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‘Activators’ of Mass Appeal: Meet Montour, Cornwell and Ghirmatzion

blog by Erin Scherer  • 

Mass Appeal, the Elmwood Village Association’s signature fashion show fundraiser, was inspired this year by the activation that has sprung up in the Elmwood Village community led by several individuals.

This week, I spoke with Alex Cornwell and Jim Montour, founders of Community Canvases, and Rahwa Ghirmatzion, executive director of Ujima Theatre and development director of PUSH Buffalo.

If you missed the first installment of Mass Appeal’s Activators, you can read interviews with Sue Morreale and Ward Pinkel here.

Much like the mission of Mass Appeal, Cornwell and Montour—pictured right—aim to get people more engaged with their surroundings and to celebrate what it means to live in the Elmwood Village.

“Community Canvases was founded by Jim and I as a response to a lack of public art within the City of Buffalo. We wanted to see ordinary and unsightly surfaces turned into pieces of art that reflected the community and added to the unique cultural identity of each neighborhood,” says Cornwell.

Elmwood Village frequenters have probably seen the traffic signal boxes in the Elmwood Village painted by local artists—the image below, left is a photo taken by Tom McNulty of Elyssa Harper’s artwork.

When asked how they got involved with the Elmwood Village, Montour responded, “For a neighborhood that is considered one of the most walkable in the country, it was a no-brainer to add public art over the whole stretch of the Village.” 

A grant from Buffalo Common Council representatives Michael LoCurto and David Rivera, along with help from Carly Battin and Jeff Amplement at the Elmwood Village Association, made the project happen.

“Elmwood is an exciting and diverse neighborhood, and we were thrilled to be able to let folks show what it means to them through their art,” says Cornwell.

Cornwell and Montour will be expanding their efforts to Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo, Niagara Falls and more projects in the Elmwood Village next spring.

If you want to get more involved with making a change in your own community, you can look to other cities for inspiration.

“We spoke with groups in Rochester, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Chicago who had used public art as a tool to deter graffiti vandalism, and we researched projects around the world that have creatively used the public space,” Montour explained.  “Painting signal boxes with original artwork seemed like a good first project for us and a great way to introduce our message to the community.”

Next up, I spoke with Rahwa Ghirmatzion.

“Buffalo is in the midst of a renaissance; this is not up for discussion, it’s going down as we speak,”says Ghirmatzion.

Ghirmatzion is actively involved in this renaissance, as executive director of Ujima Theatre Company and as development director at PUSH Buffalo. 

Ujima Company, which has called Elmwood Village home for over 30 years, is proud to be included in the village’s culture, which includes the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Karpeles Manuscript Museum.

“Theater gives us the opportunity through performance and storytelling for meaningful reflection and dialogue around complex issues that we face at the local level and abroad,” says Ghirmatzion.

“From waterfront development to community development, now is the time to get involved,” adds Ghirmatzion, connecting urban momentum with a call to action.

She then rattles off over a dozen organizations, including Young Audiences of Western New York, the WASH Project, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers and Go Bike Buffalo.

“Pick any issue and there is a wonderful organization that is working on it and would be happy to have you, as long as you are hard working, reliable, and have a skill to offer,” she concludes.

You can spot these community influencers on the runway at Mass Appeal on Nov. 23.

Ghirmatzion will be modeling pieces from Turnstyle Designs while Cornwell and Montour will be wearing original designs by Buffalo Made Co.

Mass Appeal is a showcase for the vibrancy and creativity of the Elmwood Village community. The event will feature the best local boutiques, designers and artists with the primary goal to promote supporting locally owned businesses in our community. Pre-party doors open at 6:00 p.m., with the fashion show starting at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are now available for purchase online. General admission seats are $35, VIP tickets are $125 and include preferred seating and admission to an exclusive lounge. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets early, as the event sells out quickly.

TAGGED: alex cornwell, community canvases, elmwood village, erin scherer, interviews, jim montour, mass appeal, push buffalo, rahwa ghirmatzion, ujima theatre

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