CAFKA began in 1996 in Kitchener as a city-run annual visual arts festival called Artworks. Originally a two-day event with six artists’ projects, the event was held in the city hall, in the civic square and on King Street in downtown Kitchener and consisted of an art sale, cultural information exchange and art exhibits. The objective was to encourage the public to participate and see “art being made.”
In 2000, nine projects were exhibited over a two-day period. By 2001 the festival had changed its name to CAFKA, grown to 17 projects staged over nine days, and expanded its base to include Kitchener City Hall and environs. CAFKA operated under the umbrella of Globe Studios and went on to hold five successful annual events before moving to a biennial format for CAFKA.07: Haptic. Each edition of CAFKA took on an over-arching theme relating to the history or current preoccupations of the region. By having artists from across Canada and around the world participate in the Forum, each theme was explored from diverse social and cultural perspectives. Globe Studios, an artist run studio facility in Kitchener, provided support for CAFKA during its early years. CAFKA continues to occupy office space in the building managed by Globe Studios but its operations and mission began to evolve beyond the mandate of Globe. In February of 2005 CAFKA separated from Globe Studios and became incorporated as a separate non-profit organization. In 2006, with support from the Musagetes Foundation, CAFKA hired a full-time Artistic Director and full-time Executive Director.
Following the CAFKA.11: SURVIVE. RESIST., the CAFKA board decided to reorganize and relocate the biennial exhibition from the fall of the odd year (September 2011) to the spring of the next even year (June 2014). CAFKA formed a strategic relationship with the Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound in 2012 as they decided to move the timing of the Open Ears biennial festival to May/June of the even year as well. Together, to bridge this transition, CAFKA organized the off-year events, CAFKA @ The Walper Hotel and Between the Ears.
Since 2001 CAFKA has produced five annual exhibitions, six biennial exhibitions, two off-biennial exhibitions, three special projects for a total of 250 artworks by 215 artists.