Hallwalls' New Home

For CODA

A unique arrangement between an American folk-punk singer-songwriter and a longtime bastion of experimental arts means that Western New York’s centre for creative music will have a new, architecturally impressive home in downtown Buffalo by October, 2005.

Hallwalls, a nonprofit arts organization, which for more than 30 years has been the place where innovative art, film and music – especially non-mainstream jazz – has been presented, moves into the expanded first-floor and basement-level facilities in a historically preserved church as a tenant of Righteous Babe Records (RBR). RBR is the folk-punk mini conglomerate that has grown out of the successful career of singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, a Buffalo native, will have its offices on the second floor.

The new facility’s projected opening was pushed back for a few months last year when a combination of planning and political hassles, since resolved, caused work that began in July 2003, on the historic, formerly dilapidated Asbury Delaware church to be put on hold. Work steamed ahead again in late March of this year. However, Hallwalls vacated its former premises in mid-2004 and since then has presented programs in a variety of ad-hoc locations, which for jazz has included small clubs and larger art galleries.

But the wait will be worth it, says Edmund Cardoni, Hallwalls’ executive director. The almost $10 million (U.S.) RBR is pouring into the building adds state-of-the-art energy efficient facilities such as a geothermal heating and cooling system; underground power lines; and a custom-designed elevator lifted by hydraulic systems housed below the basement floor. A specially designed glass, steel, and copper stair-tower addition will be the main entrance for both Hallwalls and RBR’s offices. Care has also been taken so that these necessary improvements don’t disturb the restored façade of the building listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

As an added bonus, three concert spaces of various sizes, including a venue with a maximum capacity of 1,200, will be available. “The seating will be flexible, not fixed,” explains Cardoni. “The floor will be open, for sitting in seats, standing, dancing, sitting at tables, whatever the event needs.” Over the years Hallwalls’ has drawn audiences of several hundreds to see bands ranging from Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet and the Sun Ra Arkestra, as well as smaller crowds for bands by multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and saxophonist Charles Gayle, to mention two. “We believe the sky's the limit at the church, with no dilution of quality or dulling of edge.” he adds. “We can expand the audience for the music we love to a degree not possible at the former location or by wandering around from space to space like gypsies.”

Hallwalls’ relocation costs of $425,000 (U.S.) are covered by a successful capital campaign, with 86% from individual and corporate donations plus local and national foundation grants. An addition 14% came from New York state, mostly in the form of a Capital Aid grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.

— Ken Waxman