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NACC exhibit beginning Jan. 22 spotlights emerging black artists

NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, 1201 Pine Ave., will pay tribute to emerging artists of color at the sixth annual “I Can See Canaan Land” exhibit from Jan. 22 to Feb. 20.

Entries to participate in the show are due by Jan. 4.

The exhibit, which continues through February as a celebration of Black History Month, is curated by Ray Robertson. The show is open to all ages and backgrounds, as well as all visual arts and mediums. It is envisioned as a comprehensive look at the African-American experience, both historical and contemporary, as well as personal.

“It’s one of our more culturally charged programs,” said Rachel Olszewski, program director at the center, who is partnering with Robertson to curate the show.

A highlight of the show will be a vendors and craft market on Feb. 6, which also features poetry and performances. Olszewski said that 20 to 40 artists participate each year.

On Feb. 21, there will be a masters dance class presented by the African-American Cultural Center, sponsored by Niagara LINKS. The class will feature African-style drummers and dancers, followed by a lecture and readings for the closing ceremonies.

The term “Canaan Land” is a reference to Canada as well as the biblical interpretation of Canaan, the free land, Olszewski said.

She said this is the term used by people on the Underground Railroad as they traveled from Niagara Falls to Canada.

Suggested themes for participating artists include: freedom, African-American experience, civil rights, salvation, the Underground Railroad, regional history and heroes, immigration, emancipation, Juneteenth, police violence, gun violence, the great migration and Freedom Crossing.

“We’ve tried to make it more modern. When we say migration, we are not only talking about former slaves migrating to Canada, but also new immigrants migrating to the area. We are hoping to reach out to the Burmese community,” Olszewski said of the 2016 show.

“I Can See Canaan Land” also will kick off the Underground Railroad exhibit, which will have a soft open on Feb. 21. The permanent exhibit will officially open in March. The Underground Railroad exhibit will be offered in partnership with the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and the Underground Railroad Commission.

Kathie Kudela, executive director of the NACC, said the “beautiful exhibit” was received from the Castellani Art Museum in Lewiston and said the center plans to develop new programs around it.

“We will educate not only tourists, but also the community,” Kudela said of the plans for the Underground Railroad exhibit. She said the exhibit will be a natural tie-in to the city’s Interpretive Center at the Whirlpool Bridge, which focuses on the Harriet Tubman story. The Interpretive Center is expected to open in 2017.

Entries for “I Can See Canaan Land” are due by 5 p.m. Jan. 4 and can be sent via email to with the subject line “artists of color submission,” or by mail at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, c/o Rachel M. Olszewski, 1201 Pine Ave, Niagara Falls, 14301. Artists will be informed if their art has been selected by Jan. 8; artwork must be dropped off between Jan. 11 and 15.

The entry fee is $30 for the first two pieces and $10 for two additional pieces.

Awards in the “I Can See Canaan Land” are $300 for first place, $200 for second and $100 for third and are judged on composition and interpretation of theme.