org

Maria Scrivani headshot

Maria Scrivani

Maria Scrivani is a former reporter for The Buffalo News and a contributing writer for Buffalo Spree Magazine. She is co-author of BEAUTIFUL BUFFALO: PRESERVING A CITY, wrote BRIGHTER BUFFALO: RENEWING A CITY and her latest book, a children’s guide called ALL ABOUT BUFFALO.