Buffalo’s first Humanities Festival: A SPECTACULAR for lifelong learners

198 String Band.

Buffalo's 198 String Band: Music as oral history by performers, historians and researchers of Great Depression music.

Release Date: September 11, 2014

Mohamed Diaby.

Guinean-American drummer and dancer Mohamed Diaby will perform from 11-11:45 a.m. Sept. 27 in the Performance Space under the tent on Rockwell Quad at SUNY Buffalo State.


Le Ballet Touba will perform African music and dance from 2-2:25 p.m. Sept. 27 in the Performance Space.

kyla kegler.

Kyla Kegler and her brigade of giant puppets will present a street theater piece that illustrates the ideas of leaving, arriving and returning to demonstrate the processes engaged in and endured by migrants.

Gaitrie Devi.

Gaitrie Devi, Buffalo's first authentic Bollywood dance instructor, will be on stage from 1-1:25 p.m. Sept. 27.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Attention lifelong learners! In a town well-known for its conferences and festivals, here’s one dedicated to the thousands of migrants — many of them refugees — from all continents who continue to globalize the country, change its face and contribute to the cultural life of Buffalo as they have for 200 years.

That history, along with their personal stories, music, dance, literatures and arts, will be celebrated this year at the first annual Buffalo Humanities Festival, “Migration Nation, Moving Stories,” being held Sept. 26-27.  

A detailed discussion of festival events, the program schedule, festival background, and descriptions of speakers, performers and other guests are available at the festival’s website: http://buffalohumanities.org/

The festival will open Friday night in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery with a reading and discussion of his most recent work, the memoir “Little Failure,” by acclaimed author and Russian immigrant Gary Shteyngart.

On Saturday, the festival will feature performances, lectures by scholars and other experts, a series of short films, open discussions, market vendors, receptions and more.   

The festival is a presentation of the UB Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Canisius College, SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Fredonia and Niagara University. Additional sponsorship has been provided by the John R. Oshei Foundation, the UB Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, the New York State Council for the Humanities and The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies and Jewish Family Services.

Venues include the Albright-Knox, the SUNY Buffalo State campus and the Burchfield Penney Art Center, all in the city’s museum district.

“Buffalo is shedding its Rust Belt image and is now known as an ‘eds and meds’ city — one in which education and medicine drive the economy,” says Erik Seeman, director of the UB Humanities Institute. “An influx of educated citizens, combined with Buffalo’s thousands of lifelong learners and the extraordinary cultural infrastructure, make this an ideal location for a humanities festival.

“It is designed to bring the community together to discuss a controversial topic and learn about migration and immigration through history, literature and the arts,” Seeman says. “We expect that it will encourage people to examine their assumptions and preconceived notions.”

Visitors can purchase online: https://www.ubevents.org/event/bflohumanities14

  • Tickets to the Shteyngart reading and interview ($20, $15 for students).
  • A Day Pass ( $12, $10 for students) that will cover admission to all Saturday events, including films, performances, discussions, puppet parade, lectures and  Saturday’s Migration Nation reception at the Burchfield Center. Passes purchased before Sept. 24 include a Saturday boxed lunch.
  • A Combo Pass ($30, $20 students) that covers admission to all events on both Friday and Saturday.
  • VIP Combo Pass ($60) that includes all of the above, plus a wine and cheese reception with Shteyngart at 7 p.m. before his reading.

There are numerous free events, requiring neither ticket nor pass, including all events in the performance space, discussions at the conversation station, the puppet parade and vendor stations. Day passes to Saturday events also will be available at the Burchfield Penney on that day.

Among the related pre-festival events are a pop-up book club discussion of Shteyngart’s book and a free screening of Marc Silver’s unforgettable film “Who is Dayani Cristal?”

Highlights of the festival program

Friday, Sept. 26

  • Opening: Special guest Russian émigré Gary Shteyngart, author of three acclaimed novels and the much-praised poignant, hilarious (if self-immolating) memoir “Little Failure,” will kick things off at the Albright-Knox at 8 p.m. with a reading, on-stage interview and book signing.

A VIP ticket includes an invitation to a wine-and-cheese reception with the author at 7 p.m. Talking Leaves Books will be on hand with copies of “Little Failure” and Shteyngart’s three novels for purchase and signing by the author.

