Working Artists Lab: Cecily Brown

In the Spring of 2021, the Arts Collaboratory kicked off a Working Artist Lab in collaboration with Bortolami’s Artist/City initiative. Led by Cecily Brown, one of the most renowned painters of our time, the Lab brought together a group of exceptionally talented UB and Buffalo artists, as well as student artists from the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. Together, this diverse band of painters and storytellers created a new mural to adorn the Academy’s walls—one that will bring joy to the city of Buffalo and inspire students for years to come.

The Working Artists Lab with Cecily Brown and production of the Flight of the Chickadee mural were made possible by the generous funding support of Bortolami, NYC.

finished mural of people and shapes on building wall.
artist standing and smiling in front of a big mural.

“The big thrill is to have done something for everyone that is public and free. I want these kids and future kids to love it, and for the people who work at the school and the neighbors to feel ownership over it.”

— Cecily Brown

people walking toward the outdoor mural wall.

The Buffalo Collaborators

The mural team was comprised of a diverse group artists, storytellers, muralists, gallerists and students. Read the full team bios.

people walking toward the outdoor mural wall.

The Students

Joining Cecily and our seven Buffalo-based artists were high school visual arts majors and faculty at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.

The Site

A beautiful brick wall at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.

outside of a school building brick wall.

"This project had immeasurable benefits for our school community. Our students and teachers got the opportunity to come together and work collaboratively with a diverse group of amazing artists, and they were able to work side-by-side with world-renowned artist Cecily Brown helping to paint portions of the mural... and our school is now the site of a significant work of art!”

— Rachel Lyons, Lead Teacher, Art Department, BAVPA.

overhead view of painting with reference paintings and photos around it.

Brainstorming and Planning

The team began with virtual brainstorming sessions in April and May. Cecily arrived in early June at The Space Between, the Arts Collaboratory’s downtown incubator space. The team discussed Buffalo’s growing legacy of public art, its cultural heritage, and the rich tradition of Mexican muralists and their influence on modern painters. All of the group’s source material was on public display, and the community was invited to view.

After brainstorming, sketching, planning and creating, the team arrived at a concept. A celebration of our city’s seasons, the idea was clearly a labor of love everyone present.

The Viewing Room

The entire process of creating the mural was documented with photography and film. We’re including some of our favorite clips and pictures here, but there’s so much more to enjoy. See them all at our Viewing Room.

overhead view of painting with reference paintings and photos around it.
people on a hoist starting to paint outdoor mural.

The Mural Comes to Life

In July, 2021, the mural project reached its final stage. For six days, Cecily never stopped moving. She put everything she had up on that wall—including countless gallons of paint—and left us with a gorgeous, joyful tribute to our city. We can’t thank her enough!

The massive undertaking could never have happened without the Buffalo artists who helped conceive the mural—and contributed their time, talent and effort to its creation. And the Arts Collaboratory will always be grateful to the students of the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts and Stefania and Anna from the Bortolami Gallery in NYC for helping make our city more beautiful.

two bird shapes painted on a brick wall.

Flight of the Chickadee

The artists and storytellers found inspiration in the seasons, the native flora and fauna of the Buffalo region, and the tales of the indigenous peoples. The name of the mural comes from the Haudenosaunee creation story, in which six brave chickadees give their lives to save humankind.

“Mohawk, one of the Haudenosaunee Nations, and I really wanted people to connect with the place. With our stories, with elements from the creation story, not just for us, but of this land and of this place.”

— Collaborating Artist, Jodi Lynn Maracle

The Impact

The impact of Flight of the Chickadee will be felt for years, if not decades, to come. The experience inspired all who participated, and Buffalo gained a stunning work of public art. Every morning, rain, shine or snow, the mural will greet the students and faculty of the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts and offer a bright start to their day.

people sitting in an audience wearing masks.

“I'm glad we were able to participate in this and make our own legacy.”

— Malinda Hammonds, Student, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts

“I think it's incredibly joyful to emerge from the pandemic with a project like this that offers art for everybody, and really helps spotlight the arts in Buffalo... for someone at this level, who has an international career, to be working side-by-side with the students has a huge impact.”

— Elizabeth Larrabee, Teacher, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts

display case with artwork lined up inside.

The Gifts

Artworks from the planning and brainstorming sessions that ultimately led to the mural were gifted by Cecily Brown and the Bortolami Gallery to both the UB Art Galleries and The Albright-Knox museum.

The gift of fifteen preparatory drawings to the UB Art Galleries enhances UB’s collection and supports our mission as a teaching and research institution.

The Press