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Villa Maria College’s art students and faculty lend talent to Gerard Place


Nick Ellis, Kelsey Sikora and Shanel Kerekes put their talents and art education to good use painting a mural on the side of the Gerard Place Community Center on Bailey Avenue. Photo Courtesy of Villa Maria College

The Gerard Place Community Center has been an anchor in the Bailey-Delavan neighborhood for decades. While the center continues to offer essential services to Buffalo’s East Side, the building itself now looks vastly different.  

A team of students, alum and faculty from Villa Maria College’s Fine Arts program put their heads – and their paint brushes – together with the team from Gerard Place to give the mainstay building a facelift.  

Assistant Professors Adam Weekley and Kyle Butler designed the mural in consultation with Gerard Place. Its focal point is the Gerard Place motto, “All Are Welcome.” “This is the tagline because we have services and programs that can help people of all ages – infants to the elderly,” said Gerard Place board member Karen Karaszewski. 

The mural also represents Villa Maria’s mission and highlights the high level of dedication, professionalism and maturity its students bring to the workplace. “The mural communicates the skill, ambition, and sense of service that the college champions,” said Professor Weekley. “The students who helped bring the mural to life exhibited all of these traits. They went above and beyond in terms of their commitment to the project and work ethic.” 

The final product. The Gerard Place mural alerts the city of Buffalo to the mission of Gerard Place. Photo courtesy of Villa Maria College

Those students were Kelsey Sikora, ‘23, and Nick Ellis, who graduated with an associate degree in graphic design this May and will return to campus in the fall to further his education. The pair worked alongside alum Shanel Kerekes, who graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 2019.  

“I had such an amazing time working on the Gerard Place mural,” said Sikora, a graphic design major at the college. “I have never worked on an art piece of such a large scale before, so it was great to learn new tips and techniques. Specifically, I worked on the mural’s faces, drawing and painting the woman in the middle L, the baby face in the R, and painted the woman in the E.” 

“Having the opportunity to work closely with Professors Adam Weekley and Kyle Butler, as well as other talented students made it so worthwhile,” continued Sikora. “I hope this mural spotlights the much-needed asset the Gerard Place is on the surrounding community.”  

David Zapfel, the CEO of Gerard Place, is pleased with the outcome. “This mural helps us tell this community what we do at Gerard Place,” said Zapfel. “If people need help, they are welcome here. For us, it is more than mural. It is an overall marketing piece to the community that also signifies our mission and vision as we work to transform this community with our partners like Villa Maria College.” 

Weekley hopes the completion of this mural is just the beginning of Villa Maria’s increasing presence within the city of Buffalo and the greater Western New York area. “The more the College engages with the community, the city, and organizations that share our vision, like Gerard Place, the more opportunities our students will have to practically apply the skills and talents they are learning in the classroom,” he said.