February 28 2014 – Researching The Burchfield as a Potential PRSSA Client


 Researching The Burchfield as a Potential PRSSA Client

My previous entry inspired me to get more involved with public relations on campus so I joined PRSSA. PRSSA is in the process of creating a student run firm, but we need clients. Burchfield seemed like they’d be a pretty good match because of it proximity and local appeal so I decided to look into their relationship to the school and what we might be able to do to promote them. I interviewed Meg Knowles, as she is a board member at Burchfield as well as a Buffalo State media professor.

Interview subject:

Meg Knowles is an Associate Professor of media production in the Communications department at Buffalo State College. She is the producer of over 40 documentaries which have been shown at international film festivals, free speech TV and PBS. She currently sits on the board of HallWalls Contemporary Art Center, on the Collection Committee of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and on the selection committee for the Women’s International Film Festival. She’s also a board member of Squeaky Wheel, and has been a board member on several other Buffalo Museums in the past, including the Albert-Knox. Given her vast expertise in visual communication and the local art scene, I interviewed Meg about the Burchfield Penney.


  1. In what ways have you personally utilized or benefited from the Burchfield?

Well-I’ve actually used and benefited from the Burchfield quite a lot because the Burchfield has shown my work and purchased my work, so I’m in their collection. I was in their opening exhibition in their new space and I have also collaborated with the Burchfield since I came to work at Buffalo State in 2006 on a screening series called “Consider the Alternatives” where they allowed me to use their screening room free of charge because it was a collaboration to bring documentary films- Mike Nyman and I did this series of documentary films that ran for three years, so I worked very closely with them on that. Also I should mention I’m on their collection committee.

[Nora: What is the collection committee?]

The collection committee is a volunteer committee that meets to discuss items that the Burchfield is considering bringing into the collection. So if somebody donates something to the Burchfield the collection committee looks at it and decides whether the Burchfield wants to take it into the collection. So we work with the curatorial staff to help make those decisions.

  1. Roughly how many times a year do you visit the Burchfield? What do those visits consist of?

[chuckles] Dozens of times would be my answer. I got the Burchfield to use the gift shop, I go to the Burchfield to see- like I was just there the other night for an opening exhibition of the water show with Albert O’Ray and featuring Brian Millbrand, who’s in our department- and other fine artists. I got there to screen documentary films, I got there to watch presentations, sometimes they have-you know-people come and speak about various subjects of interest, about things that are either in the collection or things of community interest in the arts. I have gone to the Burchfield for Buff State events, like I had a research-a summer research student who I was a mentor of- and there were various ceremonies and things related to that at the Burchfield. I mean I’m in the Burchfield quite a lot, I go there for meetings too. And I go there to eat lunch….so I’d say I go the Burchfield quite a lot. Probably more than anybody else you’re talking too.

[Nora: Yeah I guess I lucked out then-I wasn’t sure…]

  1. Have you ever required your students to go to events at the Burchfield?

I have required my to-um, no- I have given my students extra-credit to either attend a screening at the Burchfield and do a write up on it or for my visual communication class I have an extra-credit paper they can do analyzing a piece of art in the Burchfield. And….and we did actually one class-my whole class- my media production class we went over there to see, there was a media (a video) exhibition of Staina, a really fabulous video artist from the 60’s and 70’s and she had a giant retrospective at the Burchfield and my class walked over and watched that exhibition, watched the videos in that exhibition.

  1. Would you consider squeaky wheel a competitor of the Burchfield?

Well, um, I mean I think it depends on how you look at it. You know because it’s not business, it’s not competition, right? Ya’ know but they’re, I would say, partners in the art community, in a way that they’re all organizations in the artistic community and, in fact, the Burchfield and Squeaky Wheel collaborate on many initiatives one of which is media preservation. There’s collaboration between the Squeaky Wheels and the Burchfield and [Hall-Walls?] for media preservation that’s been going on for a few years. But in other ways there’s a little bit of competition, like if they have events on the same night and you’re trying to attend both then it becomes, perhaps not a competition but-you know-the patrons have to make a decision about which they’re gonna go too. Or you run by the Burchfield when you’re on your way to Squeaky Wheel and that’s true with other arts organizations too.

[Nora: Like who’s going to donate money to who…]

And well there is a little bit of “there’s only so many donation dollars in the city of Buffalo” and people select the organizations they’re going to give too and they do pick-you know- you have to pick and choose, I can’t afford to give to every arts organization in Buffalo as much as I’d like too.

[Nora: Do you give to the Burchfield?]

Well I used to and you know why I don’t anymore? [Nora: Why?] I got mad because they could easily be in SEFA which is the United Way campaign they do in the state university system, every year they come and ask me “Do you want to give to SEFA?” and I can either say “Yeah just give to United Way” or I can say “Designate these outside organizations” and like I give a huge gift to Squeaky Wheel which comes out of paycheck one week-my paycheck one week at a time. The Burchfield won’t sign up to be on that list and I think that’s like wrong because they’re sitting here on the campus of a SUNY institution, they don’t want to be part of that because they take like a tiny percentage or something? Whatever I’ve asked them a few times I’ve said “Why don’t you join that? I would like to give to you that way, I would give you a more substantial gift” and they just like ignore me, so I’m like I’m just going to not be a member and see if they ever notice and ask me…but they haven’t yet.

