Established by not-for-profit architecture collective Terrains Vagues, ARTFARMS was created to address the post-industrial decline in population in Buffalo’s East Side and to develop innovative ways of attracting residents and businesses back to the area. Since the exodus of residents from the East Side of Buffalo, many vacant lots have been turned into farmland for growing fruit and vegetables. However, most of the land is contaminated and cannot be used for food production. ARTFARMS invited artists to work alongside farmers to create works that addressed individual farmers’ needs to develop their gardens.
Terrains Vagues aims to change the perception of the East Side of Buffalo, and create a more positive atmosphere. ARTFARMS employs local artists from the Buffalo area to ensure an ongoing level of community investment and participation in the project. The first iteration of the project worked with three farms on five locations around the East Side of Buffalo.
Aesthetic/Visual: For artists to work in consultation with local farmers to create artworks that respond to the urban farm and offer purpose to the farmer. Each work takes on a different aesthetic depending on the farmer’s needs.
Innovation/Risk: To combine architecture, design, art and agriculture to address social and economic downturn in an urban environment. Terrains Vagues approaches the project with the intention of meaningful and relevant place-making: the group is aiming to address local issues and employ Buffalo residents to be actively involved in redefining their city. Architect David Lagé was inspired by an urban renewal project he visited in Germany. He recalls, “I saw something over there that reminded me of Buffalo. It was a huge landscape problem and they resolved it by coming up with a concept that really emerged from the landscape problem itself. They turned the biggest liability into the most defining asset”.
Audience Engagement: To engage the community in a meaningful and useful way that provides long-term economic infrastructure and opportunities. The long-term goal is to create a network of ARTFARMS that people will visit.
Social Inclusion: By pairing local artists with farmers, Terrains Vagues aims to create art projects that are relevant to the community, address existing problems the farmers are facing, and are relatable and helpful to the local community. The collective does this by working exclusively with local artists to encourage genuine responses and connection to the Buffalo area. David Lagé states, “I would never go outside of Buffalo to find the artists because we’re trying to make a place within Buffalo that somehow is specific and authentic to the location”.
Community Development: The project aims to create partnerships between ARTFARMS and local not-for-profit organisations to establish long-term success in the renewal project. One organisation has existing programs including a food pantry and meal kitchen where disadvantaged people can receive hot meals, and vocational training for homeless men. They also own numerous empty lots around the city that are being transformed into ARTFARMS sites to immediately help the organisation. Through these partnerships, Terrains Vagues aims to provide a support network that can help promote and encourage other urban farms.
After the recession started in the United States, Terrains Vagues noticed that in Buffalo there were many young adults finishing college without job prospects, who were interested in urban agriculture. Starting a farm is difficult if you did not already have the resources, so Terrains Vagues provides support for new farmers to build up their businesses. Terrains Vagues has partnered with Cornell University’s Agricultural School to provide technical expertise to people who are new to urban farming.
Terrains Vagues aims to eventually handover the curation of ARTFARMS to a Buffalo-based arts worker who understands the local art scene. One possibility for future ARTFARMS commissions is to hold a competition to select artists. With the first round of artists, Terrains Vagues aims to represent a cross-section of the local Buffalo art community.
Place and Identity/Tourism: To create an authentic experience for the area on a tourism level. David Lagé states, “people travel and they really want to have a sense of what’s going on in the place they’re visiting”. Whilst addressing local economic concerns, Terrains Vagues wants to transform Buffalo into a destination for visitors interested in eco-art. They also see ARTFARMS as a unique approach to urban renewal that will redefine the area.
Attracting Investment/Jobs: One of Terrains Vagues’ future plans for ARTFARMS is to create a real estate foundation that will enable the organisation to purchase additional land to build more ARTFARMS.
ARTFARMS is self-initiated by Terrains Vagues. After spending considerable time in Buffalo, David Lagé identified a landscape problem relating to the increasing number of and demand for urban farms in the area. At the time of interview, Terrains Vagues was concluding its concept phase of artwork proposals, commencing a development phase, and waiting on responses to funding applications.
Some external constraints on the project arose in preliminary discussions with the Buffalo Planning Board and the Buffalo Arts Commission to seek all necessary approvals. The Arts Commission fully approved the initial plans. However, although the Planning Board supported the project in theory, it required additional detail about the individual ARTFARMS in order to proceed with approvals.
The Buffalo local government is introducing a Green Code in 2013 to replace the older planning code. The new Green Code implements new strategies to redirect the future of Buffalo and assist addressing the city’s key issues of renewal, sustainability and growth. The Green Code is more open and adaptive than the previous code and will benefit the development of projects such as ARTFARMS.
It is important for the integrity of the project to include artists that represent all aspects of Buffalo’s population. Terrains Vagues did not receive a particularly diverse response to its first call-out and has taken measures to attract more minority artists in the second round. The decision to select only local artists to participate in the projects is intended to generate a positive outcome for the community, however the objective prohibits potential collaborations with artists that do not meet this criterion, and thus limits the resources available to the project.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
At time of writing, all of the initial ARTFARMS projects were still in development and had not been constructed. Terrains Vagues encourages artists to source local materials, however the decision ultimately rests with each artist.
Lagé, David. Interview by author, November 22, 2012.
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