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Editorial: Burchfield Penney is on solid ground as Bannon heads into retirement

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Burchfield Penney Art Center was fortunate to have the talents of Anthony Bannon once, let alone twice.

Now that he has announced his retirement effective July 1, at the cap of the center’s yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary, the board has before it the challenging task of finding a replacement.

Bannon, 74, indicated that timing was a factor. It’s called leaving on a high note, one that he had much to do with hitting.

News arts reporter Colin Dabkowski credited Bannon “more than any other figure in the institution’s 50-year history” for Burchfield Penney’s status as a “major regional museum and a nexus for the cultural community of Western New York.”

It is a well-deserved reputation earned through passion and pursuit of excellence. He was director of the Burchfield Penney, at the time known as the Burchfield Art Center, from 1985 to 1996. From there, he took his leave of Buffalo to lead Rochester’s George Eastman House, now the George Eastman Museum, which flourished under his direction.

He returned to Buffalo in 2012, a few years after the gallery moved to its new building on Elmwood Avenue. Bannon created Burchfield buzz, propelling the art center onto the national stage and, as Dabkowski wrote, making it into a “laboratory for regional culture.”

Bannon engaged in cross-cultural partnerships, new public programming and unconventional exhibitions others might have shied away from. His approach won the respect of colleagues and SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner, who appreciated Bannon’s style and ability to raise the Burchfield Penney’s profile through those partnerships and education programs.

His efforts included a series of initiatives that caught the attention of audiences and increased attendance. Bannon promoted the center’s namesake, watercolorist Charles E. Burchfield, on a national stage and showcased the local arts community.

Among his accomplishments in just a few short years: a partnership with Alfred University’s Center for Electronic Arts and a residency project that drew new artists to Buffalo, along with a series of quality, popular festivals and the push for a long-planned project to catalog the artistic history and production of Western New York.

In 2013, the center created “The Front Yard,” a permanent video and sound installation featuring three steel towers projecting images onto the building, a presentation designed to draw the community closer to the gallery.

The national search for a replacement should be able to attract high-caliber candidates whose mission will be to build upon the hard work of Anthony Bannon.