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 describes negative things like health and wealth disparities,” says Siddiqui. “In February 2021, I was working on a very intensive neighborhood planning process and I was talking 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 in mind, 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 support from professors, classmates, and the Western New York Arts Services Initiative, she set out to implement her vision.

Siddiqui developed a system of online and in-person submission sites where people can submit good deeds, positive interactions or unexpected acts of kindness they have experienced or witnessed. The person making a submission chooses a color to assign to their experience, and then Siddiqui enters those submissions and colors as points on the map. These submissions will be used to build a body of artwork representing the city’s points of peace.

“This project aims to turn the idea of ​​’crime spots’ into ‘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 provide her with the opportunity to cultivate her ability to use art to address community development challenges.

“When I decided to go to grad 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,” Siddiqui says.

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 with Siddiqui’s approach and ideas.

“I thought it was very exciting and genius for Saira to combine her background as a community organizer and facilitator with the arts,” he says. “She wanted to develop her practice as an artist in painting, installation and interactive/community art, and the Peace Dots Project is a manifestation of these goals.

“It’s been 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 design her 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’ve grown exponentially in my skills and practice as an oil painter on the technical side, but also, it’s pushed me to develop a project—a full body of work. And I’m so excited to share that the Peace Points Project is my first, complete project that will culminate in a body of artwork that I hope to share in the next year or two.

“Because of his guidance, it seems like my vision of being a professional artist is coming true.”

For Siddiqui, the Peace Dots Project has been somewhat of an experiment in creating the kinds of communities she strives to build and enjoy. So far, it has received over 125 submissions – most are from the local area, as intended, but some are from other states and even other countries. She hopes to continue the applications 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’ve also always had a strong focus on how culture, creativity and good design weave 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 has been featured on local news – WKBW, WGRZ and Spectrum News – and on the popular website UpWorthy. Siddiqui recently announced a collaboration with local restaurants who are helping her promote her project by handing out 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 Points Project will continue to be accepted throughout 2022 and can be submitted through the website, Instagram, Facebook and at physical locations throughout the community. The physical map locations are inside Broadway Market and outside next to Stitch Buffalo at 1215 Niagara St.

The Peace Dots project will culminate in a group of artworks representing the city’s peace dots, and Siddiqui encourages everyone to submit their positive data to be “part of art in the city of good neighbors.”

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