By Paula Hinz and Kennedy Schultz
Happy birthday, Alliance Française de Buffalo!
In February of 1903, just 115 years ago, a small group of ambitious Buffalo women were interested in maintaining their fluency in French, and remaining up to date in French literature and culture. They sent invitations in French requesting that you reply to Mrs. John G. Milburn. The response was strong and the Buffalo chapter of the worldwide organization was formed by the wife of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition president. The group met on a regular basis to sing in French, read plays and hear visiting lecturers. By 1906, this intense cultural activity as well as a membership of nearly 200, earned the chapter the rank of third most important in the U.S.
Currently, there are over 100 Alliance Française chapters in the U.S. with more than 800 affiliates around the world. While much has changed since 1903, today, Alliance Française de Buffalo championed by dedicated, ambitious volunteers, offers the same opportunities of immersion in the French language, literature and culture.
From age 5 to 105, AFB provides many opportunities to speak French. Conversation groups meet three times a week at local coffee shops. These free gatherings allow participants to enjoy a cup of coffee while meeting a diverse group of French speakers from multiple national origins, in a casual atmosphere. Also offered are evening conversation classes, held on Canisius College’s campus, where adult learners can begin to learn or continue to improve their French skills in small groups led by native-speaking teachers. Young learners can attend weekly children’s classes, held at Amherst Community Church after school during the school year, and also participate in a summer French camp. To encourage public and private high school students of French, the AFB co-sponsors an annual competition with a monetary reward open to all.
Maintaining the mission of our early founders, the AFB offers diverse cultural activities. Each fall we sponsor a live French theatre event in Buffalo, and our book club meets monthly to read and discuss French literature. AFB supports several local institutions, sponsoring French language tours at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery from time to time, and screening French films at the Buffalo History Museum during the Festinéma French Youth Film Festival each March. In July, Bastille Day is celebrated at Larkinville, providing French food and entertainment, including a rousing version of "La Marseillaise." The partnership between the AFB and these community groups makes French language and culture available in diverse venues throughout Western New York.
While fluency was required in 1903, today’s AFB welcomes participation at any level. Our events are accessible to all who enjoy French language and culture – from fluent to novice, including those with a passion for French culture.
After 115 years, we are still passionate about the promotion of French language and the celebration of francophone cultures.
Paula Hinz and Kennedy Schultz are co-presidents of Alliance Française de Buffalo.