College of Arts and Sciences
The Temptations of St. Anthony
The Estates of William Eric Williams and Paul H. Williams
Selections from the James Joyce Collection
Win a Texan Meal
Central Terminal



“Fluid Culture” is a year-long series of events sponsored by the University at Buffalo Humanities Institute (HI), running from September 2011 through April 2012.  The overall goals of “Fluid Culture” are threefold: 

  • To question relationships between culture and ecology, particularly with respect to water.
  • To question the relationship between local/urban cultures, such as those of Buffalo/Niagara, with respect to globalization and global ecology.
  • To understand the flows of goods and information by which globalization operates – that is, to understand global culture as defined by its “fluidity.”


In past years, some HI events have been limited to an annual conference or a lecture series, which have taken place on UB’s North Campus.  Given the goals of “Fluid Culture,” however, we feel the HI can contribute to community programs and regional redevelopment projects through Buffalo/Niagara.


Globalization can be described as a “space of flows.”  It operates by means of fluid movements of goods, information, people, and natural resources.  Communication between cultures and nations may be enhanced by this fluidity, and new technologies may become more readily available and accessible.  For all its benefits, however, globalization can produce a sense of displacement on the local level.  What is the place of Buffalo/Niagara in a global world?  As industrial manufacturing is outsourced abroad, the region’s future will be defined by its natural resources.  The incredible economic expansion allowed by globalization is already taking a toll on the world’s natural resources – chief among them, water.  Buffalo/Niagara has a relative overabundance of fresh water resources, yet the local community here largely feels cut-off from the water.  The revitalization and rehabilitation of Buffalo’s economic and civic life depends on its waterfronts, yet these waterfronts cannot be properly managed until local communities feel culturally invested in them.


“Fluid Culture” comprises multiple, coordinated events, intended to address questions of culture, water, and flow both globally and locally:

  • Speakers Series:  We have invited world-class scholars and activists to Buffalo to share their work on globalization, space/place, and culture.  The following speakers will be lecturing at the University at Buffalo:


    • Thursday, September 22, 2011, 4 PM, Center for the Arts (Screening Room), North Campus,, Saskia Sassen (Department of Sociology, Columbia University, New York City, NY), theorist of the “Global City”, will present her lecture "Talking Back to Your Intelligent Cities".  Click here for the abstract.
    • Monday, October 17th, 4 PM, Clemens 120, Matthew Sparke (Department of Geography and Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, WA), cultural geographer and public health scholar specializing in global health initiatives and responses to natural disaster.  Sparke's lecture is entitled "Love and Other Cross-border Drugs: What Does Canada-US Travel Tell Us About Affect, Economics and Citizenship?"
    • Tuesday, November 29th, 8 PM, Clemens 120, Maude Barlow ( National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians), best-selling Canadian author and human rights activist, chair of the board of Food & Water Watch. She is also an executive member of the San Francisco–based International Forum on Globalization, founder of the Blue Planet Project, and a Councillor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council.)
    • Monday, March 5th, 4 PM, Location TBA, Ian Baucom (Department of Literature, Duke University, Durham, NC), cultural history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 
    • Wednesday, March 28th, 4 PM, Location TBA, Lúcia Sá (Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Manchester, UK), scholar of Amazon River literature, including indigenous oral traditions.
    • Thursday, April 19th, 4 PM, Ursula Heise (Department of English, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA), leading expert in ecocriticism.


  • Public Arts:  We will invite local artists to construct public arts displays along Buffalo/Niagara’s waterfronts.  We believe public art is one way in which local residents can form cultural investments in the waterfront.  First, this project will draw the attention of the local arts community to the water.  Second, it will draw spectators down to the waterfront, so that they can begin to see the connection between land and water in new ways.  Third, and most importantly, we hope that this public arts project will be a first step toward reclaiming the waterfront as lived space – a place to which people feel a human connection, that they can imagine inhabiting, and a place that they feel is central to their everyday lives.  The Public Arts portion of “Fluid Culture” will have two parts:


    • Canal Side Harborfront:  A small group of artists (5-10) will be invited to build temporary displays in Buffalo’s Canal Side Harborfront district, pending approval of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.  This program will run from September-October 2011.


    • Regional: Local artists may propose site-specific projects anywhere in the Buffalo/Niagara regions (pending site approval), for short-term (1 mo.) display between October 2011 and April 2012.

All projects will be juried in May 2011.  Maximum liberty will be allowed for the creativity of the artists.  Projects may be “traditional” sculptural pieces, or they my incorporate new media (mobile apps, GPS, etc.)  Selected artists will receive a modest honorarium of $500-1000.

  • Community Activities and Social Media:  We will encourage local residents to go to their favorite spots along the waterfront, or “secret” spots they have just found, and leave a small, low-impact memento of that location.  This memento may be a small driftwood sculpture or a stone cairn, for instance.  Residents can take a photo of their memento, and post the photo on the “Fluid Culture” website.  The website will feature an interactive map, so that locals can design their own tours of waterfronts arts and “mementos.”  We may also work to coordinate these efforts with an online “scavenger hunt” type game with a local newspaper (e.g., Buffalo News or Artvoice).


  • Performance:  HI will sponsor several open-air performances along the waterfront (poetry readings, theatrical production, or performance art), likely in Spring 2012.


  • Book:  Once “Fluid Culture” has come to an end, we will compile lectures from the speakers series and essays from other invited contributors into a book.  This book will feature images of the public arts displays, community “mementos,” and other images of the region’s waterscapes and landscapes.  The book will be intended both as a go-to textbook for ecocriticism and as a showcase of cultural life in Buffalo/Niagara.

For more information contact:

Justin Read ( or Colleen Culleton (