By Jay Rey
Published March 4, 2020|Updated March 4, 2020
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is closed for the next two years for a major expansion. But across the street, its museum neighbor has other plans.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State is renewing its emphasis on educational programming for students and their families with the announcement of two gifts totaling more than $1 million.
The first is a $750,000 gift from the KeyBank/First Niagara Foundation, under the condition that an additional $250,000 be raised by the museum from other sources. The money will establish a $1 million endowment to support arts education at the museum on Elmwood Avenue.
The second is a $225,000 grant from the Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation. That money will pay for physical improvements at the center, which include doubling the size of the room set aside for education and for creative space for students and their families.
“If you want to have a future audience, we need to be accessible to families, we need to get school groups in here, we need to make sure that we’re building future generations of museumgoers,” said Dennis Kois, executive director of the Burchfield Penney.
The two donations combined are the largest gifts to the museum since it opened in 2008.
“These gifts – combined with the Burchfield Penney’s renewed commitment to educational and family programming – will create many wonderful opportunities for our region’s families and children to engage with and learn from the diverse perspectives of Western New York’s vibrant artists and their extraordinary work,” Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner said in a prepared statement.
The center, for example, recently launched family day events, the second of which offered $5 admission to families and drew nearly 800 visitors.
Burchfield Penny also welcomes about 10,000 students a year from area schools, but Kois projects a 50% increase this year due largely to a bigger partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools.
Kois also anticipates that the temporary closure of the Albright-Knox, which is undergoing a $165 million expansion, will bring more visitors to the Burchfield Penney.
The art center has added more educational staff and volunteers, along with its new initiatives. “This is all part of a strategy to make sure we’re in position to do the most we can for the community while that closure is in place,” Kois said, referring to the Albright-Knox.
“We’re community arts, they’re highly professionalized international arts,” Kois said. “Ultimately, what we want to do is use those two years to make sure people understand what’s here and how you need both kinds of arts institutions in the community to be healthy and successful.”
Charles Burchfield emerged (as President Lyndon Johnson eulogized him) as an "artist to America," due to the clear-eyed landscapes of his early watercolors to the transcendental interpretations of nature embodied in his later paintings.