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ORGANIZERS HOPE GOSPELFEST SPURS
A COMMUNITY HUB AT NEW SCHOOL

The avowed goals of "Gospelfest 2001: A Celebration of African-American History in Song" are to observe Black History Month and to raise scholarship money by showcasing the talents of some 200 youths from eight gospel groups.

But its further purpose is to help establish the new Niagara Falls High School as a community center in the eyes of city residents.

Gospelfest will be performed at 5 p.m. today in the high school's Performing Arts Center.

"Back last September, I had an idea about trying to do a fund-raising activity that would involve the community coming in and having a chance to enjoy our wonderful Performing Arts Theatre," said Manning Fogan II, principal of the school's Visual, Performing & Communications Arts House.

"So I called Stephanie Cowart, who is executive director of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority. We did some brainstorming and we put together a committee of people from the community. We think we have the basis for something that should make for an outstanding evening," Fogan said.

Taking turns on stage in the 1,700-seat auditorium will be the Niagara Falls High School Gospel Choir, the Niagara Falls Music Workshop Choir, the McCray Gospel Singers, the Mount Zion Male Chorus, the Bethlehem Revival Youth Choir, the Perfect Worship Team, Tina Gregory and Lachenelle McClain and, from Buffalo, the St. John's United Mass Choir.

This might become an annual affair.

"It's not a religious ceremony or anything like that," Fogan said. "It is one of the aspects that we celebrate of the African-American experience. You know, there's a lot of history behind gospel music; its roots go back to the 1890s. The focus this year is gospel music, and we hope to change the focus from year to year."

The theme is "We Are One," celebrating not only racial diversity but the recent merging of the city's two rival high schools -- LaSalle and Niagara Falls -- into one for 2,400 students on Porter Road.

Its further purpose will become most apparent during the intermission, when a health fair will emerge. This was conceived by Marlene LaMar, theme specialist for the school's Health, Sports Management & Recreation House

"She's put together some health information," said Fogan, "and as long as we have a captive audience, so to speak, we thought it would be a good idea to distribute some helpful information on cancer and high blood pressure and other health issues. Folks will be able to take a packet of information home with them."

And it's another step toward acceptance of this high school as a community center serving all groups and ages.

Other current arts activities in Niagara County include:

March 31 is the deadline for applying for $14,000 in video production grants that will be awarded by the New York State Council on the Arts, Niagara Council of the Arts and Lockport Community Cable Commission. Projects must reflect social, historical or cultural aspects of Niagara County. The goal is to encourage production of nontraditional video projects in the area, using access to cable television. For more information, call Carl Schifano at 284-6188 or Greg Larson at Lockport Community Television, 434-1733.

During Black History Month, Niagara Falls Public Library is exhibiting local artist Antoinette Renee Pippens' paper clay figures and oil paintings reflecting current African-American life. Also in the library, 1425 Main St., is a display of famous African-Americans.

"Tuesday Toast and Jam," a six-week series of open-mike entertainment, has started in Lewiston's rustic Village Inn and continues every Tuesday from 7 to 10 p.m. through March 20. Songwriter and keyboardist Alphonso Marra Bax hosts a musical experience crossing boundaries of age and style for a relaxed evening of music, poetry, comedy and performance art. For more information, call 754-0166.

"Our Town," by Thornton Wilder, continues for the next two weekends in the historic Friedens Church at Schenck and Vandervoort streets in North Tonawanda. The Ghostlight Theater Company presentation features Jessica Swartz as the stage manager, Leah Stitzer King and Chris Fire as the star-crossed Emily Webb and George Gibbs, and Larry Norton, Cheri Shively Pieszak, Carl Tamburlin and Joy Ann Wrona as the beleaguered parents.

"Studio 2001" continues through Saturday in Partners in Art Gallery, 83 Webster St., North Tonawanda. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday.

Friday is the last day of the "Illustrators Show" in Niagara County Community College Art Gallery. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in D Building on the campus at 3111 Saunders Settlement Road in Sanborn.

"Landscape Into Past and Present -- Niagara" features oil and acrylic paintings, drawings, signed and numbered limited-edition prints in Paul T. Hanover/Rolling Thunder Arts, 610 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls.

Watercolors by Joseph Whalen and antique engravings of local landmarks can be seen in Gallery 12, 12 W. Main St., Lockport.

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