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Monday, June 17, 2024
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How two Buffalonians built a community of artists during COVID-19

Edreys and Alexa Wajed’s organization, Eat Off Art, is changing the conversation for Buffalo’s artists

<p>An Eat Off Art Mural near the intersection of East Amherst Street and Bailey Avenue in Buffalo.</p>

An Eat Off Art Mural near the intersection of East Amherst Street and Bailey Avenue in Buffalo.

Alexa and Edreys Wajed first had the idea for Eat Off Art while on a road trip to Toronto in 2020.

“We were talking about all the things, all the endeavors we wanted to pursue and entertain,” Edreys Wajed said. “And we just kept talking around in circles.What do the artists do? What’s the purpose of artists?” 

“How can artists feed community?” Alexa Wajed added.

So after they returned to Buffalo, they founded the art collective and non-profit organization Eat Off Art, a home for any artist working in any medium.  

The Wajeds had all the skills they’d need to bring it to life. Alexa Wajed is a visual artist, jewelry designer and trained chef. Edreys Wajed shares similar talents but is  also a musical artist and educator. Neither is the type to let any of their talents sit on the sidelines.

“Eat Off Art integrated everything we were already doing,” Edreys Wajed said. “So Alexa would do her cooking events, or I would do my art workshops.” 

Eat Off Art changes the idea of a starving artist into an artist’s buffet. It’s for everyone who loves any type of art. Though the organization is meant to encompass a massive amount of art and arists, each patron is meant to feel like Eat Off Art has a place for them. During the onset of COVID-19, Alexa Wajed and Edreys Wajed held a virtual happy hour every week. With Edreys as a painter and Alexa as a DJ, the two brought light to a dark time.

“We began building this community virtually because it was a way, especially during COVID-19 to connect with people,” Edreys Wajed said. “You couldn’t go to the bar, You couldn’t go to any place. So we just said, ‘OK, you don’t have to go anywhere.’” 

The couple also operates a non-profit called CULTRUE Inc. 

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Courtesy of Alexa and Edreys Wajed

 Alexa and Edreys Wajed, pictured above, founded Eat for Art. 

“We weren’t really sure what to do with it,” Alexa Wajed said. “We knew we wanted to provide access to communities of color that did not have access to the arts. This was something that would be part of the legacy that we could leave to the community.”

In 2023, CULTRUE Inc. was awarded a grant to fund Healing Through the Arts, a program that teaches classes ranging from literature to social justice in order to combat mental health and loneliness. 

Not only is each participant able to practice with tools — which range from sewing needles to paint brushes — but they’re also allowed to bring those tools home. The grant ended March 15, but the couple is looking for additional funding to continue these programs. Alexa Wajed describes it as “something that’s needed in the community,” especially for Black and Brown communities.

“We cannot talk about Buffalo without acknowledging its challenges and how divided the city is, how racially divided the city is,” Edreys Wajed said.

One way they combat this division is through their murals which are commissioned through different organizations. In 2020, the Buffalo AKG Museum commissioned Eat Off Art to paint a mural in downtown Buffalo in response to the murder of George Floyd. The Wajeds say the mural’s location — outside of a predominantly Brown or Black neighborhood — was important for spreading the mural’s meaning. 

“The statement made there was about going into a community that, generally speaking, the Black and Brown community didn’t necessarily feel welcomed or respected,” Edreys Wajed said.

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com 


SOPHIA STINES

Sophia Stines is a staff writer. 

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