The idea for the Peace Dots project began after an observation by Saira Siddiqui during a community project.
“As an urban planner and community organizer, I’m always surrounded by the usual kinds of data, and often the data portrays negative things like health and wealth disparities,” says Siddiqui. “In February 2021, I was working on a very intensive neighborhood planning process and talking to the city of Buffalo about 311 data and crime statistics. At the time, I had this thought: Where are all the peace dots?”
From that thought, Siddiqui, who is attending UB as part of her graduate studies, began 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 with support from professors, classmates, and the Arts Services Initiative of Western New York, she set out to execute her vision.
Siddiqui developed a system of online and in-person submission sites where people could submit good deeds, positive interactions or unexpected acts of kindness they had experienced or witnessed. The submitter selects 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 create a body of artwork representing the city’s peace points.
“This project wants to flip the idea of ’crime dots’ into ‘peace dots’, capturing moments of peace, random acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures seen around buffalo,” 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 cultivate her ability to use art to address community development challenges.
“When I decided to go to graduate school, I was very intentional about the classes I would take 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 a good fit,” Siddiqui said. says
Siddiqui, one of the faculty members, spoke with George Hughes, UB associate professor of art.
“In our initial conversation, I felt like he understood what I was trying to do, and he was very supportive of my approach,” says Siddiqui.
Hughes was influenced by Siddiqui’s approach and ideas.
“I thought it was very exciting and clever 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 an expression of those goals.
“Saira has been a pleasure to work with,” 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 leadership change.
“(George’s) advice over the past several years has helped me a lot,” she says. “I’ve grown rapidly in my skills and practice as an oil painting technician, but he pushed me to develop a project—a complete body of work. And the Peace Dots project is my first, full-on project that will become the body of artwork that I I am extremely excited to share what I hope to share in the next year or two.
“Because of his guidance, it feels like my vision of becoming a professional artist is actually coming to fruition.”
For Siddiqui, the Peace Dots project has been used in part to create the kinds of communities he strives to build and enjoy. So far, he’s received more than 125 submissions — most from the local area, as intended, but also some from other states and other countries. She hopes to continue receiving submissions and encourages everyone to share their positive experiences with the project and their community.
“My career, which began in 2013, has always been focused on creating spaces and engaging the community,” notes Siddiqui. “I have always been focused on how culture, creativity and good design weave their way into urban planning and neighborhood development. My goals are to merge all these elements together and become 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 him promote his project by distributing coasters to the public. Restaurant partners include Canalside’s Beer Garden, Silo City’s Duende Bar & Grill, Breeze Burrito Bar, Elmwood and Bidwell’s Beer Keep, and Hamburg’s Alchemy Wine & Beer.
According to Siddiqui, stories for The Peace Dots Project will be accepted throughout 2022 and can be submitted on the website, Instagram, Facebook and physical locations throughout the community. Physical map sites are indoors at Broadway Market, and outside at 1215 Niagara St.
The peace dot project will turn into a body of artwork representing the city’s peace dots, and Siddiqui encourages everyone to submit their positive data to be “part of art in a city of good neighbors.”