Tonawanda News

June 30, 2013

Weather bright for festival on Old Falls Street

By Timothy Chipp timothy.chipp@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — Rain has certainly been on the mind of just about everyone in Niagara County for the last week or so, especially after Friday’s flash flooding in Lockport.

So when Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival Chairwoman Andrea Galyn stepped on stage Saturday afternoon to announce some awards and the sun broke through a few heavy clouds in the sky, she took the opportunity to have a little fun with the gathered crowd.

“I’d like to take credit for the weather today,” she said, deadpanning her audience. “I stayed up all night performing some ceremonial prayers for this. And it worked.”

The Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival, dominating Old Falls Street this year after moving from Main Street, brought dozens of area artists, several food vendors and three stages worth of musical performances to the area for a weekend of display and encouragement. Visitors, shoppers and vendors alike took to perusing as the sun beat down on them. Some chose to break out the umbrellas for protection, a far cry from what they originally packed them for, given the recent waterworks.

Still, despite the weather, the street was alive with activity, which is exactly what Galyn said needs to happen in a city the size of Niagara Falls.

“This festival is an amazing example of the creativity of our city,” she said. “This is our opportunity to express ourselves. It’s important for us to continue to emphasize the arts in our city. If you look at any textbook, that’s the key to revitalizing our city.”

Another way to help the city recover is to try to bring people back into the residential areas, to reestablish the tax base. This is exactly what happened to Michael Neffke.

After growing up in the Niagara Falls area, Neffke left for what were greener pastures in the New York City and New Jersey area. But slowly, both familial ties and his art made it advantageous to return. He’s been back for a few years now and business is booming.

He said he can’t keep up with demand for his tables and other pieces of furniture, which he builds out of industrial equipment he’s scrapped and repurposed.

“I build furniture and art out of old industrial, farming and other equipment,” he said. “I get all of my materials locally. And I can’t keep up with the orders I receive. People really seem to love my stuff.”

The love affair stemmed all the way to the judges, which recognized Neffke with the first place ribbon for artisan, which required real-world practicality in the displayed items this weekend.

With a workshop on Main Street near the police station in the city, he said he’s now working on pieces for 10 hours a day just to keep up.

Though demand isn’t as high for works by Falls resident Kim Reeves, the impressions from customers and onlookers is just as complimentary.

Reeves, a nurse at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center when not painting, uses acrylics to take everyday situations and images and turn them into larger-than-life expressions. It’s a style called pop art, he said.

“You take regular, everyday things in life and you exaggerate them,” he said of his work. “On my business card, it says I paint what I see. It’s all out here, it’s really just about how you interpret it.”

Though he doesn’t compare himself directly to any of his artistic idols, it’s previous pop art leaders like Andy Warhol whom Reeves draws his inspiration from, stylistically anyway.

For the past seven years, he’s enjoyed making artwork not just for others to enjoy, but to keep him from going insane.

“It’s like therapy for me,” he said. “This is what I do for therapy.”

The party continues today from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. again on Old Falls Street. More information is available at www.festivalatthefalls.com.

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251, or follow on Twitter @timchipp.