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June is Membership Month at the Niagara Artists Centre. We asked NAC members about art in Niagara and the number one reason to join the NAC. In this interview, artist Sandy Fairbairn tells us about the history of the NAC and that “Besides better bike riding and lower rents than Toronto, NAC and the community of artists it has nurtured for something like forty-five years is the best thing” about being an artist in Niagara.

You can sign up for your very own NAC membership online or stop by NAC at 354 St. Paul Street in St. Catharines during gallery hours to get your membership in person.

Sandy Fairbairn is a founding member and past President of the Niagara Artists Centre. His work has been shown in galleries throughout Ontario and internationally in New York and Paris. You can see Sandy’s photography at his website,, and at

When did you become a NAC member and why?
I guess I qualify as a founding member of NAC in that I was a member and President (I think that was the title!) when NAC was incorporated as the non-profit Niagara Artists’ Company. I’d joined NAC in 1973.  At that time it was still the Niagara Artists’ Cooperative and membership was by invitation.  I’d just returned to the Niagara area from Toronto in ‘73 and was familiar with NAC having read about them in ArtsCanada a year or so earlier, when I was living in St. Johns Newfoundland.  One of NAC’s storefronts was happening as well as other events, and it was clear that NAC and NAC artists were the reason.  You could feel the energy and it was exciting to be a part of it all.

Are you an artist, an art appreciator or both?
Well, by training and, I guess, natural inclination I’m an artist.  To answer the second part of the question,  I don’t think you can be an artist without appreciating art, can you?

What’s the best thing about being an artist in Niagara?
Besides better bike riding and lower rents than Toronto, NAC and the community of artists it has nurtured for something like forty-five years is the best thing.  Over the years we’ve had our fair share of feuds and poodle fights, but bottom line has been, we are a community of artists that has managed to stick together.  Regional arts movements and organizations like ours have largely survived in spite of, not because of the Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council.  There’s never been anyone in those offices who could even find St. Catharines with a good map or GPS.

Name a Niagara artist whose work knocks your socks off.
Ah come on now, one artist!  I’m not answering that.  I’d be leaving too many artists out if I were to name just one.  In any case, I’ve never been good with ‘best of’ lists or ‘favourites’ lists.  I don’t want to kick anyone’s work to the curb.  I see work at NAC all the time that’s terrific.  Both NAC’s newbies and geezers are producing work at what I consider to be a very high level.

Tell us about a memorable NAC experience.
This may be more event than experience but, for me, NAC’s move downtown to a permanent location was a huge step in our development.  Pete Wing was director at the time, if I remember correctly.  It was really something to walk into a space that was NAC’s, not Rodman Hall’s condescending charity or a temporary event space; a permanent performance and exhibition space that was ours.

What’s the number one reason to become a NAC member?
As a NAC member, you are a  part of the oldest artists’ centre in the country.  Just being a part of that kind of history is worth a lot.  In addition,  NAC provides exhibition and networking opportunities that an individual just wouldn’t have.  Art making can be a solitary undertaking but at some point the work has to be shared, exhibited, discussed and an artist needs to interact with others making, thinking about and appreciating art.  NAC is the means by which all that can happen here in Niagara.

Check back for more Member of the Moment interviews throughout June.