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$1.2M gifts to help Burchfield Penney better deliver arts education to diverse communities

WBFO file photo
Students from the Bilingual Center tour the Burchfield Penney Art Center in 2017. The center has received $1.22 million in gifts to support arts education, including for school children.

The Burchfield Penney Art Center has received gifts totaling $1.22 million that center officials say will help them better bring arts education to diverse families and school children. 


The two grants were awarded by KeyBank, in partnership with the First Niagara Foundation, and the Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation. They are the largest gifts the Burchfield Penney has received since moving into its building on the Buffalo State College campus in 2008. 


“Together they provide a little bit more than $1.2 million to support education at the center, which really for us is central to what we do and part of a real push to advance education and family engagement,” said Burchfield Penney Executive Director Dennis Kois.


The KeyBank-First Niagara Foundation gift of $750,000 includes a $250,000 matching challenge, which when completed will establish a new $1 million endowment specifically to support education at the center.


“We at KeyBank are committed to doing our part to ensuring access to enrichment opportunities for children in Western New York,” said Elizabeth Gurney, executive director of the KeyBank and First Niagara Foundations. 


Kois said the endowment is “critical” for the center, as it allows it to add staff and build programming with assurance that financial support will be there long term.


“Already we have been able to add an additional education staffer who is helping us build out our education programs,” he added, “and we wouldn't have been able to do that without knowing this gift was in the works.”


A gift of $225,000 from the Cameron and Jane Baird Foundation will create improvements to the center’s public education spaces, including doubling the amount of space dedicated to education and the creation of a new art-making space for families.


“We are thrilled to help expand and enhance the museum’s education offerings,” said Cynthia Baird Stark, granddaughter of Cameron and Jane Baird and a trustee of the Burchfield Penney. “The new creativity center will serve as a home for the education department as well as a community resource.”


Kois said the new space, which could be completed by the fall of 2021, will be a “really creative environment.”


“It should be really exciting and not really like anything you've seen at a museum before,” he said.


Approximately 15,000 school children visit the Burchfield Penney a year. Kois noted research shows that students who visit an art museum see a marked increase in critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance. 


For students from high-poverty schools, an art museum visit can be even more significant. Low socio-economic status children engaged in arts learning have increases in academic performance, college-going rates, college grades, and their ability to hold a job, according to research by the University of Chicago and the American Educational Research Association.


“Diversity and audience building are key for the center to have future audiences, and for Buffalo as a city to move forward with a workforce that’s got creativity and excitement and employability,” Kois said. “We would like to see even more schools and more diversity of schools come in and utilizing the center.”


The Burchfield Penney has seen increased visitation from both schools and the public since the nearby Albright-Knox Art Gallery closed for renovations in November, according to Kois.


“We want to make sure that what we do is complementary to what the Albright provides when it reopens,” he said. “There are two sides of the coin. The Albright, we're so lucky to have in our community and provide this wonderful international arts venue. And the Burchfield is really about community arts and art made by your neighbors and friends and people that you may see in your daily routine around Buffalo. And so the two of them are complementary to each other.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.