by Carreen Schroeder
Located at 1201 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, the former Niagara Falls High School is now home to the 180,000-square-foot Niagara Arts and Cultural Center. Commonly referred to as the "NACC" by locals and enthusiasts who support its grassroots efforts, the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center has come to mean much more for the community than a building saved from demolition in 2000.
It has been transformed into a dynamic, multi-arts center and was recognized as such by the New York State Council on the Arts in 2006. Not only does the NACC provide more than 75 local artists with studios to support their work, it is also home to two publicly accessible galleries, two theaters and a sound stage, promoting visual and performing arts programs. The NACC offers a variety of classes to the public, from stone-carving workshops, to music and voice lessons, drawing and painting, martial arts and meditation, driving classes, recording and cinematography - just to name a few. For families who reside in the City of Niagara Falls, the NACC also operates after-school and summer programs. There are classes in art, dance, music, theater, community gardens and technology.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20, the NACC held its first ever "Sculpting the Future" fundraiser luncheon. Dominique Strauss, a former student, offered a very moving speech on how the NACC had given her a loving home away from home when she was a child. One of the first to benefit from these programs many years ago, Strauss said of the NACC, "They want to see a difference. They want to see a change in people's lives."
Katharine Kudela, the NACC's executive director, has worked tirelessly from day one to not only save the building, but encourage its long-standing presence in and for the Niagara Falls community. Kudela spoke of the NACC's vital importance in Niagara Falls and its overwhelming need for continued financial support. Injecting some humor for the crowd while maintaining her focus on the center's fundraising efforts, Kudela said, "From the very start, we needed a new roof - a $1 million project. We took $10 off per leak for artists who wished to rent a room."
It's but one example of how volunteers and staff have worked to keep the NACC's vision alive and well. Kudela said that although they managed to raise the money and repair the roof, the fact remains that the NACC's home is on the cusp of being 90 years old and regular maintenance isn't an option - it is critical to the building's survival.
Kudela also said there is a real need to focus on volunteers in order to continue offering the high quality of programs available. At present, NACC has one full-timer and six part-time staff, and several volunteers.
The "Sculpting the Future" luncheon featured many local dignitaries, including Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, Niagara County legislators Mark Grozio, Dennis Virtuoso and Jason Zona, and Niagara Falls Councilman Andrew Touma. NACC resident artists showed their support via video presentation and decorated the luncheon walls with their art works. Mary Grace Ohrum spoke via video of what the NACC means to her as an artist. Having moved out of the city for a few years, Ohrum noted how excited she was to return and become part of such an inspiring group of individuals.
Other resident artists attended the luncheon, including Jonathan Rogers and Victor Marwin who have been a part of the NACC for many years. Chloe Long, the NACC's voice teacher, delivered an emotionally charged poem and song on the importance of community and shared humanity that brought the crowd to tears. Commenting where she sees the NACC now and in the future, Long said, "I've seen the vision and I've heard the voice."
For those who missed the "Sculpting the Future" luncheon, there are two major fundraisers of note in coming days.
The NACC's "Winter Wonderland" will take place Saturday, Dec. 7, from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Pine Avenue complex. Events include:
•An open house and artist market with local artists and artisans from 3 to 5 p.m. NACC artists will open their studios to the public or have a display table in the hallway. Artist vendors will be selling gift items such as original artwork, prints, Niagara Falls calendars, note cards, photographs, hand-crafted jewelry, hand-made wooden decor, purses, fabric art, pottery, sculpture, etc. In addition, there will be all-day entertainment, including live music, a wearable art fashion show of Mary Grace O designs, plus singers and dancers.
•The NACC's Artists and Friends Exhibition will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Main Gallery. Featured will be more than 100 art pieces by 30 artists from throughout Western New York along with complimentary wines, hors d'oeuvres and music.
For more on this daylong program, visit the NACC page on Facebook.
Another fundraiser will take place in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Beginning at 7 p.m., Wine on Third, 501 Third St., will host an art auction to benefit the NACC. Very similar to the live art events that Wine on Third hosted during the summer months, there will be several local NACC artists on site displaying their work.
One artist in particular, Michael Neffke, will set up a special table with several pieces from his metal and wood collection. Kelly Lang Buckley, the NACC's program development coordinator said some of Neffke's work normally sells for $3,000 but will have a starting bid of $250. Buckley said there is no entrance fee for this event, but donations are always welcome.
For more information on the Dec. 10 art auction, contact Brook D'Angelo, Wine on Third's event coordinator, at 716-531-3903.
Terry Duffy contributed to this article.