Formerly the location of the Copacabana Jazz Club, 751 Fillmore Avenue has sat vacant for over a decade in East Buffalo. In 2016, the building’s new owners in partnership with the Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services (BFNHS) and Fillmore District Common Council Member David Franczyk conceived of the idea for a mural that would incorporate the word “welcome” in the 13 languages BFNHS outreach identified as representative of this diverse neighborhood: Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English, Farsi, French, German, Polish, Seneca, Spanish, Somali, Urdu, and Vietnamese. At the invitation of the BFNHS and a number of stakeholders in the neighborhood, the Buffalo AKG Public Art Initiative and additional community representatives identified Philadelphia-based artists Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez to help make this vision a reality.
Johnston and Martinez solicited community participation in both the design and execution of this mural through a series of public meetings and public paint days. The artists created the work using sheets of Polytab, a nonwoven material also known as “parachute cloth,” which was then patched together like wallpaper to create a seamless installation. The flexibility of the material made it possible to work on the mural indoors and allowed Johnston and Martinez to bring the artmaking process out into the community. Each section of Polytab was marked in advance by the artists with an outline of the design, a kind of “paint-by-numbers” format that allowed individuals of all skill levels to come together and participate on the project simultaneously.