p.22The large unfinished painting on theside of an abandoned building at thecorner of Grant and Amherst Streets is a way to tie upa loose end or two. It may not seem so right now, be-cause it’s still in its early rough stages, but Marcus Wiseand Marissa Lehner are hoping to plant something thatwill remind Black Rock residents of their neighbor-hood’s history. Wise and Lehner met through Emerging Leaders in the Arts Buffalo, the local chapter of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders network, which seeks to cre-ate connections between artists, arts managers andarts patrons. The two began to brainstorm a public arts project to reflect the revival that the neighborhood isgoing through.New businesses are slated to open on Amherst Streetthis year, adding to the neighborhood’s already busyroster of galleries, recording spaces, eateries and photo studios. Wise owns 464 Gallery and is also a member of theGrant-Amherst Business Association.“We’re really working on turning this neighborhoodaround,” Wise says. “Our mural has turned a major in-tersection that was a major blight in our neighborhoodinto a focal point for progress.”Lehner is a K-12 arts educator who took the reigns. Sheand Wise collaborated on the idea of a public pieceof art, and after he showed her the vacant wall, ideasflowed. She helped develop the design with the Grant- Amherst Business Association, held open meetings toincorporate members of the community and beganlaying down the base of the mural herself.The mural so far is a rough sketch of a tree with for-midable roots reaching down into layers of foundation,the thickest layer being black rock itself. The outcrop- ping of black limestone that the area was named forwas blasted away in the 1820s to make room for theterminus of the Erie Canal. Eventually it was decidedthat the canal would be built in Buffalo, which was at thetime a separate municipality from Black Rock.“There’s so much history in the area and I wanted tothink of a way to kind of metaphorically represent that. Ididn’t want it to be really literal,” says Lehner.Black Rock is looking somewhat grey today. While itstill retains several well-preserved buildings that hear-ken back to glory days, many store fronts are closed,empty lots are a common sight and many main streetsare in need of repair. Even as new businesses prepareto move in, they’re sticking to the Amherst Street thor-oughfare while other central streets in the neighbor-hood still consist of rows of businesses closed long ago.
BY ANN MARIE AWAD
p h o t o s b y s t e v e s o r o k a