BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Wall of Freedom stands like a welcoming gateway in Buffalo’s African American Heritage Corridor.
“You’re trying to portray the story of a person and their history and how they’ve affected the community around them, so it’s really been meaningful to know that we get to represent these people,” said artist Julia Bottoms-Douglas.
Bottoms-Douglas is one of four artists who painted portraits of community leaders and civil rights leaders line East Ferry and Michigan Avenue.
It’s a tribute their legacy.
George Arthur, a politician who held several different offices, attended Saturday’s debut to see his own legacy reflected in art.
“I hope it’s one of caring," he said. "When I was in office, my whole thing was that we wanted to take care of the people that came into the office and the citizens of the City of Buffalo.”
Arthur’s history-changing political career focused on equality in housing and education. He was also the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that ended segregation in Buffalo schools.
Eva Doyle, painted by Bottoms-Douglas, is also a living portrait. A historian and lecturer on African American history, Doyle has dedicated time and resources to encourage and help young students of color.
“She stops by all the time," Bottoms-Douglas said. "I get to see her, and just knowing that we get to honor some folks that are still with us that have had an impact on the community…that’s a really cool feeling for me, too, to know that she’s here and she can appreciate it, and we can appreciate her."
The Freedom Wall is Albright-Knox’s latest public art initiative. An important aspect of every art project is getting community input so that the finished product resonates with the neighborhood.
Artist Edreys Wajed felt the mural’s location was key.
“It’s very close to a line that’s been dividing our city. Main Street, you know? Main Street has two different tales on both sides, so that also creates a larger conversation as well, so it’s the perfect place,” he said.
John Baker, yet another mural artist, is proud of the group effort.
“It’s inclusive," he said. "It recognizes the whole community, and it symbolizes what the art institutions can do if they include members of the community in the process and the access to the project."
Arthur hopes it helps teaches younger generations about those who paved the path before them.
“It’s something that not only will my granddaughter see, but hopefully, my great, great grandchildren will see,” Arthur said.
The final panel of the mural includes a list of about 300 names. Albright-Knox’s curator of public art said since there is just not enough room for a portrait of everyone, the list recognizes all the people who were considered because of their positive impact.