People Inc. and WNY Urban Arts Collective Jefferson Avenue Mural Project “Using Art to Beautify the Community”

pictured above: CREATIVITY! Members of the Urban Arts Collective from left, James Cooper III, John Baker, Kobie Barber and Princessa Williams. Challenger Photo

Tucked away inside the former Bob Lanier Center in East Buffalo,  Black artists have been busy at work over the past several  weeks creating  beautiful works of art in the form of huge murals that will soon beautify Jefferson Avenue.  

A collaboration between People Inc. and the WNY Urban Arts Collective,  the initiative is dubbed  the Jefferson Apartments Art Mural Project . It  is an  important community effort that will represent the rich history of Jefferson Avenue through artwork by these local artists who were recently commissioned for the project. The mural artwork is expected to soon be unveiled and mounted  on the newly-constructed Jefferson Avenue Apartments, located at 1140 and 1166 Jefferson Avenue. The ground floor of both buildings will contain a total of 16,500 square feet of commercial space, which will include retail shops and house a People Inc. recruitment office. 

The formal process to bring about this art project began the summer of 2019, as a collaboration between People Inc. and the WNY Urban Arts Collective. Together, with people from around the community, they formed the Jefferson Apartments Art Mural Committee. In November of last year, the community came together to select the mural themes that will now grace the side of each of the new People Inc. affordable apartment buildings on Jefferson Avenue.

At the beginning of 2020, the committee turned over those artistic themes and ideas to the WNY Urban Arts Collective. In February, there was also a community-wide call for artists and artwork. Unfortunately, the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial tensions reached a tipping point. During this time, the committee and amazing artists stayed committed to creating artwork that would be reflective of the ideas and our community’s history.

“This initiative will become a blueprint for using art to beautify the community, instill pride and convey ownership, in an attempt to uplift others,” said Rhonda Frederick, People Inc. president and CEO. “It has been so impressive to see the beautiful artwork progress that has been made to encourage inclusion, equity and acceptance within our community.”

The goals of the project are to create a collection of murals that set the transformative platform for fine arts within community neighborhoods. The artwork of Jefferson Avenue will be indicative of relatable images that create urban art galleries to beautify these neighborhoods. 

 John Baker stated: “Years from now, when this project is history, the community of artists involved will be part of the story for future generations.”

Thanks to the dedication, input and time given by the community, the selections were made and the following artists will create the murals (and possibly art renderings):

•John Baker (art director/coordinator/contributing artist), President The WNY Urban Arts Collective.

•Kobie Barber (artist) – Warp Speed: Children working on the “warp speed” equations to create reality out of theory. Trying to highlight/focus on bringing math and sciences back to the intercity – Knowledge equals Power.

•Markenzy Julius Cesar (contributing artist): Born in Haiti, he has lived in the United States since 1987. In 1993, he moved to Buffalo, NY, to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts from SUNY College at Buffalo.  

•James Cooper III (artist) – Elements of Jefferson: Cultural representation of Jefferson Avenue legacy, the first host of the Juneteenth Festival. This includes images of historic landmarks and colors meant to convey a vibrant energetic mood of liveliness.

•Gino Morrow (artist) – Jefferson Jubilee: People, Families, Children, Concerts, Parades/ Marchers, Festivals and a reflection of many experiences. Meaningful and impactful – creative interpretation of the celebrations of life culture and beauty.

•Mark G. Pearce (artist) – Strong Solo: A powerful tenor saxophone soliloquy captures the ear of the listener. Symbolic of Buffalo’s vibrant jazz legacy, it is a tribute to Buffalo’s great musical heritage.

•Phyllis Thompson (artist) – Ancestor Watching Over: Depicts an ancestor seated at a table gazing back at all who look at her. The spirit of elders and ancestors is always present as they guide, protect and watch over the community.

•Princessa Williams (contributing artist): Her diversity as an artist, paint instructor, photographer and jewelry designer, the Buffalo, NY native’s artwork is compelling symbolism of black empowerment and abstract designs.