Buffalo, New York

New York environmental artist Chantal Calato has received a $10,000 grant from the Global Warming Art Project to fund UNSEEN, a multimedia installation which will open at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in March of 2020. The grant is supported from donations from Ben Perrone and the ‘Environment Maze’ project donors and administered by Arts Services Initiative of Western New York. Calato was the first artist to receive the new grant in 2018.

UNSEEN is a multi-media art installation that examines the mutilation of our environment, and in turn ourselves. Now more than 40 years after the neighborhood surrounding Love Canal was destroyed by toxic waste, artist Chantal Calato investigates how the people of the Niagara region continue to suffer from the chemicals of Niagara’s industrial legacy. Calato interviewed 18 people for UNSEEN all from Niagara county. These people’s dark personal stories are at the heart of UNSEEN creating a soundscape of voices revealing how they have been affected by these toxins inside their homes. The UNSEEN voices will fill the room, describing in detail what they see and smell, and share the physical and emotional burden that is their environment. Illuminating the space at the Burchfield Penney will be a double height projection of Calato’s cinematography of the cascading brink of Niagara Falls.

“With UNSEEN, I wanted to contrast the beauty the world knows Niagara Falls for with the dark personal stories of those who have lived in the shadows of this city,” said Calato.  “UNSEEN is about your home. It is about your children, your pets, and your neighborhood. This project is about you.”

I don’t think we’ve been told the truth about whats going on down the road.
— Nancy Kulack, Unseen Interviewee

Above: Behind the scenes interview footage with Mario Passero for the UNSEEN soundscape.



There are nearly 800 hazardous waste sites in Western New York according to a comprehensive study done in 2012.

Mapping Waste: Setting the Stage to Clean-Up Niagara

For two centuries Niagara Falls drew in businessmen, creatives and scientific visionaries from around the world. In the late 19th century widespread electricity was invented there spawning booming industrial development in the Western New York region that was leagues beyond the rest of the world. Chemical manufacturing flooded the area bringing jobs and prosperity. By WWII the Manhattan Project was secretly being developed in Niagara Falls, meaning even the factory workers didn’t know the danger of the materials they were handling or what it was being used for. Along with the chemical plants the remnants of most of these radioactive processes  By the 1980’s WNY had been in decline for such a long time that the City of Niagara Falls had to pay volunteers $100 to drag suicide victims from the lower Niagara River. For decades now if you drove around the region it was impossible to miss the rustbelt character of abandoned factories (most recently Tonawanda Coke), overgrown empty lots and houses with boarded up windows. But it is what is invisible to the eye that has cast a long dark shadow over the region and the people who live there. Legacy waste from the chemical companies and the radioactive by products of the Manhattan Project were dumped openly all over the region, with no care for the repercussions of these actions.  And as if that’s not enough there are companies like CECOS International and CWM, to name a couple, who are still taking in extremely dangerous materials from all over the North East and dumping it near homes, schools and farms where vegetables are grown. We have left the WNY region over burdened with waste. Even worse yet much of the waste sits close to the Great Lakes watershed which holds 21% of the worlds’ surface fresh water. By poisoning our environment we have poisoned ourselves.

Some Stats:

  • Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties contain 174 federal or state ‘‘Superfund’’ hazardous waste sites, 43 marked as ‘‘significant threats’’ to public health.

  • Niagara County has more than twice as many federal- and state-designated hazardous waste sites as comparably sized counties throughout the state.

  • Erie County has almost eight times as many brownfield cleanup sites as the average county in the state, and Niagara County has more than twice as many as the average county.

Then they told us don’t eat the tomatoes.
— Ursula Zimmerman, Unseen Interviewee

Above: Calato in her NYC studio.


Chantal Calato (b. 1982) is an American artist raised in Niagara Falls, New York near the infamously toxic Love Canal. For years she has created art that examines the mutilation of our environment, and in turn ourselves. Much of her art has been rooted in personal experience and research. Niagara Falls has become her muse, with a focus on exploring it’s underbelly the long covered up parts of the city.

Calato’s multi-disciplinary practice is informed by a background in photography which she studied at the University at Buffalo, and an MFA in Stage Design that she received at Northwestern University. She has lived in Brazil, Chicago, and London. And now lives and works in NYC with a satellite studio in Niagara Falls. Calato has created her own mini universe working as a painter, sculptor, photographer, and installation artist. Her work has been venues including Trimania, Buffalo Museum of Science, Artpark and the Grain Silos for City of Night in Buffalo, she designed massive warehouse parties and outdoor spectacles for Chicago’s Redmond Theatre in the parks on michigan lake and her hand engineered and built costumes that were worn at a White House Halloween Party in D.C.  “Unseen” will be her first solo museum show at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York.

A personal note from Calato

UNSEEN is deeply personal for me and I created it for one reason my brother Joe Calato. At age 40 Joe was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that eats away at your bones like osteoporosis. With research I learned he lives on a block in Niagara Falls with house after house of families dealing with life threatening cancers and diseases. But I’ll let him tell you the rest. Thank you to all the friends, family and colleagues who have supported me through creating UNSEEN. And thank you to all of you who shared your personal stories, this work would not exist without you. For me this project unexpectedly became more than a work of art or a commentary on the state of our environment and our health, it developed into a community and for me there’s nothing more powerful than that.


UNSEEN is funded by the Global Warming Art Project grant Ben Perrone

and the ‘Environment Maze’ project donors; administered by Arts Services Initiative of WNY.