For more than 20 years CAFKA has supported a diverse spectrum of local, national, and international artists, bringing hundreds of thought-provoking contemporary artworks to public spaces across Waterloo Region. Building on the momentum of a city-run visual arts festival that was initiated in the late-1990’s, a group of local artists began hosting an annual Contemporary Art Forum in the public spaces surrounding Kitchener City Hall, beginning in 2001. In 2005, the organization was incorporated and in 2006 CAFKA hired their first full-time staff person. In 2007 CAFKA became a biennial (rather than annual) exhibition, and in 2014 the organization moved the exhibition from the fall to the summer months. A unique curatorial framework is established for each biennial exhibition, and artist projects are programmed through a combination of peer-juried submissions and curatorial invitations. CAFKA works to create meaningful cultural experiences, build community connections, and engage public discourse around issues of social justice, social responsibility, and public and private space, bringing ground-breaking artists to Kitchener-Waterloo to contribute to these discussions.
In off-biennial years CAFKA mobilizes meaningful programming partnerships, inviting artists to present Big Ideas in Art + Culture lectures (a lecture series co-presented by Musagetes in Guelph), commissioning artist projects for Lumen Festival (a nighttime art festival organized by the City of Waterloo), and coordinating artistic interventions inside a local mall (supported through a sponsorship from Conestoga Mall). Since 2023, CAFKA has partnered with art departments at local schools to pilot The Young Contemporaries, a Youth Council program for young artists ages 16–25, and in 2024 CAFKA is presenting a series of monthly workshops for local artists, supported by The Keith and Winifred Shantz Fund for the Arts.
CAFKA's community-engaged contemporary art programming supported through grants from the City of Kitchener, the City of Waterloo, the Region of Waterloo, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, The Musagetes Fund, the Waterloo Region Community Foundation, the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund, Young Canada Works, and Canada Summer Jobs, and through dozens of partnerships with local businesses and cultural organizations.