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Small-town art making a big impact

Sat, Feb 20th 2016 09:40 am

By Michelle Blackley Glynn

Times have never been better to be part of a small-town art scene, especially locally. In communities such as Lockport and Niagara Falls, new cultural experiences are helping residents and visitors alike view the area in a fresh way, while appreciating the unique history of Western New York.

Lockside Art Center (21 Main St., Lockport) is located in the New York Historic District known as "Lowertown," which overlooks the Erie Canal and is home to this working arts space and gallery. Originally started at the nearby former Market Street Art Center, Lockside is two years old and receiving more and more interest with each exhibit. The most recent, a showcase of landscapes in a variety of works (watercolor, pastel, oil, acrylic and copper), saw 60 visitors from within driving distance to Lockport on a Saturday night.

"Attendance at our openings and between openings is growing, with word of mouth and press reaching farther into our community," said Mike Miller, Lockside Art Center board member and local artist.

Lockside's next installment will be a photography exhibit, opening April 2. Photographers at every level are invited to participate. More information is available at www.locksideartcenter.com or via email at [email protected].

The site where Lockside received its start has not been forgotten - and its past is being acknowledged. The history of the building, 247 Market St., goes back 100 years, to when it was the home of the largest manufacturer of block and tackle in the country. Today, this beautiful brick structure (parts built in the late 1800s), also located in Lowertown, is the newly renamed ART247, a community for artists in the Western New York region.

For new owner Heather Grimmer, being surrounded by art everyday, all day, is a "dream come true."

"It's a place for creative exploration, through increased art programming and education, and an art center that offers exposure to the arts for those of all levels," Grimmer said. "The opportunity to own ART247 does not come without its challenges, but the potential, as well as the already established artistic community at the complex, is a phenomenal foundation for us to further build upon and grow."

ART247 is a four-part business: gallery, gift shop (now selling art supplies), studios (almost at full capacity) and art center. The gallery is a place for resident artists works, collections and community space. It even offers "coffee break classes" to encourage a more casual approach to art instruction. Grimmer said she hopes ART247 will introduce the community to the arts in a way that is welcoming.

"As we grow, we hope to bring in larger exhibitions and build a connectedness to regional galleries, and eventually be able to offer visiting displays of master works," she said.

One partner might be the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, more commonly known as the NACC.

What began as a challenge 15 years ago, when its grand space (a former high school) was slated for demolition, the NACC is now a regional success.

"If it wasn't for our community members having a vision of reusing the building, it would have seen a different fate. This foresight and 'can-do' attitude carries through the NACC's mission today," said Kelly Lang-Buckley, director of development and marketing at the NACC.

A member-based organization that acts as a caretaker of education and arts in the Niagara region, the NACC is a prime example and lesson on how culture and creative thinking can impact a community.

The NACC is among the largest multi-arts centers in New York and generates millions of dollars in annual local revenue, has created jobs and acts as an incubator for local art businesses, Buckley said. It currently houses more than 70 art studios offering workshops and classes, two public art galleries, three live performance theaters, a radio station, a certified sound stage for movie production, as well as multiple historic displays.

Last year, the NACC was named WNY Arts Organization of the Year for its community programming, its dedication to preserving and promoting the cultural history of the region, and promoting cultural and heritage tourism in the City of Niagara Falls.

"One of the most important lessons is not about the aesthetics of color and design, but how to envision beauty where it does not exist. It is the ability to see past reality and dream how it might be," Buckley said. "It is the knowledge that we are all artists in our own way. We can pick up the tools and create something. Even if it doesn't turn our how we planned, that's the nature of art; the nature of life."

Grimmer agreed with this mantra of how communities can be stewards and activists through art - and how, through art, local residents have the opportunity to bring positive attention to the area and their neighborhoods.

"If we have the ability to support creative thinking and thought processing, we can help foster our community to adapt, meet needs in new ways, develop and grow," Grimmer said. "There is a phenomenal arts community spanning from Lockport to Niagara Falls, and beyond from Buffalo to Rochester."

Michelle Blackley Glynn is the chief creative officer at Full Plate Publicity and adjunct instructor at Niagara University. She is also the host of "Pearls, Plates & Planes" on LCTV. Find her on Twitter at shellblackley.

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