April 7, 2002

 
 
 
 

Buffalo, City of Lousy Art
Common Council endorses "The Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents"
 

Why arts education courses should be reinstated in all Buffalo public, private and parochial schools

It used to be just the bad Larry Griffis sculptures that Jimmy Griffin loved that would suddenly be plopped somewhere in the city and could almost never be got rid of. Like Griffis's huge and clotted "Birds Startled into Flight," that abomination on the mall opposite Buffalo Seminary: all the cramped birds look like they're about to have head-on collisions. Or the pieces scattered through Delaware Park, several of which were happily lost when they put the sewer line through there several years back. Or the skinny silliness off the 198 just before the Delaware exit of what appears to be a female figure holding up a large hoop, a figure one friend of mine tells visitors to town is named "Virgin Pondering her Diaphragm."

Then it was the recent decision of the Common Council to tax Shakespeare in Delaware Park and other cultural events the same as weddings, corporate picnics, bar mitzvahs, retirement parties, political fundraisers and other private celebrations. Their apparent logic was that all organizations are created equal and there's no difference between organizations doing something in public and organizations doing something for the public.

And now the Common Council has, by a vote of 13 to zip, endorsed the idea of a 700-foot high anti-abortion pagoda in Lake Erie.

I know: the developers call it an "arch." But calling something an arch doesn't make it an arch any more than saying "it's pretty to look at" makes something that is truly ugly pretty to look at. Words have their limits. Arches are curved; pagoda gates are square.Their drawing shows something with square corners, like a pagoda gate.

All the news that's fit to hide

I wouldn't have known about this most recent bit of foolishness had it not been for a prominent article about it in Sunday morning's edition of my fellow-editor Joe Iluzzi's  illuziletter.com. I had already read Sunday morning's Buffalo News and hadn't seen a thing about this momentous action. I went downstairs and gave the paper a quick skim: still nothing.

Back to Joe's page, which provided a link to the web site of the people raising money for this goliath-of-the-harbor. That page leads, "The Buffalo News, in an article headlined 'Pro-Life Shrine wins support,' reported on April 3..."

Maybe there are different editions of the Buffalo News for Pro-Life and Pro-Choice households. Brian Meyer's article on the Common Council on page B-1 in my copy of the News for April 3 is headlined "Common Council: Studies of merger, tax amnesty win approval." That article is 23 paragraphs long. It didn't mention the pagoda gate until the final paragraph:

The Council went on record as "approving the efforts" of a local group that hopes to build a pro-life shrine at a yet-to-be-determined site on the city's waterfront. Lawmakers adopted a bill sponsored by Fisher that contends the proposed Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents would "attract pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the continent and world."
My interpretation of that is, the editors at the Buffalo News thought it was their responsibility to tell you what the Common Council did, but they whispered it in the hope nobody would notice. It was an act of civic virtue: can you imagine the reactions of people in other cities if they knew Buffalo's lawmakers spent their time doing things like this?

What Buffalo's lawmakers did

The Shrine fundraisers' page included the full text of the unanimously-approved resolution, which had been drafted and proposed by Charley Fisher:

RESOLUTION
INTRODUCED BY COUNCILMAN CHARLEY FISHER

WHEREAS, the City of Buffalo is proud of the diverse cultural and religious heritages  of its residents, and desires both to respect and also to encourage the free expression  of time-honored religious sentiments, believing, together with America’s Founding  Fathers and its leaders throughout history, that the good of society depends in part  upon the vitality of its religious institutions; and,

WHEREAS, the Association for the Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary  and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents, a non-profit corporation founded by  leaders of Buffalo’s professional and lay Catholic community, has proposed to  construct a monumental shrine in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic faith, which is  the religious heritage of the majority of the residents of Buffalo; and

WHEREAS, the proposed shrine would also encourage increased respect for human  life, including prior to the birth of the individual, a value much needed in the present  day notwithstanding that there are differing opinions on the issue of  “pro-life” versus  “pro-choice”; and

WHEREAS, the proposed shrine would attract pilgrims and tourists from all parts of  the continent and the world, and may reasonably be expected to contribute  immeasurably to the revitalization of the area economy, while also furthering the  important objective of usefully developing the Buffalo waterfront, and the Outer  Harbor in particular; and

WHEREAS, the Association has pledged its cooperation with City officials and civic  leaders, toward ensuring that the shrine is built according to high standards of  architectural beauty and integrity, so as to fittingly complement and enhance the City’s  skyline, and add to Buffalo’s treasure of renowned architectural attractions; be it now  therefore hereby

RESOLVED, that the Common Council of the City of Buffalo approves and supports  the efforts of the Association for the Arch of Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of  Mary and International Shrine of the Holy Innocents, Inc.

