Welcome To That Forever Friday Feeling Don Metz

Monday, June 29, 2020

photo: K.C. Kratt Photography

Don Metz is retiring. He will be sorely missed, irreplaceable. Don joined the Burchfield Penney in 1995 or as curatorial assistant Tiffany Gaines recently discovered, “Wow! He’s been working here for the duration of my entire life!” Serving as acting director from 1996-1998 and 2010-2013 and director of administration and head of programs from 1995-2008, Don will end his far-reaching walk of life at The Center as associate director and head of public programs.

“While I’ve only known Don for a year, I’ve learned how instrumental he’s been to the growth and success of this institution, a lot would not have happened without him,” said Burchfield Penney executive director Dennis Kois. “The Board of Trustees also highly reveres his vision and accomplishments; he’s done it all over the years.”

Deputy Director Scott Propeack said, “For the last 25 years Don has pushed for us to be accountable to our mission and support the artists of Western New York.”

With the gift of unlocking human potential, Don inspired and mentored many staff members at all levels shaping them into leaders with life- and career-changing outcomes. “I learned so many lessons,” credits archivist Heather Gring. “The importance of strategy, planning, timing, playing the long game, utilizing all resources and the strength in being flexible.”

Facilities manager Bill Menshon met Don in the late eighties when he became a part-time fixture at The Center working with the North American New Music Festival. “He’s been instrumental (no guitar pun intended) in much of what we do and taught me much of what I know – from music to drywall,” said Bill.

“We will miss his wisecracking in our day-to-day activities,” said Burchfield Scholar Nancy Weekly, “but we are certain to see him at openings and concerts reinvigorated and zany as ever.”

What does Don want to be remembered for? “Giving people the opportunity to do what they want to do and thought they couldn’t,” he said. Until me meet again. We wish Don Metz, the Polish guy from Cheektowaga, a relaxing future with endless music, vacations, and new learning.

We reached out to staff and some his colleagues for comments on his well-deserved retirement:

In the best of all worlds, this very brief tribute to Don Metz should be performed musically, as one would imagine the East Buffalo Media Association (EMBA) would have done in its prime. Don did a few stints as interim director—singly and as part of a triad—which kept the museum on track during times of transition. He served as a primary manager of details involved in the planning and construction of our new museum building. Such accomplishments were possible because Don brought a unique personality to the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Like John Cage, to whom he paid homage in an exhibition and concerts, he seems to embody chance & structure simultaneously. As a musician, composer, and impresario, he brought incredible performers to our stage, and joined them on many fine occasions. Beneath the comedian’s façade that brought levity to nearly every interpersonal interaction, lies a keen intellectual mind—pro-social, insightful, complex. Among the amazing exhibitions he curated, Steina: Involving People into this Magic is probably one of the greatest exhibitions ever presented in our history.

We miss his close friends Andy Topolski and Michael Zwack to name just two of the remarkable artists he cultivated over the past decades. There are way too many exhibitions and programs to mention here that he deserves credit for producing. Suffice it to say I will raise a glass of bourbon to toast him and wish Don a relaxing retirement—one in which he’ll be able to devote as much time as possible to his music. We will miss his wisecracking in our day-to-day activities, but we are certain to see him at openings and concerts reinvigorated and zany as ever.

Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Scholar, Head of Collections, Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, Burchfield Penney Art Center & Burchfield Penney Instructor of Museum Studies, SUNY Buffalo State


Donald J. Metz… it’s difficult to sum up a 12-year mentorship in a paragraph. From the moment I was introduced to Don I knew he was a character (in a good way). The nonsensical no-nonsense approach he has to his lifelong love of the arts was transformative for my career growth. I have seen, through him, the best way to lead in an arts administrator role.

Encouraging up and coming artists and supporting the staff he works with, while touting his common phrase “there is a big difference between Art and Entertainment”. The fact that art can still be world-class even if only a very few truly enjoy it and most others say “I don’t get it”. This is the biggest lesson I have taken away from our years together and grateful for the time he took to teach me this and so many other things. Don has certainly earned his retirement. His presence will undoubtedly be missed not only by all of us here at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, but by the entire western New York arts community as well. With sincere admiration.

