Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper received funding for a community mural at Smith Street, near the entrance to Red Jacket Riverfront Natural Habitat Park in the City of Buffalo, Erie County, New York. The mural was painted on one of the abutments of a deconstructed bridge owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA).
As the Buffalo River continues to recover, Red Jacket Riverfront Park is regularly used by the community and provides visitors with the opportunity to be surrounded by natural beauty in the heart of the city. Our recent Buffalo Blueway project has made the park even more accessible with new benches and an enhanced kayak launch. Evidence of Buffalo’s rich industrial history is visible from the park entrance, where visitors can see two rail bridges as well as the Concrete Central Grain Elevator.
The entrance bridge to the park had previously been disconnected and what remains are the abutments, the canvas for the mural. After putting out a call for artists, we picked Emma Brittain to paint the mural. She started in the summer and finished at the end of August.
“We’re here to celebrate this amazing project, and amazing artist Emma Brittain, who really pulled off a beautiful enhancement to the park and new addition to this community space,” Claudia Rosen, a project manager at Waterkeeper, said.
Some of the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper staff involved in organizing the project include Rosen, Senior Program Manager Katherine Winkler and Legal Director Margaux Valenti. Waterkeeper obtained the grant funding to cover the costs and helped organize volunteers to scrape and paint primer on the wall so Brittain could get started.
Rosen talked about how Red Jacket Park is “one of the best places to see wildlife. I love to come here to find birds, people are always fishing when I’m here.”
Over the years, the former railroad abutment murals at the entrance to the park faded and were covered in graffiti. Efforts were made to have a new mural added to show the revitalization of the park and community. The park is part of the Buffalo Blueway along the Buffalo River, having enhancements made for a kayak launch, parking and walking trails. Maintaining the park falls in line with Waterkeeper’s goal to deepen the connections between people and the waterways near their communities.
“Waterkeeper has been doing lots of work along the Buffalo River for 30 years, from habitat restoration and public access points,” Rosen said. “Our goal is to inspire stewardship. When we feel connected to our community spaces, when we feel connected to nature, we’re more likely to be good stewards of that space.”
When Brittain saw the call for artists, she knew she wanted to be involved as she has a love for wildlife and conservation. Her theme focused on that love as well as the idea of revitalization in the region. The river otter is a prime feature of the new mural, and the idea came when she was walking at Tifft Nature Preserve and saw an otter swimming in the water. She captured video of it, and after talking to locals she learned it was an important moment to see one here. The river otter population was decimated in the local region decades ago, and only recently has the population started to increase.
“It’s a testament to all the work people are doing, whether it’s Waterkeeper or other organizations, to revitalize our waterways and take care of what we have here,” Brittain said. “I want to title this ‘Hopeful Currents.’ I think of hope when I see the otters. We hear a lot of doom and gloom about the environment, but there are so many things we can be doing and sill appreciating all that is happening in our waterways.”
This project was made possible with funds from the Expanding Access to Arts Funding in WNY, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Cullen Foundation.