Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center is a non-profit organization in Buffalo, New York, that shows the work of artists of diverse backgrounds in film, video, literature, music, performance, media and visual arts. The institution offers the public programs and exhibitions that focus on such themes as gender, race, popular culture, consumerism, and sexual identity. The ideology behind Hallwalls has always been one of a cooperative of artists. Programs have included artists in different mediums, who work together to present exhibitions that touch on similar themes.
Past examples include the collaboration between the performance artists Gary Nickard and Reinhard Reitzenstein with the Buffalo-based post-punk band The Vores in Monsters of Nature Design; representations of the John F. Kennedy assassination by Ant Farm and T.R. Uthco’s 1975 film The Eternal Frame with the photographer, sculptor, painter and video artist Eric M. Jensen in Parallax Views; the 2008 exhibition series The Imaginary Line featuring the Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Ursula Biemann, Jim Finn; and a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Love Canal by Fereshteh Toosi.
The biennial festival Ways In Being Gay: Ways in Between Gender started in 1988 by the then Hallwalls performance curator Ron Ehmke, celebrated its 20th year in 2008. The year-long celebration began with Derek Jarman’s final film Blue.
The annual literary festival, Babel, which Hallwalls co-sponsors, featured a reading by Michael Ondaatje, the winner of the 1992 Man Booker Prize for The English Patient, in 2008. Hallwalls also collaborates with other non-profit organizations in Western New York. Since 1986, ARTGREASE, both Hallwalls' and Squeaky Wheel's shared timeslot on Buffalo Public-access television cable TV, Channel 20, has given the institution a chance to serve the community with its half-hour television program, Artwaves. Hallwalls also co-sponsors, along with organizations Just Buffalo Literary Center, Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of WNY, and Compass House, Spotlight on Youth, an open-mic poetry program dedicated to young poets and artists in Buffalo.
The gallery has also made it a mission to show work that directly shows Buffalo’s fading industrial past, with exhibitions such as Jesse Webber’s You Can’t Smoke in Here, Mr. Corbusier, You’ll Burn This Mother Down, featuring silkscreen prints of photographs of several grain elevators taken by Herd and Hilla Becher, who are husband and wife.
Hallwalls was established by Charles Clough, Robert Longo, Diane Bertolo, Nancy Dwyer, Larry Lundy, Cindy Sherman and Michael Zwack in 1974 in a converted ice packing warehouse, the Essex Art Center, which had been converted into studios for artists. The focus of Hallwalls since its inception has been to produce a space that will accommodate artists from diverse backgrounds. Works from varying mediums, which include film, video, performance art, music, painting, photography, and sculpture, have come together since the beginning, to confront the prevailing social issues of contemporary culture.
In the 1980s, Hallwalls moved to 700 Main Street. During this time, the curators found it increasingly difficult to counterbalance the initial intentions of the founders, which were to create a space where artists could freely show works that were not creations sponsored or funded by corporate interests, and grow as an arts institution that could serve the largest possible audience. Funding increases allowed for a larger gallery space in the 700 Main Street complex, as well as opportunities for more artists to show their work in the gallery, but required the input and compensation of more staff and organizers.
Funding has been a consistent issue, but Hallwalls has been able to survive. Despite severe cuts in the 1990s, Hallwalls has remained a strong presence in the Western New York community. In January 2006, Hallwalls moved into its new home, which it shares with Righteous Babe Records, at 341 Delaware Ave., in a former Asbury Methodist Church, purchased by Ani DiFranco.
A catalog of some of the films shown at Hallwalls are archived at The Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo.
Some of the performers who have performed at Hallwalls include: Kathy Acker, Glenn Branca, Fifth Column, The Kipper Kids, Ann Magnuson, Christian Marclay, Harvey Pekar, Richard Serra and Karen Finley.
- The Buffalo News "Spotlight on Youth: Teens offer poetry, music and more at open mic." Binder, Galia. September 24, 2008.
- The Buffalo News "Hallwalls exhibits focus on ravages of decay, the distance between us." Dabkowski,Colin. November 21, 2008
- Consider The Alternatives: 20 Years of Contemporary Art At Hallwalls. Ehmke, Ronald, Licata Elizabeth. Hallwalls,Inc. 1996
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