By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Still on a break from writing on the 1950s on Pine Avenue, I looked at the last few week’s of my submissions and it occurred to me that I had been cheerleading during all of them, not just the last two where I finally came to terms with it. You may recall my topic of the Niagara Beautification Commission Annual Awards Luncheon where we honored both Niagara County Community College and Niagara University for their community spirit.
Thinking about NCCC and NU, I decided to continue my spin on some of the other alphabet soup contributors in our area and cheer them on also. Since most are in the Niagara area, they also begin with “N” and this week I am highlighting the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC) for all it does with so little in resources to provide almost every type of cultural offering to every segment of our population.
One definition of culture is the “acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities and broad special aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills.”
The NACC grew out of the former Save Our Sites, Inc. which was organized by a group of dedicated individuals who joined together to save the 70-year-old Niagara Falls High School from demolition in the late 1990s. Today it is the largest multi-arts center in Western New York and home to 75 artists and art groups. Children and adults can enjoy and participate in the fine arts and performing arts at this location and artists, dancers, musicians, photographers and sculptors have an affordable location for their studios to create, display and sell their talents.
Native American artists have found a welcoming site to exhibit their artwork, stone-carving, hand-drum workshops, round dance and social festivals. The Main Gallery at the NACC hosts six exhibits each year showing their tenant-artists works and that of outside groups offering African American arts and music, student art works from the Lewiston-Porter School District and the exhibit currently showing presented by the Buffalo Society of Artists to name a few. A side note: the exhibit is running until Nov. 3.
That is not all. I am a member of the board of directors of this unique organization and at our recent meeting I was amazed to receive a draft of events for 2013. While not in final form, it included the popular Art of Beer, a Quilt and Fabric Festival, the annual Easter Egg Hunt held on the spacious front lawn, a Native America Bird Concert, three possible dinner theatre presentations, and the popular JAZZ and Ontario House Reunion presented each August. This is in addition to the six exhibits in the main gallery mentioned above.
And, that is still not all! In conjunction with the Erwin Johnson Memorial Fund’s “Opera Day (Oct. 18) and Opera Week (Oct. 26 through Nov. 4) in Buffalo/Niagara, a free, Hillman Opera’s Opera Informance on Opera Day (Oct. 28) will be held at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center at 4 p.m. following the performance in Buffalo at 2 p.m. at Westminster. The NACC performance will feature cast members singing excerpts from two operas, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, directed and narrated by Professor Julie Newell, SUNY Fredonia. Attendees can meet the cast at the Opera Poster Exhibition and reception following the performance. The NACC portion is sponsored by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission as the entire Opera Week timeframe is a bi-national effort with performances in Niagara Falls, Ont., and Toronto. Other events will take place in Orchard Park, East Aurora, and Rochester. Check out the website www.celebrateoperawny.org.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster will read proclamations from Erie County and Niagara Falls respectively on Opera Day opening ceremonies. Portions of this week are funded by Opera Volunteers International.
There is still so much more! Students of the former Niagara Falls High School will remember the 900 seat auditorium where our graduation ceremonies took place. Our large class of 1957 was split into two nights alphabetically to accommodate friends and families. It is now the home of the Grand Theater and has been the topic of many of our monthly meetings as serious plans for restoration and renovation are in the works. If only we had the funding! It is used minimally by outside groups for events such as dance competitions, stage productions, rehearsals and the like.
But the smaller version on the third floor former school library holds 80 seats and is used principally by a resident theater group on a regular basis. Silverlining Productions produce four performances each year and dinner theater became a long-awaited reality with the performance of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap a few weeks ago.
Dinner was held in the main gallery (formerly the school cafeteria) which was chaired and organized by board member Scott Akdogan with the help of Artie Vanderpool. As I mentioned earlier, tentative plans call for ethnic-themed dinner theater next year. I am looking forward to that as it was an evening well spent away from the computer and/or television.
I am proud to be a member of the board of directors and supporter of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center. There is much more to tell about the amazing reuse of this historic landmark in our city as I have only scratched the surface. Hip Hip Hooray!Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.