From NIGHT\SHIFT to CAFKA: How We Celebrate Public Art

Earlier in March, Eric Rumble, announced the retirement of the annual arts festival that he co-founded, NIGHT\SHIFT, in Kitchener Waterloo.

“Zero funds have been raised to put on a sixth festival in early November 2018 and there are no plans or resources to produce another one,” Rumble said in a blog post on the NIGHT\SHIFT website.

And so, with its retirement, what does it mean for local art initiatives in KW? What needs to be done for organizations like NIGHT\SHIFT to remain sustainable and continue receiving support from their surrounding communities?

Both co-founder Eric Rumble of NIGHT\SHIFTand Executive Director of Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA) Gordon Hatt offered some input on the challenges of maintaining an organization and the importance of keeping KW art alive.

CAFKA is a contemporary visual non-profit organization that aims to promote local art in KW through its exhibits and events.

Hatt, who stressed that while CAFKA is different from NIGHT\SHIFT in many ways, also sees some similarities in the origins of both organizations.

“[CAFKA] started up in 2001 and ran for five years as an annual event,” Hatt said. “We got a little bit of money, little project grants here and there. But because we were unincorporated we couldn’t really run our own finances; we couldn’t get grants directly paid to CAFKA. They had to go through other organizations. Everyone who was employed was on a short term contract.”

Similarly, NIGHT\SHIFT started out the same way with a volunteer base structure, but with more responsibilities being put on the founder himself.

“NIGHT\SHIFT has certainly had fantastic volunteer contributions from dozens of awesome locals, but organizationally it only materialized,” Rumble said in an email statement to the Community Edition. “I was devoting 500+ hours of my spare time during each of the last five years to fund, develop, wrangle and deliver it, cradle to grave and beyond.”

When CAFKA realized their volunteer base was diminishing due to some of their volunteers experiencing burn out, it turned itself into a non-profit corporation, thanks to the support of Musagetes, a local foundation in KW.

“We have a constitution, we have bylaws, we have officers of the corporation, we have mandatory term limits,” Hatt said, in regards to their structure. “There are all sorts of government structures that are intended to develop individuals with skillsets, fundraising skillsets, legal skillsets, financial skillsets. We bring them in and have a training period and at the same time try to bring in fresh blood.”

Hatt also stressed the importance of constantly adapting as an arts organization.

“You’re creating a living organism when you create CAFKA,” Hatt said. “And you have to feed and nurture it. And the environment and social norms and cultures around it changes, [too].”

In addition to adapting and creating more structure, another aspect that CAFKA must always maintain is having at least 50 per cent of their board as practicing artists, which also allow them to get funding from the Ontario Arts Council Program and Support for Artists Run Organization.

Being an arts professional for 30 years, Hatt admires the local arts initiatives in KW, and is sad to see an event like NIGHT\SHIFT retire.

“I’m sad to see them go. I understand entirely why five years is probably the limit for organizations like that,” Hatt said. “I thought what they did with the storefronts and the music was really great. Some of my worst criticisms of Kitchener are walking down those empty streets at night. So that was what they did so well.”

Rumble, who is also sad to see the event he created come to an end, is grateful for the opportunities he had as well as the impact he hopes it leaves.

“I’ll be forever pleased that it allowed me to support weird, experimental music and to pay a bunch of lovely people to craft weird, experimental experiences for a bunch of other seemingly mostly lovely people who reciprocated by bundling up and coming out and giving so much energy to it all in so many ways,” Rumble said.

“I hope NIGHT\SHIFT encouraged people to feel fresh layers of possibility in the many downtown spaces that hosted festival programming, whether neglected laneways, strange pockets or small businesses,” Rumble also said in regards to the legacy he hopes NIGHT\SHIFT leaves behinds.

“I hope it helped entice both locals and visitors to explore some of Kitchener’s creative subcultures and to connect with artists or ideas that are active here, now.”

NIGHT\SHIFT will be hosting a farewell party on May 30. More details of the event will be posted on NIGHT\SHIFT Facebook page.

Both Hatt and Rumble see the importance of promoting local art in the Region. The most upcoming exhibit by CAFKA, Recognizing Everyone, reflects just that.

“It came from a game,” said Hatt when explaining the origin behind the theme of this annual exhibit. “The game was that two artists who go to different cities, where they didn’t know anyone … [and] see everyone around them and make them truly familiar … It’s a way of saying everything around you is strange and everything around you is familiar. It’s kind of an interesting idea of asserting yourself in a new landscape in a way that makes it home.”

Like all of CAFKA’s exhibits, Recognize Everyone, which will take place from June 2 – July 1 2018, is being organized by local artists of CAFKA’s program committee. The art installations will be placed as south as Cambridge and as north as Conestoga Mall in Waterloo.

“I think they felt they wanted to do something for Kitchener,” Hatt said when explaining the importance of having artists behind these local initiatives.

“The very act of having contemporary artists organizing this event is very ideal. It’s kind of a radical act just belonging here. Artists belong here. It’s just not a place that makes rubber and sausages and tech gadgets, it’s also a place where artists and musicians and creative people belong.”

Rumble also echoed the same sentiments and offered advice on how KW residents can continue supporting local art.

“Give whatever you can to whatever grabs your attention. Donate money to events and organizations you want to see continue their work. Consider opportunities to PWYC seriously,” he said.

“And if you hear anyone suggest that an artist do something for exposure instead of payment, please give that person a talking to.”