Squeaky Wheel keeps on turning

Local nonprofit provides access, education and exhibition in media arts


Buffalo has become a hotbed for film production.

In May 2015, the Kensington Expressway was shut down while the crew of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” blew up cars for the movie’s opening chase sequence. In Spring 2016, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson came to Buffalo to film “Marshall,” a biopic about the first black Supreme Court Justice, which is set to release this October.

“We have a risk of becoming a backdrop,” said Kevin Kline, the Director of Education at Squeaky Wheel. “We want to develop a generation of actual makers who don't need to have permits because they live here and they know it and they can become part of the larger dialogue in media and film.”

Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center was established in 1985 with the goal of innovation in media through three core concepts: exhibition, education and access to technology for all. Located at 617 Main St. in downtown Buffalo, Squeaky Wheel continues that legacy through their workshops, open equipment rental and multimedia art exhibitions.

Kline has been with Squeaky Wheel for four years and, as education director, develops and teaches the curricula for workshops. One of those workshops is Tech Arts for Girls, which began in 1999 and runs every Saturday.

“It was initiated to deal with the gap between women and access to technology which unfortunately almost 18 years later still exists,” Kline said.

Kline is a transplant to Buffalo from rural Pennsylvania. When he was growing up, access to art and technology was scarce.

Kline recognizes the increasing importance of technology and in today’s world and works to help provide people with the skills to utilize it.

“Nobody has the luxury to be able to say they're not a computer person anymore,” Kline said. “That is out the window. We just happen to be in a spot where what we’ve always focused on, which is media related arts, has become so prominent.”

Technical Director Mark Longolucco is responsible for putting the technology in people’s hands through the program. Squeaky Wheel has an extensive library of media equipment that is open for rental to the public for a fee.

“The idea is that anyone who doesn't have anything can get what they need to get started on whatever project they're working on,” Longolucco said. “From cameras, to computers, to editing software, even if you don’t have a lot of money, we can put equipment in your hands.”

The equipment inventory includes staples, such as DSLR cameras, lenses and microphones, but the library is always expanding as technology shifts. Squeaky Wheel is investing in virtual reality technology, which will be available for rental in the future.

Through the equipment and access programs, Squeaky Wheel is creating a group of media makers and arming them with the tools to create and share their views on any subject they find important in whichever medium they choose to work in. That is what is important to Executive Director Maiko Tanaka.

“Artists bring in different perspectives because they get to dig into things,” Tanaka said. “And by doing it through making is something we really believe in. Not always just talks or lectures or getting an academic degree. It’s the practice of making your media, making your tools, and reinventing the tools. Retooling things I think has a lot of potential for the average person to think they have the potential to change things and society.”

Tanaka worked in Toronto as an art curator. She has always had a passion for the media arts along with an interest in community and saw Squeaky Wheel as a nice melding of those two interests.

“I was excited about directing an organization that has a history of molding and shaping what an organization can be,” Tanaka said. “Access to technology was the beginnings of this place. It had an activist oriented model with the idea of equipment and technology for all, but from an artist perspective, it seemed like a good fit.”

The organization not only provides local artists a venue to showcase their work, but also brings in artists from around the world to display their art alongside local artists.

Ekrem Serdar, Squeaky Wheel’s curator, selects the work that will be on display.

“I try to focus on our mission,” Serdar said about his selection process. “We were founded in the ‘80s and back then video editing equipment was very expensive. We’re talking VHS days. Our primary goal was to give access to folks so they could edit themselves, so they could shoot videos themselves, so they could learn it. I’m interested in bringing in artists who exemplify that sort of do-it-yourself spirit.”

Squeaky Wheel hosts yearly events focusing on specific themes where artists can display their work. This year’s theme was “sites of resistance,” which was explored from June 30 to Aug. 26 at Squeaky Wheel headquarters with the “Shape of a Pocket” exhibition.

“Shape of a Pocket” featured work such as W. Michelle Harris’ “Can’t Breathe Mirror.”

The piece involved a camera being pointed out towards an audience. Participants stood in front of the camera, which generated a pixelated image of the person standing there. The pixels are made up of images of black men who have been killed by police officers.

“It also brings up issues of play in interesting ways,” Serdar said. “Because, of course, the first thing people do when they stand up in front of something like this is they dance around, but then they realize what the images are.”

Squeaky Wheel is a nonprofit organization and operates off of a mixture of grants, donations, and membership fees, but nonprofit does not mean there is no value. “Shape of a Pocket” is emblematic of what Tanaka believes is valuable about the organization.

“I’m interested in having people produce something where they realize it actually has impact,” Tanaka said. “It’s not just art for art’s sake. I think is extremely vital and important and critical, but the way we’re doing it, we are able to shape it from very specific perspectives that has currency.”

David Tunis-Garcia is the co-senior arts editor and can be reached at david.garcia@ubspectrum.com.