The idea for the Peace Dots project began when Saira Siddiqui made an observation during a community project.
“As an urban planner and community organizer, I’m always surrounded by the typical types of data, and more often than not the data portrays negative things like disparities in health and wealth,” says Siddiqui. “In February 2021, I worked on a very intensive neighborhood planning process and talked to the City of Buffalo about 311 data and crime statistics. At that time I had this thought: Where are all the points of peace?’
With that thought, Siddiqui, who is attending UB as part of her graduate studies, was determined to start collecting and sharing all the “good data” she could get from community members. She received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, and along with the support of professors, classmates, and the Western New York Arts Services Initiative, she set out to realize her vision.
Siddiqui has developed a system of online and in-person submission sites where people can submit good deeds, positive interactions, or unexpected kindness they have experienced or witnessed. The person making the submission chooses a color to assign to their experience, and then Siddiqui enters those submissions and colors them as dots on the map. These proposals will be used to build artworks representing the city’s peaceful hotspots.
“This project intends to flip the idea of ’crime spots’ to ‘peace spots’ by capturing moments of peace, random acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures seen around Buffalo and beyond,” explains Siddiqui.
Before the Peace Dots project became a reality, Siddiqui was looking for a graduate program that would encourage her as an artist and offer the opportunity to develop her ability to use art to address community development challenges.
“When I decided to go to graduate school, I was very intentional about my classes and the professors I would work with. Before I applied, I interviewed several art professors at both UB and Buffalo State to see if I could find the right fit,” says Siddiqui.
One of the faculty members Siddiqui spoke with was George Hughes, associate professor of art at UB.
“In our initial conversation, I just felt that he understood what I was trying to do and that he was very supportive of my vision,” says Siddiqui.
Hughes was impressed by Siddiqui’s approach and ideas.
“I thought it was very exciting and genius for Saira to combine her experience as a community organizer and facilitator with art,” he says. “She wanted to develop her practice as an artist in the fields of painting, installation and interactive/community art, and the Peace Dots project is a manifestation of these goals.
“It was a pleasure working with Saira,” says Hughes. “As a result of her hard work, passion, creativity and determination, she has achieved so much – even during the pandemic.”
Siddiqui was able to combine UB’s fine arts courses with Buffalo State’s creative studies courses to create her own multidisciplinary MS program with a certificate in creativity and change leadership.
“(George’s) mentorship over the past few years has helped me a lot,” she says. “I grew exponentially in my skill and practice as an oil painter in terms of technique, but he also pushed me to develop a project – a full body of work. And I’m extremely excited to share that the Peace Dots project is my first full-length project, which will culminate in a body of artwork that I hope to share over the next year or two.
“Because of his guidance, I feel like my vision of being a professional artist is actually coming true.”
For Siddiqui, the Peace Dots project is somewhat of an experiment in creating the kinds of communities she seeks to build and enjoy. So far, she has received over 125 submissions – most from the local area, as intended, but some from other states and even other countries. She hopes to continue receiving submissions and encourages everyone to share their positive experiences about the project — and about their community.
“My career, which began in 2013, has always been focused on placemaking and community engagement,” notes Siddiqui. “I have always had a strong focus on how culture, creativity and good design find their way into urban planning and neighborhood development. My goals are to bring all these elements together and be a public artist that engages neighborhoods and people in the process, from concept to creation.”
The Peace Dots project was featured on local news outlets — WKBW, WGRZ and Spectrum News — and on the popular UpWorthy website. Siddiqui recently announced a collaboration with local restaurateurs who are helping her promote her project by distributing coasters to the public. Restaurant partners include Beer Garden in Canalside, Duende Bar & Grill in Silo City, Breeze Burrito Bar, The Beer Keep in Elmwood and Bidwell and Alchemy Wine & Beer in Hamburg.
According to Siddiqui, stories for The Peace Dots Project will continue to be accepted into 2022 and can be submitted through the website, Instagram, Facebook and at physical locations throughout the community. Physical map sites are indoors at Broadway Market and outdoors next to Stitch Buffalo at 1215 Niagara St.
The Peace Dots project will culminate in a set of artworks representing the city’s peace dots, and Siddiqui is encouraging everyone to submit their positives to be “part of the art in the city of good neighbors.”