How Will The New Albright-Know Be Received By Buffalo’s Working Class

Bloomberg had an article about the renovated Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY, now rebranded Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Prior to the renovation, the director said people would frequently tell him the museum was meant for the elites.  The post-renovation goal is to have the working class residents of the city feel comfortable visiting the space.

It was interesting to read that the director was insistent that the town square plaza not become a lobby. There will be play areas with Legos rather than admission desks and coat checks. They also looked at 12 other cold climate cities and took inspiration from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s glass enclosed atrium to design a glass enclosed space that  will act “…as a kind of snow collector when it’s cold enough and a place to watch the rain pour down when it’s not.” They engaged the community in focus groups to get ideas about how the space should be used when the museum opens again.

I was a little concerned about how well-thought out their efforts at connecting with the working class might turn out when I read that recent programming included a gamelan and Wayang puppetry dance. But in fact, Buffalo is apparently a center of gamelan and other Indonesian arts.

The crystal sculptural elements of the Town Square space are also a favored space for selfies:

Visitors gravitated to the base of “Common Sky,” and few resisted the urge to open up the cameras on their smartphones after looking up at the mirrored panels along what is now Buffalo’s hottest selfie spot. Giving it a run for its money is Lucas Samaras’s “Mirrored Room” (1966), one of the museum’s most beloved, aptly named pieces, which has been fully restored and given pride of place in a new (free) gallery space all to itself in the Knox Building.

The Bloomberg article acknowledged some of the troubles that the museum world in general is facing by wondering aloud if this public gathering space may provide a convenient locale for protests:

Buffalo is deeply segregated by race and class, while its destination art museum is run by a nonprofit institution dependent on the support of the region’s elites. How will the museum react if a protest of a board member takes place inside Town Square? Or a rally in support of staff unionization?

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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