PASSED UNANIMOUSLY 13-0, APRIL 2, 2002

I know Charley Fisher and I like him. He's a smart guy and he really cares about the city. Most of those people on the Council are a lot smarter than they're often given credit for and just about all of them really care about the city.

So how can a group of caring, mostly-smart people collectively generate a resolution as stupid and bigoted as this?

How can it turn the city into the sponsor of a private organization pushing a single religious organization's goal? An organization that says a $100 donation "may be indelibly inscribed on the Golden Arch of Mary's Triumph!" and a $1000 donation will earn "a beautiful signed certificate of recognition"? Dare one ask who or what signs the thousand-dollar certificate? Did the Common Council members voting for Charley's resolution ask?

Why the waterfront is a disaster area

Do the Common Council members really believe that this shrine would be a huge tourist draw, that Buffalo would become a Pro-Life mecca with, perhaps, enough pilgrims to put even the current convention center on a paying basis? If so, it gets easier to understand why year after year nothing sane is done to develop the waterfront, the city's principal physical asset.

If a group of private citizens or a religious organization wants to put up a monument to anything and sell beautiful signed certificates of recognition for $1000, they have every right to attempt it. And, presuming they raise the funds to build and maintain it and it doesn't infringe on anyone else's property or rights or common decency or zoning laws, they have every right to carry it through.

But city government has no business endorsing a parochial religious symbol big enough to dominate the city's skyline and waterfront. If the members of the Common Council want to hustle Catholic votes they can do it without imposing a visual penalty on the rest of us. Go to the churches and rallies and Sodality picnics and make speeches, the way everybody else does. Don't make the city hostage to bad politics and worse design.

Alas, as folks around here learned when we argued with Jimmy Griffin about "Birds Startled into Flight," it is usually difficult talking to politicians about aesthetic matters. (Jimmy said he didn't give a damn what a bunch of rich college-educated art-lovers thought, he liked the statue and he liked Larry Griffis and it was going on Bidwell Parkway, period. And so it did.)

If this insult to the rest of us can't be stopped I, as a Jew, demand equal representation. It may be true, as the Common Council resolution says (in ¶2), Catholicism is "the religious heritage of the majority of the residents of Buffalo," but I've got to believe that those good and true men and women were serious when they said (in ¶1), "the City of Buffalo is proud of the diverse cultural and religious heritages  of its residents, and desires both to respect and also to encourage the free expression  of time-honored religious sentiments...." They wouldn't play politics with ideas like that.

The first ever Buffalo Report design competition

I've been casting about for an appropriate symbol. A mezzuzah wouldn't do; too many people would think we were celebrating the obelisk in Stanley Kubrick's 2001. Given the current intractable horror-show in the Middle East, a Star of David would be too provocative. A 700' version of the Ten Commandments wouldn't do either: so many people violate so many of them so often it would just bum out everybody in the entire downtown area, all of Fort Erie and southern Ontario, and nearly every dedicated yachtsman on Lake Erie.

It should be something on the same symbolic order as the proposed 700' pagoda-gate-like structure. Something related to the process. That's half a squared-off oval: clear what it symbolizes. I suggested a 700' penis in the midst of the traditional circumcision ceremony, since that's what occasions the reality symbolized by the pagoda. My wife said I'd get killed for that and, more important, how could you suspend the moyel's hand with the powerful wind at (and near) the Buffalo lakefront?

I dunno. Beats me. This time, the Common Council has me stumped.

So we're going to have Buffalo Report's first free-and-open-to-the-public competition: a Michael Margolis "Buffalo City of No Illusions" button to the best design for a companion piece to the 700' pagoda gate endorsed by the Buffalo Common Council. Send your submissions to pagodapal@buffaloreport.com.
 

— Bruce Jackson
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