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Buffalo AKG Art Museum Names Town Square in Honor of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Today the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) announced that it has named its new 6,000 square-foot community gathering space the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Town Square. The Ralph Wilson Town Square will be the anchor of the Buffalo AKG’s community engagement programming. Located in what was previously the open-air courtyard of the Seymour H. Knox Building, the Ralph Wilson Town Square is covered by Common Sky, a kaleidoscopic sculpture by Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces that serves as a weathertight enclosure. Upon the museum’s opening on June 12, 2023, the entirety of the Knox Building will be free of admission charges year-round.

The gesture of naming the space after Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was made in recognition of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s leadership support of the capital campaign to fund the construction of the Buffalo AKGand in honor of Mr. Wilson’s passion for opportunities and spaces that bring communities together in Western New York. In 2016, in response to Jeffrey Gundlach’s first matching challenge, the Wilson Foundation contributed $6 million. In 2018, the Wilson Foundation awarded the museum a $90,000 grant to facilitate a comprehensive, inclusive, and community-focused planning process. In 2021, after the completion of this process, the Wilson Foundation awarded the Buffalo AKG $5 million to build and program the space, bringing the Wilson Foundation’s total campaign contribution to $11 million. This total does not include the $500,000 in annual operating funds committed to the Buffalo AKG in 2021 through the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Arts & Culture Initiative at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. This grant is part of the Wilson Foundation’s commitment of $100 million to transform the financial strength and long-term viability of art and culture in Western New York.

“It is difficult to overstate the impact that the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation has had on the Buffalo AKG and the entire Western New York region,” said Janne Sirén, Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director. “The Foundation has continued Mr. Wilson’s legacy of community-oriented philanthropy in a way that is genuine, impactful, and, for the citizens of Buffalo and Detroit, transformative and unprecedented. To put it bluntly, the committed and forward-thinking individuals at the Wilson Foundation don’t just talk the talk—they walk the walk. On behalf of the Buffalo AKG and the many thousands of individuals from all walks of life who will experience and enjoy the Ralph Wilson Town Square, we are honored and humbled that this unique new space will bear Mr. Wilson’s name.”

“Having Ralph’s name on the new Town Square at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum is an incredible honor and very fitting,” said Mary Wilson, Life Trustee, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.“This free and vibrant indoor gathering place will be accessible for everyone in the community to gather and connect with one another. I am grateful to the members of the Town Square Taskforce and to the hundreds of community members, both young and old, that took part in the community engagement process and shared their visions and wishes for this new, year-round public space. I recently toured the Ralph Wilson Town Square and was blown away by the beauty of the Common Sky work of art that creates an indoor space that brings all the sights and feelings of outdoors all around you. I look forward to this becoming a new cultural landmark in the city of Buffalo, bringing people together from all walks of life, just as Ralph did throughout his life!”

The Ralph Wilson Town Square will open to the public on June 12, 2023, after the Buffalo AKG’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

An Inclusive, Community-Focused Process

The courtyard of the Seymour H. Knox Building, which was designed by Gordon Bunshaft and completed in 1962, was for decades primarily for the display of outdoor sculpture and was often inaccessible due to weather. A primary element of the plans for the new Buffalo AKG campus was the activation of this 6,000 square-foot courtyard as a “third space”—neither a home nor a workplace, but a comfortable, accessible community space that people from across Western New York and beyond can visit without the need to purchase anything.

The planning grant the Buffalo AKG received from the Wilson Foundation enabled the museum to convene an ad hocTown Square Taskforce, which comprised 22 members from a diverse array of communities, organizations, and stakeholder groups across the region. The Taskforce benchmarked twelve cold-climate cities around the world to search for comparable community gathering spaces that are accessible and active year-round, as well as free of admission charges. In March 2019, the Taskforce held a public meeting and ideation session. More than 100 individuals attended and shared a total of 440 distinct ideas for how to activate the Ralph Wilson Town Square, and more than 400 people shared additional ideas in an online survey.

The planning grant also allowed the museum to convene seven focus groups that included senior citizens, parents, educators, and students in order to study specific aspects of the Town Square concept in greater depth. The Taskforce, accompanied by a museum staff team, traveled to the Cleveland Museum of Art to study its Ames Family Atrium and learn from museum leadership who were involved in the creation of the space.

The culmination of the planning process was the identification of eight key features that will all be realized in the Ralph Wilson Town Square:

  • No charge for admission
  • Collaborative programs presented with local partner organizations
  • Space and infrastructure for members of the community to explore ideas and connect with each other
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Artmaking and educational activities for all ages
  • Performing arts, including music and dance
  • Digital and interactive artwork and sculpture
  • Amenities like-Fi, comfortable seating, and a café

A Museum for Its Entire Community

When the Buffalo AKG opens on June 12, visitors will be able to enter the Knox Building through either the west vestibule, which was constructed in 1962, or the new east vestibule, which opens the museum’s campus to Delaware Park and Hoyt Lake. As the centerpiece of the Knox Building, the Ralph Wilson Town Square is adjacent to Cornelia, the museum’s new restaurant; the 350-seat Stanford and Judith Lipsey Auditorium; and five new, state-of-the-art classroom studios. On the lower level of the Knox Building, beneath the Lipsey Auditorium, is the M&T Bank Gallery, a 2,000 square-foot gallery space that will be programmed with input from community partners and the museum’s new Community Advisory Council, a group of twenty leaders from a variety of regional organizations and backgrounds that guides the Buffalo AKG’s programming related to Learning & Creativity, exhibitions, public art, and theRalphWilson Town Square. On the north side of the Ralph Wilson Town Square, visitors will find Creative Commons, a multigenerational learning and play space that illuminates art and art history in accessible, meaningful, and joyful ways.


About the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation:

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grantmaking organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect the devotion of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his beloved Buffalo Bills NFL team. Prior to his passing in 2014, Mr. Wilson provided that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a life-long generosity of spirit by funding the Foundation that bears his name. Based in Detroit, the Foundation began with a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires January 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Mr. Wilson’s desire for the Foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable, and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information visit

About the Buffalo AKG Art Museum

Founded in 1862, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) is the sixth-oldest public art institution in the United States. For 160 years, the Buffalo AKG has collected, conserved, and exhibited the art of its time, often working directly with living artists. This tradition has given rise to one of the world’s most extraordinary collections of modern and contemporary art.

In June 2023, following the completion of the most significant campus development and expansion project in its history, the Buffalo AKG will open to the public for the first time. The project is funded by a $230 million capital campaign, the largest such campaign for a cultural institution in the history of Western New York, including $195 million raised for construction and $35 million in additional operating endowment funds.