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Castellani Art Museum collection includes 5,600 pieces, thanks to supporters like DiMino-Hepfer

Bright and spacious, the Castellani Art Museum brings a vibrancy to its mission, focusing on the enjoyment and educational potential of the visual arts through its vast collection of largely modern and contemporary art.

It also contains the world’s largest collection of Niagara Falls imagery, dating back to the 1800s, with a few even older pieces, and it has the only full-time folk arts program in Western New York.

The CAM -- Niagara County’s only art museum -- strives to attract all ages with its rotating exhibits and varied, often hands-on programming, according to museum Director Kate Koperski.

“We want to encourage everyone to explore their own, artistic selves,” she said.

“Studies show that young people who participate in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than children who do not have access to the arts,” she added. “By supporting the museum’s education programming, you are investing in Niagara County’s future.”

The CAM will hold its 14th annual gala fundraiser from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. It moves off campus for the first time this year, to the Conference and Event Center in Niagara Falls. The CAM’s premier fundraiser features a cocktail hour, dinner, and silent and live auctions.

Proceeds largely support art education programs, including the museum’s Art Express family workshops, school tours, art supplies, teaching artists’ fees, and scholarships to the Kids ’n Arts Summer Camp.

Koperski said the museum conducts a Fall and Spring session of Art Express, with the next one scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Saturday, featuring Zen doodle watercolor prints.

“This is a friendly way to get people interacting with art,” she said. “Families come here and we read a story about art and look at a piece of art and then you make your own artwork, based on your experience. This supports literacy and, also, how we look at art…. And, if a child is interested in hearing a story and a parent will help make the art, even children as young as two to three-years-old are welcome.”

Art Express continues from 2 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 5 and 19, and Dec. 3 and 17. A $5 fee helps cover materials.

Anne Marie DiMino-Hepfer at the Castellani Art Museum on the Niagara University campus in Lewiston, N.Y. on Thursday, October 6, 2016. (Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News)

Anne Marie DiMino-Hepfer at the Castellani Art Museum on the Niagara University campus in Lewiston, N.Y. on Thursday, October 6, 2016. (Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News)

Anne Marie DiMino-Hepfer recalls taking her three children (now young adults) to the Art Express programs at the CAM when they were young, as well as to summer art camps. The museum hold a special place in her heart, as her parents, Catherine and the late Alphonso DiMino, were among its founding families.

Long an active volunteer on behalf of the museum, DiMino-Hepfer will be given the first CAM Legacy Award at Saturday’s gala.

The award is particularly meaningful to DiMino-Hepfer, she said, because she intimately knew Armand and Eleanor Castellani, for whom the museum is named.

“My father and Armand started Tops Markets together,” DiMino-Hepfer recalled. “We even lived on the same street until I was five. We were very close to Armand and Eleanor. Anything Armand asked of my father, he got involved.”

And that devotion carried over to the founding of the museum.

The Castellanis had begun collecting art in the 1960s and helped build the Buscaglia-Castellani Art Gallery on the NU satellite DeVeaux campus in 1978. By 1989, the collection had grown to more than 3,000 pieces and the decision was made to build the current museum on NU’s main campus, which opened in 1990. This was achieved largely with the support of the Castellanis, along with a handful of other contributors, including the DiMinos. The DiMinos, along with Alphonso’s brother, Leonard, donated the museum’s sculpture room, DiMino-Hepfer recalled.

Following in her parents’ footsteps, DiMino-Hepfer has long been a museum supporter. Chairing the gala committee last year, she helped boost the proceeds to record levels.

“We implemented a sponsorship level program and made the silent and live auctions a little bit bigger,” she explained.

She also had some fun with that chairmanship, recalling that her longtime friend Chris Castellani -- a son of the founders and also a strong museum supporter -- promised to buy her dinner if she could raise $100,000.

“We netted over $100,000,” she said with a chuckle.

When DiMino-Hepfer learned that the CAM planned to honor her with an award at this year’s gala, she said at first she tried to decline.

“I’m not one who likes to get awards,” she said. “I just do this because I love doing it. But when they told me this was a legacy award, I felt really honored because I’m carrying on my father’s legacy, too. I’m really in shock. But especially because of my close relationship with the Castellani family, this means so much more to me….They were like our second family.”

DiMino-Hepfer is active in other community causes, as well. Chairing an auction for the 29th year this past May for the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara Falls, DiMino-Hepfer again broke a record, raising more than $100,000. She also helps with the Mount St. Mary’s gala each year, and founded two arts scholarships at Stella Niagara Education Park, her alma mater.

“That’s my passion,” she said. “I’ve had a good life. I want to give back to the community. And I’ve instilled this in my three kids, who have been involved in events since they were in diapers, when I would take them with me to things. And, my husband, Steven, has been totally supportive of all of my activities.”

DiMino-Hepfer and her husband are NU alumni, and their daughter, Sarah, is currently an NU sophomore.

Commenting on the art museum, she said, “It’s such a beautiful building. My Dad always loved the arts and he instilled that in all of his kids.”

Koperski acknowledged the work of DiMino-Hepfer and other museum supporters in helping the institution carry out its mission.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have such a dedicated core of volunteers and last year, Anne Marie decided that since this was the 25th anniversary of the building of the museum on Niagara’s main campus, she’d make it special,” Koperski recalled. “She reached out to the original benefactors, which was really extraordinary, to thank them. But she also knew that we needed to look to the future, at the next generation.

“We need to start getting the 20- and 30-somethings involved,” she added. “We need to look at different kinds of events for younger people because they tend to get involved in things that are a little more interactive. Having a glass of wine while learning how to create an oil painting -- look how incredibly popular that’s become.

“We had our first Front Porch Party at the beginning of school this year, making use of our wonderful portico, and we had lawn games and a photo booth and people could make little bling cases and it was incredibly successful,” Koperski noted. “We need to start looking for simple, small events on an ongoing basis.

“After the gala, our committee will be taking a lot of time brainstorming on other ways we can encourage younger people to get involved,” she said.

A little more than 20,000 patrons visited the CAM last year. The museum has approximately 5,600 pieces in its collection now, but the vast majority are in storage -- not at all unusual for an art museum, Koperski noted.

“Most museums don’t have more than 2 percent of their collections out at any one time,” she said. “But we change our exhibits on a regular basis and we have seven galleries. We rotate pieces every three months, so if someone were to come in every three months, they’d certainly see something new!”

Castellani Art Museum
Niagara University campus
5795 Lewiston Road, Lewiston
Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tues.-Sat., and 1 to 5 p.m. Sun. Follows NU holiday calendar, but is open through the summer.
Admission: Free, but donations gladly accepted.
Info: 286-8200 or www.castellaniartmuseum.org

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