John Malinowski, Burchfield Penney Head of Production


I have the distinct and dubious honor of working as the Public Programs Manager at the Burchfield Penney, a job Don created. It’s impossible for me to sum up Don Metz’s lasting legacy on the arts community in Buffalo, but I will try my best.

One of the most important lessons Don taught me, is the importance of building and maintaining relationships. Don taught me that nothing we do happens in a vacuum, and the importance of amplifying voices in our community. He also taught me the most important musical lesson of my life; find a good ending. After a lifetime of being a vital member of the arts community, I believe Don found a good ending to his career. So let’s all raise a coffee cup full of Johnny Walker Black and wish him blue skies for golfing. Oh, and make sure to brush your teeth.

John Smigielski, Burchfield Penney Public Programs Manager


Don is such an important part of the DNA of the Burchfield Penney. He has done an incredible amount for this arts community. I’m sure he isn’t finished yet. I am just grateful to have been able to work alongside him and soak in some of his humor, talent and wisdom.

Sonny Baker, Programming Associate


Don starts a new chapter on the fringes of a grim first half of 2020. The weathering of a deadly virus, dismal economy and a nation grappling with inflamed racial unrest. My most memorable moments with Don were our candid, private discussions about race and racism. We talked about our upbringings, heritage, stereotypes, ignorance and misunderstanding. Don believes open discussion has the power to heal and showed me how to bring my ideas about uncomfortable issues and other projects to life in public programs. He taught me how to believe in my ideas, take risks and engage my network to help build a better tomorrow. People in every nook and cranny on all sides of this segregated city respect and admire Don or 'Donnie' as they refer to him on the East Side. He found something special in all people to celebrate. He's was my co-worker, esteemed mentor and dear friend. I will miss the daily laughs we shared together over the past 12 years.

Renata Toney, Burchfield Penney Communications Manager


Over the last five years, I have been consistently encouraged, uplifted and supported by Don Metz.

When I, on behalf of the Pappy Martin Legacy Jazz Society, first came to the Burchfield Penney after the death of my father in search of a venue for our annual John Coltrane Birthday Celebration, Don and is team embraced me and the event with enthusiasm, openness and welcome. Even in his soft yet valuable guidance, he emboldened me with the freedom to curate the event.

Under his tutelage, I have grown to be a more confident, organized and effective jazz program presenter. Additionally, he, along with Burchfield-Penney staff, have been vital in creating increased visibility and positive community awareness of our organization. The programs we collaborate on are highly anticipated and well-received by the entire community due to Don's commitment, aura and expertise.

I truly cannot thank him enough for the respect, kindness and leadership he has graciously extended. His lasting impact on our organization will continue to be appreciated for many years. We wish him well-earned and deserved joy as he moves to the next phase of his life. May he be blessed with good health, personal pleasures and calm surroundings!

Dawn Berry-Walker, Chief Executive, Pappy Martin Legacy Jazz Collective


Don Metz, who I first thought to be a Metz connected to Kurt Schwitter’s Merzbau piece, wasn’t directly and Metz is not Merz. It did turn out to be, that Don Metz, the longstanding prince of the Burchfield Penney, visioned and helped manifest a major contemporary art center with significant experimental art works and projects of New York artists of the Western Frontier.

As a focus, this Other New York, which is New York, north of Harlem and West of the West Side Highway, this Western New York is the longtime secret weapon of the city named New York. Don Metz, he himself is the composer, musician, curator, and administrator who nurtured the revelation presentations and crossings of contemporary experimental music, poetics, independent cinema and electronic arts, painting and sculpture.

Don Metz knows the spaces of the poetics as well as finances of contemporary and evolving culture. For many many years, in his seemingly easy way, he made the imagined the doable and executable. What this has done for innumerable artists is worthy of notice and great respect.

Knowing of Don Metz by reputation, I first met him as the organizer at the Burchfield Penney Exhibition in 2002, “Signals from the Electronic Cloud”. I was so impressed. I remember thinking, this guy gets it: electronics, art, science and education. Don Metz, with his special Don Metzbau, was and still is a visionary.

Peer Bode, Co-Director, Institute for the Electronic Arts (IEA), Alfred University


I have worked with Don Metz on the Harald Bode exhibition in the Burchfield Penney project space, and on concerts and performances at the center and here at Alfred. Don is a star who makes you feel like one too! Don has the sense about those who bring it and those who take it. He supports, encourages, makes opportunity for the bring it’s and runs a slalom course, getting the best out of the take it’s. I think it’s this lithe skill that is behind his inexplicable success getting experimental (historical, contemporary, emerging) art to the people. He calls me kid and I love it!

