Building a Sustainable Arts Infrastructure for Buffalo and Beyond

Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 3:15 pm
With Bronwyn Keenan and Michael Mwenso / UB Arts Collaboratory

Covid-19 had a sudden and profound impact on the arts. Lost revenue resulted in permanent closures of arts and cultural organizations–estimated at one third worldwide. The Brookings Institution estimates losses of $150bn in creative industry revenue and calls for more federal support for cultural workers. As that support has yet to be forthcoming it begs the question: how, as a community, can we confront these challenges and together build a sustainable model for creative people and cultural organizations in Western New York?

Bronwyn Keenan will share some of her work to date in shaping a durable arts infrastructure to support, promote and sustain the work of Buffalo’s artists. The Buffalo Arts Calendar is one first step towards addressing this need, though there is much remaining to do as we together reimagine the creative industry.

An important collaborator of the Arts Collaboratory will also join the conversation. Bandleader and impresario, Michael Mwenso, will share his impressions as a newly minted member of the Buffalo arts community, as well as his thoughts on his UB curriculum, Protest, Hope and Resilience through the Black Arts, as part of the Collaboratory’s Working Artists Lab. The Lab is a collaboration with the departments of Music and Theatre and Dance, and functions as an experimental workspace for UB students in the arts, faculty, Buffalo community and visiting artists to develop new work and collaborate across disciplines, thereby illuminating the process of becoming a working artist.

Bronwyn Keenan
Bronwyn Keenan became Director of the Arts Collaboratory in January of 2019 after having been involved in the arts for more than 25 years. Starting her career at Christie’s auction house in New York City, she went on to open and manage her own namesake gallery for a decade. From 2006 to 2018, she directed events and special projects at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she initiated and produced site-specific programs and collaborations with multidisciplinary artists and led major fundraising initiatives including the Guggenheim International Gala and the Met Gala.

Michael Mwenso
Michael Mwenso was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone but spent his teenage years hanging out at the legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott’s in London where he was exposed to musicians such as Benny Carter, Elvin Jones, Ray Brown and Billy Higgins. In his youth, Mwenso started honing his talents as a trombonist, singer and performer playing in jump bands, reggae and Afrobeat horn sections and at hard-bop sessions. Mwenso’s talent as a performer caught the attention of many, which subsequently lead him to meet James Brown who allotted space for him to sing and dance at his London shows.

In 2012, friend and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis brought Mwenso to New York City to serve as curator and programming associate at Jazz at Lincoln Center where he also booked nightly sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Over the next few years, Mwenso booked and performed with the likes of Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jon Batiste, Aaron Diehl, Sullivan Fortner and Jamison Ross.

Through these performances at Dizzy’s, Mwenso began to collaborate with a wide variety of Julliard trained musicians, which soon became known as The Shakes. These unique group of global artists present music that merges entertainment and artistry with a formidable timeline of jazz and blues through African and Afro American music. Taking from the styling of Fats Waller, Muddy Waters, James Brown and many other American musical legends.

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