The Gerard Place Community Center has been an anchor in the Bailey-Delavan neighborhood for decades. While the Center continues to offer essential services to Buffalo’s East Side, the building itself now looks vastly different.
A team of students, alum, and faculty from Villa Maria College’s Fine Arts program put their heads – and their paint brushes – together with the team from Gerard Place to give the mainstay building a facelift.
Assistant Professors Adam Weekley and Kyle Butler designed the mural in consultation with Gerard Place. Its focal point is the phrase the Gerard Place tag line, ‘All Are Welcome.’ “This is the tagline because we have services and programs that can help people of all ages – infants to the elderly,” said Gerard Place Board Member Karen Karaszewski.
In addition to bringing the Gerard Place mission statement to life, the mural is representative of Villa Maria’s mission and highlights the high level of dedication, professionalism, and maturity its students bring to the workplace. “The mural communicates the skill, ambition, and sense of service that the College champions,” said Professor Weekley. “The students who helped bring the mural to life exhibited all of these traits. They went above and beyond in terms of their commitment to the project and work ethic.”
Those students were Kelsey Sikora, ‘23, and Nick Ellis, who graduated with an associate degree in graphic design this May and will return to campus in the fall to further his education. The pair worked alongside alum Shanel Kerekes, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2019.
“I had such an amazing time working on the Gerard Place mural,” said Kelsey Sikora, a graphic design major at the College. “I have never worked on an art piece of such a large scale before, so it was great to learn new tips and techniques. Specifically, I worked on the mural’s faces, drawing and painting the woman in the middle L, the baby face in the R, and painted the woman in the E.”
“Having the opportunity to work closely with Professors Adam Weekley and Kyle Butler, as well as other talented students made it so worthwhile,” continued Sikora. “I hope this mural spotlights the much-needed asset the Gerard Place is on the surrounding community.”
Under the supervision of Professors Weekley and Bulter, the group began the project on May 14, 2021. “After the concept was finalized, Professor Butler drew up the image and transferred it onto one of the community center’s brick walls,” said Professor Weekley. “Over the next week-and-a-half, Kelsey, Nick, and Shanel dedicated their days to completing the mural while they were raised up above Buffalo’s East Side on an aerial lift.”
“The finished product came out really well,” Weekley continued. “Villa and Gerard Place were both founded by the Felician Sisters, and the mural is truly representative of the two organizations’ shared values.
Professor Butler echoed this sentiment. “We are endeared by and proud of how capable the students were in realizing this project and by the positive response from Gerard Place,” he said. “While only one of the three students involved had previous experience working at such a large scale, they brought a mix of skills essential to its completion. We are happy to have had the opportunity to facilitate, working with the students and communicating with those at Gerard Place.”
David Zapfel, the CEO of Gerard Place, is also pleased with the outcome. “This mural helps us tell this community what we do at Gerard Place,” said Zapfel. “If people need help – they are welcome here. For us, it is more than mural. It is an overall marketing piece to the community that also signifies our mission and vision as we work to transform this community with our partners like Villa Maria College.”
Weekley hopes the completion of this mural is just the beginning of Villa Maria’s increasing presence within the City of Buffalo and the greater Western New York area. “The more the College engages with the community, the city, and organizations that share our vision, like Gerard Place, the more opportunities our students will have to practically apply the skills and talents they are learning in the classroom,” he said. “Our students truly excel when they are able to step outside of the classroom and get to work. This type of experience makes their classwork better and sets them up to succeed after college.”