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Cori Wolff: Artistic Director, Buffalo Arts Studio

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Cori Wolff: Artistic Director, Buffalo Arts Studio

After serving as curator of the Buffalo Arts Studio for three years, Wolff was promoted to Artistic Director in October, taking over for former director Joanna Angie who founded BAS in 1990. Located in the Tri-Main building, BAS ( is a non-profit arts organization and gallery which seeks to aid working artists and the community at-large through public classes and by offering an affordable studio space. The current exhibition, Evolution | Revolution a celebration of the gallery’s twentieth anniversary runs through Dec. 23.

We live in a subjective world that demands objective answers, so how would you define “good” art?

I suppose I had this coming! Mainly, I think “good” art evokes an emotional charge in the viewer, whether of pleasure, humor, curiosity, anxiety, shame, disgust, or anger... anything but apathy. Otherwise, what is the point? It should make me want to revisit it again and again, and desire to share what I have experienced with another human being.

What is your approach towards choosing artists to exhibit?

General considerations I make when selecting an artist’s work include its conceptual strength, craftsmanship, and educational potential. We typically exhibit two or three solo shows simultaneously; while an obvious connection among the artists does not necessarily have to exist, offering subjective correlations based on complementary aesthetic and/or thematic qualities often makes for a more interesting presentation. Opening on January 7th are three solo shows featuring Chicago-based drawing/collage artist Megan Greene, Buffalo-based mixed media artist Esther Neisen, and Brooklyn-based painter Balint Zsako; my thought for these shows is to create a dynamic through common ideas such as humanism, the nature/culture divide, and the grotesque. Currently on display, Evolution | Revolution: The 20th Anniversary Exhibition (on view until December 23rd) contains new work by over seventy selected past and present resident and exhibiting artists. While each was invited to submit a work of his/her choice, for a show of this scale it seemed appropriate to arrange the space according to style and subject matter.

How long does it take for you to know whether an artist has “it”? Or rather, how do you determine that intangible quality that makes a body of work worthy of displaying?

There are artists whose work consistently blows me away, and others who create what I would call a single masterpiece but whose larger body of work really does not appeal to me. There is a certain level of trust that has to exist between a curator and artist, in that I have to be familiar enough with his/her style and tendencies to predict if I will like what he/she will produce for the show -- this can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Sometimes the exhibition is not exactly what I had in mind, and other times it far exceeds my expectations, but experimentation is critical. Visitor feedback is also important; it took me a while to accept that it is impossible for everyone to like every undertaking, which is why the most successful exhibitions to me are the ones that elicit a strong response -- positive or negative.

Do you try to feature artists or styles that fit in with a specific gallery personality (i.e. bold, provocative, classical)? If so, how would you describe Buffalo Arts Studio’s personality?

Buffalo Arts Studio is largely a community-based organization, and our policy of inclusiveness is one of the things that makes us unique. We do not have a membership; our location in the Tri-Main Center strategically borders the East and West Sides; some of our resident artists have been with us for twenty years, while others are just graduating college. We are bold and charming, classical and modern. There is something for everyone here!

From where do you receive the bulk of your submissions? Do you try to give preference to local artists?

The majority of submissions are from Western New York and New York City. We have a modest budget for travel and shipping, so we are able to incorporate two or three non-regional artists per year. Luckily, there is no shortage of local talent, though preference is given to artists who have not yet had a major solo exhibition in Buffalo. We are able to maintain balance and diversity by featuring emerging and mid-career artists working in all media from around the world.

bonus: Speaking of the local arts community, how would you describe the work that comes out of the city? Is there a Buffalo style, or voice that comes out in the art scene here?

Buffalo has a fascinating history, and the architecture obviously lends itself well to artists interested in urban decay and regeneration, but what really attracted me to the city and convinced me to stay for seven years is the feeling that you really can make a difference here. People are resourceful and supportive. Only in Buffalo will you find twelve arts organizations working together on a single exhibition, and grassroots groups such as Emerging Leaders in the Arts and The Good Neighborhood meeting regularly for social networking, artist critiques, and collaborative art projects. The city definitely exudes a do-it-yourself mentality.

bonus: Most people have heard before how our cheap rents help afford artists the ability to work in Buffalo. What else can the community do to help cultivate an atmosphere supportive of the arts?

Being politically aware and active is important, especially when it comes to supporting politicians who recognize the undeniable social and economic impact of our arts and culturals. Restoring county funding for smaller minority and community-based organizations that work to advance career opportunities for artists through education and the promotion of creativity, dialogue, and experimentation is essential. Providing positive outlets for artistic expression through murals and other public art projects is also crucial, especially for youth. On a smaller scale, shopping locally at holiday art markets and open studio events is a great way to directly support individual artists.

bonus: Now that you have officially taken over for previous director Joanna Angie, how do you plan to run BAS differently? Any new goals or objectives for the upcoming year?

My main goal is to continue and expand upon the many wonderful things Joanna has built: a highly reputable exhibition program, desirable subsidized studio spaces, professional development workshops for artists, art classes for youth and adults, the Project CREATE Mural Program, and the Jump Start Mentorship Program. Objectives for the upcoming year include re-branding, increasing our visibility, and continuing to build our audience base through community outreach and collaborations with organizations such as the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 464 Gallery, Buffalo International Film Festival, and Deaf Adult Services. Currently, we are working closely with Buffalo Public Schools on an innovative art trailer project that will service over 200 students per day through educational mobile exhibitions.

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