For some artists, nature isn’t the only thing worth trying to save. While land conservationists take action to preserve nature, a Buffalo group is encouraging artists to preserve notable buildings. How can you get involved?
P4P founder Sara Zak paints a scene.
Painting for Preservation (P4P), a group founded by Sara Zak to “preserve the fabric and integrity of the built environment” in Buffalo, New York, is reaching out to artists in other towns through kits designed to help them start similar groups. P4P organizes paint-outs at key spots that highlight buildings worth saving. Buffalo is a city that has areas where vacant structures are at risk of being destroyed to make way for new development. “We live in a great area, and I hope it’s up-and-coming, but right now we have more buildings than people,” explains Zak. “We try to create a great enthusiasm for the space, and turn a vacant building into a home.”
The historic Trico Plant, where windshield wipers were once manufactured
P4P member Michael Killelea’s painting of the Trico Plant
Zak says her organization is sensitive to charges of gentrification, but notes that P4P’s efforts have brought very diverse groups of people together with the common goal of preserving the built environment and thus its history. A focus on short-term economic gain can put old buildings at risk, but Zak says in the long run the loss of some old buildings would prove more damaging. “We have things that are unique, some great, old architecture,” she says. “Some downturns in the economy left them untouched, and now we have a chance to save them.”
The Broadway Theater in Buffalo is a prime example of a building that P4P highlighted for preservation.
P4P doesn’t raise funds to buy buildings, and it doesn’t ask its artists to donate pieces for the cause. It focuses on raising awareness of the issue. Zak says that when a group of painters show up to paint a building or a block, people notice. They stop and talk, and hopefully, think about preservation. “Residents came out to see what was going on and stayed out with us, sharing information and excited that our efforts could bring about improvements,” reports Kath Schifano, an artist and a member of the group. “Those of us who drew or painted details like brackets and dentils and decorative plaques brought attention to the beautiful old craftsmanship in brick, stone, and wood. Some artists captured whole blocks, placing a building in its context; either way neighbors saw artists at work, marveling at our processes and gaining new perspectives on their own environment. It didn’t matter how skillful the artists were because the process of bringing attention to the plight of these places has resulted in some positive effects, bringing attention to the buildings and involving whole neighborhoods in appreciation and observation of their local treasures.”
A Hook & Ladder station gets some attention from P4P artists.
Kath Schifano’s depiction of the Hook & Ladder
Zak is ready to send kits to people in other cities who want to start similar groups; artists in Ithaca and Syracuse, New York, have expressed interest. She emphasizes that it takes some dedicated volunteers to make it happen.
Michelle Schroeder painted the view from 21 North Street in Buffalo.
Tim Raymond with his drawing of the Wilkeson Mansion
Kits from P4P include sample press releases and event invitations, definitions of volunteer roles and advice on the kind of people needed for committees, advice on how to research a site prior to painting, and how to reach out into the community for support and for increased exposure. Visit the organization’s website for more information.