Saturday, Sept. 27

  • Festival Speakers: Humanities scholars and speakers from area colleges, universities and community groups will discuss the experiences of immigrants, including refugees, from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, many of whom came to Buffalo seeking refuge from oppression, war and terrorism, as well as new opportunities for education and employment.

They also will discuss internal U.S. migrant experiences, including the 18th-century Tuscarora migration from the Carolinas to New York State; early 20th-century Ku Klux Klan attacks on Quebecois immigrants in New England; revelations found in letters and literature written by immigrants to the U.S.; and the 1916-1970 “Great Migration,” in which 9 million African-Americans relocated from the rural south to cities in the North, Midwest and West.

  • Conversation Station (free): An interactive discussion station will give visitors the opportunity to meet and converse with local residents about their personal, and sometimes harrowing, immigrant experiences. Participants include Sudanese political refugee Awadiya Ahmed Yahia, now a PhD candidate at UB, a gender scholar and activist in pursuit of peace and conflict-resolution; and Aung Kaung Myat, who arrived here from Burma via a Thailand refugee camp. He is a Buffalo State graduate who today owns his own cell phone and computer service and is a leader in Buffalo’s considerable Burmese community.

Other participants are Emmanuel Johnson, who will receive his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Buffalo State in December, a seriously injured victim of Liberia’s civil war who waited 13 years to acquire refugee status that made his emigration possible; and Kristine Assue, a native of Trinidad, who migrated to Buffalo in 2007 and today is a senior at SUNY Buffalo State.

  • Performance Space (free): The Performance Space on Rockwell Quad between Rockwell Hall and Ketchum Hall at SUNY Buffalo State will host performances by Guinean-American  drummer and dancer Mohamed Diaby, Indian-American Bollywood dancer Gaitrie Devi, the locally based African dance and drumming troupe Le Ballet Touba, and Buffalo’s 198 String Band, a group comprising area musicians, historians and researchers whose multimedia performance introduce rarely heard narrative music tied to the migration and dislocation that marked the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
  • Puppet Parade (free): At noon, look for “Papier-mache Persona,” a startling, poetic, situation-specific response to the notion of traveling, arriving and leaving again as a cyclical practice of contemporary global citizenship. It is the work of performance artist and large-scale puppeteer Kyla Kegler of Buffalo and Berlin and her troupe of wandering and attention-getting performers.
  • Film Room: Four screenings of a 90-minute cycle of short films will take place in 315 Ketcham Hall, SUNY Buffalo State. They include Ron Douglas’ Unseen Tears,” which examines the impact of the Thomas Indian School and the Mohawk Institute on the lives of boarding school survivors in Western New York and Ontario; Battle of the Jazz Guitarist,” another award-winner about a famous Fiji Island émigré-musician; “The Mayor,” about the Republican mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, who stood up against anti-immigrant laws adopted by Georgia; “The Job,” Jonathan Browning’s award-winning satire about the plight of American day workers; “Sin Pais” (Without Country), the devastating story of a family who emigrated to California only to face devastation years later at the hands of immigration agents; “The Caretaker,” a story of the deep bond between a 95-year-old Japanese-American woman and her live-in caretaker, an illegal immigrant from Fiji; and “Home,” the multiple award-winning and powerful short film about filmmaker Matt Faust’s childhood home, which was flooded in Katrina.
  • Vendors: Several vendors from the West Side Bazaar, an international small business incubator on Buffalo’s ethnically diverse West Side, will sell their wares outside Ketchum Hall. Rain location: inside Ketchum Hall (day passes will be required for entry to Ketchum Hall).
  • Lunch and reception: Those who order day passes by Sept. 24 will receive boxed lunches prepared by the West Side Bazaar in the Dining Tent on Rockwell Quad.

Pre-festival events:

  • The Humanities Festival Book Group will discuss Shteyngart’s “Little Failure” over food and wine from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at Betty’s restaurant, 370 Virginia St., led by UB Professor of English Joseph Conte. $8.
  • A free public screening of Marc Silver’s masterful documentaryWho is Dayani Cristal?” will take place at 5 p.m. Sept. 25 in the Screening Room, 112 Center for the Arts, UB North Campus. A revelation of the tragic results of U.S. immigration policy and related human stories so often ignored, Silver’s film retraces the steps of one Latin-American migrant found in the deadly, sun-blistered Arizona stretch of the Sonora desert known as “the corridor of death.” Introduction by Tanya Shilina-Conte, UB Department of Media Study; post-screening discussion will be led by Joseph Conte.

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