The Society for the Advancement of Construction-Related Arts (SACRA)

SACRA, the Society for the Advancement of Construction-Related Arts, began in 2016 as a collaboration between the AK Innovation Lab and Assembly House 150, an organization founded by artist and University at Buffalo professor of architecture Dennis Maher. It became an independent initiative in 2019.

SACRA combines artistic practices with vocational training, bringing together local tradespeople, developers, craftspeople, artists, and artisans to teach trainees, recruited by the Erie County Department of Social Services, key skills in high demand in the construction market today. Classes run at Assembly House, the former Immaculate Conception Church on Edward Street. The Department of Social Services serves as the main recruiter for trainees, who learn construction skills while they work on the renovation of existing environments and the creation of new, unique spaces in the city.

SACRA students with Dennis Maher at Assembly House 150. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

SACRA Tool Cabinet, built by SACRA Instructors. Project Director: Dennis Maher. Photograph by Biff Henrich.

Building on the legacy of artistic and design excellence demonstrated by Buffalo’s architectural heritage, SACRA creates teaching/learning opportunities where exceptional quality, historical understanding, and richness of imagination in design and construction are encouraged, and teaches the necessary skills for employment in the fields of carpentry and woodworking.

Over the course of the 15-week program, students work on a variety of projects, ranging from building their own toolboxes to the design and creation of unique environments. In addition to construction skills training, the students also receive training in life-enhancement and job skills to assist with their transition into the workforce.

The trainees meet with industry leaders, work with guest instructors and speakers, and tour significant assets of Buffalo’s architectural heritage, as well as visit work sites.

The program has a project-based curriculum, focusing on the design and construction of creative place-making environments that have the potential for high impact and visibility within the community. Every participant has an opportunity to use new tools and learn new skills while working toward a common goal. The trainees work with students in Erie Community College’s Architecture Technology program to learn and enhance their design skills and thinking. By bringing together trainees from diverse backgrounds and with varying degrees of experience, SACRA is helping to bridge the social and economic gaps that exist in our community.

SACRA works closely with local developers, construction companies, and manufacturers, enabling it to nurture the specific skills and resources required in the workforce. It is working to establish a direct pipeline for program graduates to secure work more easily, as the training is designed to respond to the needs identified by potential employers.

In June of 2017, the AK Innovation Lab and its partners were recommended by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Our Town program for an award of $100,000 to support SACRA. The Our Town grant program of the NEA supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA awarded 89 Our Town grants from more than 350 applications in 2017. Learn More

Initiative Sponsors

The AK Innovation Lab was founded with leadership support from The John R. Oishei Foundation, The Seymour H. Knox Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. 

Program Sponsors

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit  

This program has been made possible through the generosity of The Vogt Family Foundation; Tim and Alexandra Johnston; Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation/LP Ciminelli, Inc.; The Peter C. Cornell Trust; Annette M. Cravens; Gilbane Building Company; John Somers, Harmac Medical Products; John K. Bace and Melissa T. Balbach; Mariana Botero-Chason and Mark Chason; The D-B Trust; The William F. Long Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo; and Baillie Lumber. Additional support for this program has been provided by Sheldon Berlow; Clotilde and Adrian Dedecker; Frederic Houston; Andrée and Joel Lippes; Turner Construction Company; Quackenbush Co., Inc.; Alison and Kevin Keane; Cecile Biltekoff; Luke Cusack; and Harper Bishop.