“Women In The Arts” Was Theme of 8th Annual Woman’s Luncheon Hosted by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes
by Nanette D. Massey
The luncheon honoring women of distinction hosted annually by the political fundraising group Friends of Crystal Peoples-Stokes was held Friday, April 19th, in the elegant Terrace Room of downtown Buffalo’s historic Hotel Statler building at Niagara Square.
In its eight year, this year’s theme was “Women In The Arts” and the honorees were a veritable Who’s Who list of women on the Western New York art scene. This writer had the privilege of being seated at the front table with District 141 Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, her proud and gracious mother, and the afternoon’s keynote speaker Julia Bottoms.
Julia was one of the four, and the only woman, artists who worked on the Michigan Street Freedom Wall commissioned by the Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative in partnership with the NFTA. She describes being selected for the project as “one of those calls you wait your whole life to get.” Her ambitions stretch all the way back to her childhood. Perusing the Western world’s acclaimed painters, “I didn’t see anyone that looked like me.”
She wants her work to be in service to people, to do more than hang on museum walls. She aims to “take the gifts I have to create positive representations against the mainstream representations” blacks are more often exposed to. Her ultimate hope is that a hundred years from now a young girl of color will be flipping through the pages of a book of hallowed art like she once did, and be able to see herself. Julia is also the owner of Buffalo Brush, Paint and Sip, an amateur art studio she says is mostly an excuse for friends to relax, have some wine, and express their personal creativity.
Leslie Zemsky, Larkin Square’s Director of Fun, also received a crystal statuette. She’s a senior partner of The ssLarkin Development Group, which has spearheaded the resurgence of the Larkinville District into a place where art, business and community not only peacefully coexist, but are vivaciously interdependent upon one another. Buffalo State College’s president Katherine Conway-Turner narrates Zemsky as “a true champion of our wonderful city…one of our top advocates throughout the region and across New York State.”
She is on the board of Visit Buffalo Niagara, and was formerly president of the Albright-Knox’s Board of Directors. Award recipient Michelle Agosto, known in some circles as “the Puerto Rican Barbara Streisand” for her commanding speaking voice, is the Supervisor of Curriculum in Art Education for Buffalo Public Schools. The theme of her short acceptance speech was gratitude. “To feel grateful is not to say that everything in life is necessarily great, but it means that we’re very aware of our blessings.” She is grateful to this day for the 1994 call she received from the city’s art education people adding “it’s very surprising and humbling to be acknowledged today.
I love my work and the children I serve, their happiness is reward enough.” Agnes Bain, Executive Director of the African American Cultural Center since 1979, was honored in absentia. Her award was accepted by Paulette Harris, artistic Director of the Center’s Paul Robeson Theatre. “Ladies, we keep it moving,” said Harris, confirming the significance of the afternoon’s venue. “We are the heartbeat of art.” Acknowledging Agnes Bain, Paulette proclaimed “her contribution to the Buffalo art landscape has been iconic.”
Peoples-Stokes relayed her satisfaction for the opportunity to host such an event. She believes it is not nearly enough to only honor women during March’s Women’s History Month. “We’ve contributed too much to this society to be relegated to one month. There are star women in our community.” She added that she was happy for the diversity represented in the day’s assembly. “This room looks like our city.”