Rebekkah Palov, Research Administrative Specialist, Alfred University


There is no one who has impacted my professional growth and development as profoundly as Don Metz. When I took my first Museum Studies course in 2006, I did not know what career path I wanted to pursue. Don was a professor unlike any I had encountered up until that point. He was honest, blunt, and open-ended.

Most of the art history courses I enrolled in were full of concrete dates and names and places--but with Don there was no right or wrong answer, only the logic of your reasoning to get there. Don didn't care what direction we wanted to pursue as a class, so long as we were reasoned in our discourse and our logic was sound. He never gave us "The Answer" or told us what to do; instead, he guided us with questions that forced us to make decisions for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. As a "type-A" (ish) student at the time who loved getting answers "right," it was so frustrating to stop myself from trying to figure out what *he* thought was "right" and instead develop my own, independent opinions. It was frustrating but it was important, and I needed the push he gave me to think for myself and stand by my opinions. Because of him, I understood the importance of strong critical thinking skills and how to defend my perspective.

Perhaps at times he has regretted how strongly I took to this lesson to heart, for as his co-worker I have often been persistent (some may say relentless) in my advocacy of things I am passionate about. But even if he has regretted it, he has always supported me and the ways I have grown in my role at the Burchfield over the past seven years. Though my main focus at the Burchfield is the archives, because of Don's mentorship I have had so many opportunities to develop and grow beyond the Archives. He helped make the space, and then guided me through organizing so many community art events-- Golden/Stay Gold, Mosaic: A Celebration of Buffalo's New Locals, PILLARS: Hip Hop in WNY, the Buffalo infringement Festival. Don always had my back; even when he had to reign me in, he did it to make the event I was organizing stronger and more cohesive.

I have learned so many lessons from him over these years: the importance of strategy and timing; how to play the long game; that it's okay to be reigned in; how to utilize all resources; to slow down and assess; that it's possible to create space; the need for structure and planning; the strength in being flexible. As his student and now as his co-worker, the most resonant lesson continues to be the first: approach *everything* with a critical lens--pick it apart--justify your reasoning--then trust yourself and go as far as you need to.

Now that I'm often in the "mentorship" role as I work with interns and other young professionals, I can recognize the ways in which Don has helped me better support others. A a mentor, I try to create space for everyone to bring their whole selves to their development. I listen and encourage and try to lead with honesty. I sit and talk and take the time to process with them. Most importantly, I let them know that I actively support their goals and help them work through the steps to achieve them, just like Don has done with me.

A couple of years ago, my partner David Adamczyk was a coordinator for the Buffalo Infringement Festival, and Don helped him organize an outdoor event at the Burchfield as part of the festival. On a beautiful day, surrounded by dancers and musicians and people painting hulahoops, David thanked Don by saying "this is a dream come true!" Don laughed and said, "that's good--you have reasonable dreams." That has become a beloved phrase for David and I--"have reasonable dreams." To us, this means "know what you're capable of"--know what you've got to work with when deciding your goals.

I don't quite know what it's going to be like, without him at the Burchfield to strategize with or just sit and talk. I think it's going to be strange for a lot of us, especially those who have been so influenced by him in our development. I trust myself more because of him, and that will stay with me. I'll strive to be honest, empathetic, and a good advocate, like he is. I'll take it seriously, but not too seriously. I'll "dot my t's and cross my i's" and remember that this work is supposed to be fun. But most importantly, I will always, always, always brush my teeth.

Heather Gring, Burchfield Penney Archivist


It’s hard to believe that Don Metz has been working at the Burchfield Penney Art Center for almost twice as long (25 years) as he worked at Hallwalls (13), most of which we worked together (1984–1995). When I started programming the “Fiction Diction” reading series at Hallwalls in the fall of 1984, still working on the Ph.D. dissertation I would soon abandon after getting sidetracked out of academia and into the art world (meaning, for me, primarily fiction writing, but also visual art, performance art, video art, film, and—Metz’s field of expertise—music), Metz had only been programming music since 1982. As early as 1975, other practitioner/curators (Tony Conrad, Dave Kulik, Juini Booth, Scott Rucker) had programmed (as well as performed) some music before him, alongside many visual and media arts curators. But it was really Metz who turned music into a full-fledged year-round program and set it on the adventurous course it’s still navigating today under the direction of fellow native Buffalonian Steve Baczkowski, as one of the nation’s and world’s foremost presenters of new (mostly) improvised and (some, unconventionally) notated music of all kinds, acoustic and electronic, including jazz: post-Bebop, avant-garde, Free, Afro-Futurist, and beyond.

