This is the history of how ACAFE began.
A library is a hub, and the staff who work there gain an acute awareness of the people, the issues, the clubs, the associations and the challenges that a community faces.
Over the years, Hazel Reinhart, as the Children’s Services Co-ordinator at all three branches of the Fort Erie Public Library, became conscious of the need to establish a communication network for the arts and cultural groups in Fort Erie. She observed, often firsthand, that groups were working in silos, unable to access information about events that could potentially impact or enhance their own plans. She had an idea that if the paths of communication opened up that the potential for a stronger arts and cultural community could be realized. She researched other towns, many of a similar size to ours, where the art community had become a force that positively impacted both the social fabric and the economy.
She wanted this in Fort Erie.
On her retirement she approached Stephen Passero, a Fort Erie Town Councillor with an idea. That idea formed the nucleus of what is the beginning of a new arts and cultural community, ACAFE, the Arts & Culture Alliance of Fort Erie.
Hazel sees ACAFE as the first few steps on a long path that has the potential to change the fabric and the prospects of Fort Erie.
To promote, connect, and support all of the arts and cultural groups, organizations, and associated businesses of Fort Erie.
To facilitate cooperation and collaboration within the partners with a shared event calendar, grants and special funding, cross-promotion, strengthened network of supporters and patrons, and as “one voice” represented at the Town of Fort Erie.
I AM ONE VOICE
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Written and presented to the Town of Fort Erie by Hazel Reinhart
I am one voice, but I speak for hundreds.
I am honored to speak for Fort Erie’s artists, musicians, actors, writers, historians and those who support them. Some have lived in our municipality their entire lives, others have chosen to live here, but to a person, they have all decided that this is the time to stop working in isolation, to stop working in silos and put their voices together to make a difference.
The meetings began a few months ago. Representatives from the Fort Erie Arts Council and Heritage Arts, the Dominion Repertory Theatre and Garrison Little Theatre, the Fort Erie Public Library, Ridgeway Reads Literary Society, the Sanctuary for the Arts and Sessions on the River decided to collaborate and this collaboration you see before you … the Arts and Culture Alliance of Fort Erie, or, as we refer to it, ACAFE.
Think about it, ACAFE, what better name for an association than one that conjures up the image of like minded people meeting in a convivial setting discussing subject that they deem important.
“Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it”, this according to New York artist and editor, Robert Motherwell, a contemporary of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. A poor life, indeed.
A survey conducted by the Environics Research Group for the Arts Council of Ontario titled “The Arts and the Quality of Life”, 2010, found that a large majority of Ontarians believe that the presence of the arts is important to their own quality of life and that of their community. They maintained that they would miss art if it was not available and they DISAGREED with the view that arts activities do little or nothing for the well being of the community. This study included Niagara, this study included us.
John Kenneth Galbraith, a renowned U.S. economist stated that “Those communities that are richest in their artistic tradition are also those that are the most progressive in their economic performance and most resilient and secure in their economic structure”.
As you see before you, Fort Erie has a strong emerging arts and culture community. As a group they already impact the lives of children, seniors and families. They bring to town music, art, theatre, authors. They can be found in Ridgeway, Stevensville, old Fort Erie, right across our community. They offer the residents of Fort Erie opportunities to discover and celebrate their creativity. And as ACAFE they have the potential to do more, create more programs, engage a larger percentage of the population, acquire funding, generate economic benefits.
There are new communities in our municipality, entire subdivisions that are marketed to an adult lifestyle. The people who are purchasing these homes are urbanites from Hamilton, Toronto and other major centres. They are looking for a simpler, slower paced life, but they also expect some of the amenities that they learned to appreciate where they used to live. For many, these amenities include arts and culture.
Our own families deserve that exposure as well. Children need to have choices. They need sports, they need a good education, but they also need to have access to arts and culture in order to expand their experiences. The federal government recognized this need to have children experience arts and culture by the introduction, in 2011, of the Children’s Art Tax Credit where parents can claim up to $500 in fees for enrolling a child under the age of 16 in an eligible arts program. Families with disabled children under the age of 18 can apply for the tax credit, too, and isn’t it interesting that the chair of Fort Erie’s TASC, Theraputic Alternatives for Special Children, has just asked to become part of ACAFE.
In a U.S. study “Arts and Culture and the Social Health of the Nation” 2005 produced by Vassar College and funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation one of the key findings included the belief that attending arts events help us to see things from other people’s perspectives, to think more imaginatively and allows us to leave daily lives behind. Furthermore, it found that Americans strongly value arts for their children … and wish that they had gone to more arts events when they were young. We are not much different than our southern neighbours. In an era where many schools are reducing children’s access to the arts, how much more important a community’s involvement has become. How much more ACAFE can make an impact.
Other communities of similar size have done it. Owen Sound, Grimsby, Simcoe, Leamington … these and more have embraced arts and culture, have opened art galleries, held festivals and concerts and have increased the economic impact of their creativity to include and enhance local businesses. Their Town Councils celebrate their progress.
ACAFE is at the opening gate and your recognition as our Town Council will allow us to pursue the “Keys to our Success”. We know what makes us special, but we need to communicate it. We need a professional image, and we know that this evolving collaboration will allow us to share our resources and attract more. In light of the growth and importance of social media we recognize that everything we do must have an online presence. We realize that we need to partner with local, regional and provincial governments as well as local businesses to secure our place in our community.
Author, Yann Martel stated that “if we as citizens do not support our artists then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and will end up believing nothing and having worthless dreams”.
Members of ACAFE have dreamed of a strong arts and culture scene in Fort Erie for years, some as many as 20 plus. We are asking members of council to imagine a community where sports, history, heritage, arts, music, theatre and literary events can become an integral part of the fabric and economy of our community. Where our children can have the opportunity to explore the arts and where the rest of us can experience enrichment. It has already started. ACAFE is a reality that will grow. Support us, watch us, and know we’ll be back, very soon.