Allentown Art Festival History

 

The Allentown Village Society

In the spring of 1958, Jason Natowitz called together a small group of other Allentown business owners to propose an event to stimulate business in the neighborhood. The meeting gave birth to the Allentown Village Society. By August, plans were in place for a September outdoor art show on the streets of the area.

Although the artists and craftsmen participating in the event numbered no more than 50 locals, and although the Allentown Village Society went $450 into the red to produce it, 20,000 people attended over the two days of the show. Louis Cherenzia, another of the founders, now a nonagenarian, recalled the first edition, "It was rated as the most colorful cultural event in Buffalo since the Pan-American Exposition."

"The Buffalo Art Festival," as it was then named, was a cultural if not a financial success. Mr. Natowitz and his friends recognized its potential, and a second edition was planned for June, 1959. In Buffalo, the second weekend in June has been Art Festival weekend ever since.

"The Buffalo Art Festival" quickly came to be identified with its location and informally called "The Allentown Art Festival;" by 1966, the informal name had become formal. The 1966 Mayoral Proclamation recognizing the event called it, for the first time, the "Allentown Outdoor Art Festival." In a June 5, 1967 letter, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller wrote, "I am delighted to hear that the Allentown Outdoor Art Festival is increasing in scope year by year, and has now developed into one of the largest outdoor art events in the Great Lake Area."

Since its modest beginnings in 1958, the Allentown Art Festival has become not only Buffalo's urban rite, but a symbol for the enduring character of this re-emerging rustbelt region. It has earned an important place in Buffalo's cultural and social life and a national reputation for excellence.

The Allentown Art Festival is especially remarkable, having persevered and prospered for over 50 years largely due to the members of the Allentown Village Society, Inc., whose active number of unpaid volunteers has seldom grown beyond 30. Their labors have borne fruit beyond the annual Allentown Art Festival weekend and beyond the boundaries of the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo.

Once, a small art show was a catalyst for the vibrant rebirth of the unique part of the city of Buffalo called "Allentown".