To me that’s way that they’re not connecting to the university community because they’re sitting here on the Buffalo State college campus and Buffalo State college has this giant giving program where you can have get money drawn out of your check one week at a time so you can give larger amounts to charitable organizations, all across New York State, so you can just give to Unite Fund or United Way or you can specify what they call “unaffiliated organizations” and there’s a book, this thick, of unaffiliated organizations like every cancer hospital, every environmental group, Squeaky Wheel is on it, [Hall Walls?] is on it, you can give to all these other organizations but not the Burchfield Penney and how could the Burchfield Penney not want to create a convenient way for the Buffalo State college campus community, staff, an faculty, to give?

  1. What are some of the similarities and differences between Squeaky Wheel and the Burchfield?

Oh, well there’s a massive difference, the Burchfield is primarily a presentation venue it’s an arts presentation, it’s a museum. Right? They have a collection, they service a wide-variety of different styles of art, they have painting, sculpture, craft-art is a big area at the Burchfield. They’re servicing the Western New York region, so their mission and you can easily find out by looking at their mission, is to serve the artists of Western New York. Now they do some other things besides just put stuff on display, like right now they’re undergoing this really big digital history project where they’re trying to create profiles of the artists of Western New York and get your work up on there…..

It’s a huge digital undertaking to make so people from outside the region, if they hear of like let’s say Alberto Ray the artist who’s featured in the show right now and they look him up on the web they can find like a bio of him and maybe a link to his website. Information about that artist you might not otherwise be able to find. Our artists in Western New York are sometimes underappreciated so the museum does a really big service to the artists in some ways by representing them and by having them in the collection.

Squeaky Wheel has a different kind of mission because their mission is to, it has a presentation element but they have a three part mission. Their mission is to educate people about how to make media, so they do a lot of workshops and education workshops. Which the Burchfield does a little of that but not a great deal every museum does a little bit of education, right? But that’s a really a huge central part of Squeaky Wheels mission. Another central part of Squeaky Wheel’s mission is to create access, low cost access, to equipment so make work. So they can rent equipment and so forth. And then the third part of Squeaky Wheels mission is to do presentation, to show the work of…but they’re not nearly a presentation venue and most of their money from education.

  1. What are your thoughts about the Front Yard Project? Do you consider it a success?

[Laughter] I’m in the Front Yard Project. I think the Front Yard Project is really cool, I think it’s a great idea to have a projection on the front of the museum, I think it’s an interesting idea, I think it’s got a great deal of potential for the future. I will say that I’m in it but I have never seen my piece displayed. I think mine comes on at 9pm at night and for some reason I’ve never been able to here at 9pm. I think one of the things that’s really successful about the Front Yard Project is that it really reaches out, like you can see it driving by, you drive by and you see it. I think on the downside, I wish the projection was a little brighter so you could see a little better as you drove by which isn’t their fault I think they’re using the brightest projector they can get and they’re projecting it onto a great vacant wall. The other thing I think is too bad about it is there’s a really important audio component to it that is lost on the passing car traffic. Like my piece has audio but I knew from the moment I made it-like this audio is only going to be known to the passing foot traffic which is less. There is passing foot traffic but it’s just not reaching the general passersby. That’s the one thing I think is really fascinating about it is it has this really cool audio component that is impossible to appreciate from a car. Because we don’t have a lot of walkers on that part of Elmwood but I think its kind a pretty, I like those stations and I like the way it has the Burchfield paintings dotted into them.

  1. Do you know if any of your students have submitted work to the front yard project?

I know that Brian’s put some students in it, I’m aware that he has done that he told me he put a couple of student works into it.

  1. Do you think having an on going media project next to the college will benefit media production majors? If so how?

I think it could be a temporary exchange it depends, you know, it depends on the Burchfield. The thing is its curatorial so you can’t really say, I can’t tell you or predict what they’re going to do curatorial, they may invite other media makers to help populate that exhibit, they may have Brian do it or have other people bring things in because they have connections in the media world. They’re actually starting a collaboration with Alfred where there is a big media component to the school and my feeling is they may be brining student work from Alfred there.

There are students making stuff that’s sort of modern art it would fit nicely. It’s also a way to bring in people from western New York in, I don’t think that excludes the idea that students from here would contribute work but the type of work our students are making is largely not appropriate for that venue, like in terms of-it’s an installation- like you know I make documentaries, I made a piece for that was different from my usual work because it had to work as an installation. So I didn’t make a normal documentary with interviews and people talking, I made something that’s visual and about an idea, of women working in the 19th century.


Relevance/ Importance:

One of the major things I gathered from researching the Burchfield is that they are already apart of Buffalo State. In fact they use to be located in Rockwell hall where we have class. Since they moved off campus they don’t seem to be eager to captivate or engage the student body. On the one hand they want the college student to come because it’s business whether it’s free for students or not having that tie to the campus brings in business and makes the space busy. On the other hand as Meg discussed the Burchfield want to have a certain element of prestige to it which quite honestly isn’t the vibe students always give off. The Burchfield does a lot of media heavy work especially with the Front Yard project being an ongoing media project the lessons we’re learning in class could be crucial to helping them figure out a promotion strategy.

What I’m most confused about is why ever time I pass this expensive machinery nothing is ever playing at the front yard project apart from some weird bird noises. I propose making a sensationalized commercial that encourages students to contribute there own media. With the right special effects and aesthetics, a video would have the potential to invoke action in the students to be the prestigious college student the Burchfield wants to appeal to (Social learning theory).

Trilogy: Information, Persuasion.



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