#34. Kelly Atkinson
Tell us a little about you and how you came to be in Buffalo.
“I’m originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago and came to Buffalo via, most recently, Edmonton, Canada – putting me amongst the few who moved here for better winters! My husband, John, is a professor of environmental engineering, so between his job and a previous of mine, we’ve moved a number of times. The cornfields of Illinois was his PhD and way up in Canada was the postdoc, after which three cross-country opportunities arose for faculty positions. We chose the city with four seasons. And it was as simple as that.”
“Loving Buffalo, this city we happened upon – and I admit originally thinking was a short drive from NYC – has been pure serendipity. …all the way down to ending up owning a home on the same block as the airbnb we’d stayed at on our very first visit.”
What is GWC and How did GWC start and what role did you play?
“Green Window City is a neighborhood project that features upcycled materials turned into artwork. Its premise is threefold: to shop-support-and-green local. And I suppose it came about because of the move(s).”
“Shortly after moving to Canada, we went to an event called Timeraiser, a showcase of local art and volunteer opportunities. The organization would buy artwork from twenty or so regional artists and silent auction it for volunteer hours. It’s such a smart event that I’d love to see (start? 🙂 in Buffalo!”
“So you’d begin the evening checking out non-profits’ booths – everything from the Humane Society to the Boys & Girls Club – and then after perusing time, bidding opened. I won a print by Leanne Olson called ‘A Lake that Once Was,’ which, come to think of it, interestingly fits into how this all went. The next week, I began volunteering for my hundred-hour commitment with the City of Edmonton’s Reuse Centre, which is this amazing division of the waste management department. Basically, the facility encourages residents to drop off reusable items for others to purchase and repurpose. So we’re talking milk jug caps, paper towel tubes, tissue paper, not clothing nor building materials taken by other organizations. Teachers and artists as the most common ‘customers’. The weight of these items is counted toward citywide waste diversion goals, taking on the process one step before recycling, where it’s traditionally tackled. The program is super aspirational and is just such a paragon for sustainable community building.”
“I volunteered as a workshop leader and project designer. A few times a week, I’d put together an activity for a classroom or group that requested a project and head over to their space with all the necessary materials from the Reuse Centre. Once it was egg crates and remnant paint for kindergarteners to craft caterpillars, another time a women’s group and I dove through buckets of buttons to monogram old canvas, and my favorite was bringing crates of options from every category we had to events for kids to just go crazy and create whatever they’d dream up!”
“Somewhere between all of this creativity with what otherwise would’ve gone to the bin and honestly, just wanting more to do, Green Window City came to be. I lived in a neighborhood similar to Allentown: walkable with small shops and artistic vibes. Getting local artists and business owners together to work with the reuse materials we had in abundance at the Centre just kind of clicked. And encouraging citizens to reconsider waste in a fun, applicable way had measurable results with their program. So for Earth Day, I asked businesses if artwork could be shown in their windows, then asked artists if they would create pieces from junk, and we did it!”
“…with pretty great success, truthfully. The businesses really put a lot of faith in their partnered artist; trusting their shopfront to something outside the norm. And the artists worked so hard to build these stunning creations, that for some, were completely outside their usual skillset. The project was even awarded a seed grant to provide the artists with small honorariums. It’s a beautiful (literally, in this case) testament to the power of community and what we can build by collaborating.”
“So after moving to Buffalo and similarly wanting to get immersed in the city, I jumped into GWC again. This year we’re showing with over twenty locations in Allentown plus a few satellite spots representing their neighborhoods. The works show from Earth Day through May 6th, culminating with Allentown’s May First Friday event, “Art and the City.” I’m pretty excited to see the range of styles at so many cool sites and hope they encourage people to rethink junk.”
What else are you working on or involved with here in Buffalo?
“CreativeMornings is the front runner these days; it’s a community event that the lovely Beth Insalaco and I are organizing with a team of awesome creatives. On the second Friday of every month, we are one of 140 cities in the network to host a free breakfast and speaker to share their story related to creativity on a rotating theme. Our aim is to better connect, intersect, and celebrate our striking, but at-times fragmented, creative community. We hope it’ll serve as an environment for mindful people of diverse disciplines to gather and grow together, sharing with each other and in turn, with other cities. Plus, free coffee, duh.”
You’re helping out in lots of ways with Yeah! Buffalo. What is it that you enjoy about the project?
“Yeah! Buffalo is everything I love about Buffalo. …from the interviewees (to the interviewers) to the drive for the project itself. It’s hope, and opportunity, all the good, but also how it got good. And I know I’m still the new-ish kid in town, but this is how Buffalo feels! Y!B invites us look at what we’ve got to work with, and where we’re going by highlighting what’s good – I love that positive approach.”
What would you say is your biggest area of need in the things you are involved with?
“We always need help spreading the word to increase involvement, even partnerships. These are passion projects that I’m incredibly lucky to have to opportunity to pursue. So it’s sometimes tough to ask for help on something that doesn’t seem direly necessary, but starts just maybe as fun? I guess though, positive experiences are part of community building. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from moving all over, it’s the importance of finding community.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“Being a nerd is going to be cool in about a decade; ride it out, kiddo. But also, get to Buffalo asap. The city is alive and full of people you want to be like and be around.”