In 2014, the historic church at 150 Edward St. in Buffalo had been abandoned for almost 20 years. Many of the empty building’s original features like lofted arches and decorative wood treatments remained, and artist Dennis Maher saw its potential to become a hub where the community could create, work and learn together.
Maher, who is also an educator in the Department of Architecture at the University of Buffalo, had already been working on another artistic venture since 2009 — transforming a property called Fargo House with two derelict houses on the lot originally slated for demolition. He created Assembly House 150 as an offshoot of that project, envisioning a larger space for artists, educators, students, stakeholders and tradespeople to come together in collaboration.
Assembly House 150 Transforms Lives Through the Building Arts
Today, the initiative has grown into a non-profit art, design and construction incubator, and experiential learning center. The center brings the community together to learn new skills, build awareness of the environment and work together on creative projects.
“Buffalo is a city with high poverty rates, but at the same time, there are a lot of amazing historic buildings here,” Maher says. “Many people in the trades have been talking for years about the need for more skilled workers, so Assembly House 150 is an attempt to address a range of problems in a creative way.”
In addition to offering tours and exhibits, Assembly House 150 offers a 12-week paid program called SACRA, which provides under-resourced people with the skills needed for careers in the construction field. They have also just launched a high school initiative, aimed at helping young people explore careers in the building arts.
Assembly House 150 Recovers the ‘Wonder in the World’
Maher says he hopes to reignite the public’s interest in quality craftsmanship and the decorative arts while highlighting the value of beautiful architecture and skilled builders.
“To me, what’s really important is the recovery of the space of imagination and places of wonder in the world,” he says. “What are those magical, mysterious, wondrous spaces that cause us to stop and stare and ask questions and feel inspired? It’s easy to find that in historic buildings — we marvel at them — but in our contemporary, built environment, it seems less and less apparent to us that there are such spaces.”
The mission of Assembly House 150 is to create more of these spaces in the Buffalo community, while helping to provide people with the resources and connections they need to move forward.
The Building Arts are Healing for People
“I believe there is a healing aspect to the building arts,” Maher says. “Part of what we’re endeavoring to do is create a space for people to have an opportunity to dream and learn a skill and determine the next course for themselves, and that’s really a team effort.”
The SACRA program runs twice annually, once in the spring and once in the fall. Assembly House 150 is also currently working on public and private commissioned projects, including a new interactive education space for the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
More inspirational people making an impact in Buffalo include Katie Webster, the founder of Feelings Rock, which helps kids learn, move and grow through music, and Tony “Solo” Hearst, a serial entrepreneur who recently launched a new record label in the city.
Lead image credit David Schalliol