The acronym "CAFKA," standing for Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area, embodied the mission and the vision of this organization's founding members: CAFKA would represent contemporary art (unapologetically), in the city where these artists gathered and where they were nurtured (Kitchener), and in the Region's surrounding municipalities (Waterloo and Cambridge). And it was going to be a "forum." CAFKA was not only going to exhibit contemporary art, it was going to talk about it too.

In the early years, CAFKA hosted talks by artists during the exhibitions. Between 2002 and 2009 CAFKA published five illustrated exhibition catalogues featuring essays by respected critics of contemporary art. In 2007, CAFKA launched CAFKA.TV, a visionary exploration of the new possibilities of video podcasting. What text can only aspire to capture, CAFKA.TV achieved without even trying: artists speaking in their own voice. Browsing through the first decade of the CAFKA.TV video archive we can trace the personal journeys of many of the artists who CAFKA brought to this community. 

In 2009, with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and in partnership with Musagetes, CAFKA launched the Big Ideas in Art and Culture lecture series. Since going to a biennial format in 2007, CAFKA struggled to retain profile and visibility in the off-biennial years. The Big Ideas series reinvigorated the forum in CAFKA by bringing to the Region some of the most interesting artists and thinkers in the field of public art. 

And CAFKA talks about contemporary art on social media. Social media has increasingly become an important way for CAFKA to communicate with our audience. In addition to the notices of coming events, the extended essays we at one time published in paper catalogues are now published on our website and pushed out via social media. Social media also allows us to share articles of current debate around issues of public art.

The idea of a CAFKA on-line forum has been around since the 2010 website redesign, but we chose not to include it at that time. Building a web site is like building a house. We've built sections for news and events, exhibition programs, art education, for CAFKA.TV and so on. We’ve built this site the same way you build a house: a kitchen, a family room, a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms. But as CAFKA has evolved, not everything we do fits so neatly into those boxes. And it's not only CAFKA that is changing. Our community and our world is changing too. Artists and curators are struggling to address these changes and we need a place and a way to articulate the role we will play going forward. 

The past decade has seen the exponential growth of social media. What was once considered a novelty has become, for better and for worse, the primary way we communicate in 2017. For many, the addictive properties of the news scroll, the calculated misinformation, the power of big data and the feeling of powerlessness that it has created has stirred a desire for alternative ways of communicating. 

Social media isn't going away. But maybe we can find another way to talk to each other. Maybe we can talk about the issues of art and community, and how we address those big ideas in light our complicated pasts and our precarious futures. And maybe we can do it in a way that is calmer and more honest and more meaningful.

So I propose we use this space to talk about issues and share ideas. Send your thoughts on issues that touch on the big issues of contemporary art in public spaces: Whose art is it? Who's it for? Whose spaces does it occupy? Submissions to the CAFKA Forum are welcome but subject to editorial approval. Please keep submissions to less than 1,000 words. 

Welcome to the CAFKA Forum.


Gordon Hatt, February 2017