One important decade-long project Metz brought to Hallwalls early on (coincidentally the same year I started) was the North American New Music Festival, which Hallwalls (meaning Metz) co-produced with the UB Music Department, under the direction of pianist Yvar Mikhashoff and percussionist Jan Williams, from 1984 until Yvar’s death at the age of 52 in 1993. Simultaneously during that decade Hallwalls was selected by the Music Program of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) to be, first, their WNY presenting venue (1985), then, in 1988, their lead grantee and producing partner for the statewide New York State New Music Network Tour, which, when revived in 1991, was redubbed the New York State New Jazz Network.

In those three seasons alone (1985, 1988, and 1991), these networks presented the likes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Cecil Taylor, Christian Marclay, and Jane Ira Bloom (1985); Henry Threadgill Sextett, Max Roach Trio, Philip Glass (solo piano), and Kronos Quartet (1988); and Sun Ra Arkestra, Don Cherry, Geri Allen & Wallace Roney, Dewey Redman, Craig Harris, and SNL bandleader Lenny Pickett (1991). The NYS New Jazz Network, which kicked off literally the same month I took over as executive director (April 1991) in the midst of a financial crisis that threatened to shut Hallwalls’ doors forever, was particularly challenging and might’ve been a disaster, but we pulled it off with flying colors, thanks to the mutual trust Metz and I forged before and during that crisis, along with the dedication and sacrifice of our fellow staff members. We pulled off the statewide tour (I’ll never forget standing in the teller line of our M&T branch with Sun Ra in his wheelchair withdrawing $7,000 in cash so he could pay his big band part of their fee); survived Hallwalls’ financial crisis (which happened to coincide with the whole country’s Culture Wars, with its Congressional attacks on—and cuts to—NEA funding); programmed concert and film series as part of another major cultural festival in conjunction with the 1993 World University Games; and were told by the Buffalo Fire Department during its inspection of venues for that festival that it really wasn’t legal for us to be doing the kinds of public assembly (concerts, film screenings, performances, fiction readings, even art openings) we had been doing at 700 Main Street since 1980, and would have to find a new home.

When we moved out of 700 Main Street in December 1993 and into a then practically empty Tri-Main Center in January 1994, and had to build our own walls around us on open factory floor (three galleries, office, cinema, black box theater, video editing room, storage room), it was Metz who rolled up his sleeves and led the staff and volunteer drywall crews (we couldn’t afford to hire contractors that time). When our daughter Flora was born almost 8 weeks premature on April 3, 1994 (her due date was May 27), literally 6 days before our grand opening on April 9, Metz took over completion so I could be with her and Cheryl at the Neonatal ICU at Children’s Hospital.

A year later, when Metz announced that he’d be leaving Hallwalls after 13 years to take a job at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (at first the original location at Rockwell Hall, which would go on to host Hallwalls’ 20th anniversary exhibition later that same year), I didn’t see it as the end of his significant time serving Hallwalls’ mission, or of our close working relationship (let alone friendship), but as the start of a new partnership between the two institutions, carrying on Hallwalls’ mission and spirit, which it indeed has turned out to be. It was because of that close relationship, started at Hallwalls in 1984, and continuing for over a quarter of a century afterwards, that I was able to bring him my idea for the Spain retrospective that he and I curated together and which opened in September 2011 (just two months before the artist’s death in November) as Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels, & Revolution.

I congratulate Metz on all the hats he has worn (including performing musician) at the Burchfield Penney since 1995 (I was never quite sure of his exact title); on all the programming he has curated and introduced there in music, literature, and visual art; and on four decades of service to Buffalo’s musical and artistic avant-garde and its lasting legacy, of which he himself is one of the leading lights. Thanks, man. And enjoy. You earned it.

Ed Cardoni, Executive Director, Hallwalls