For more than a quarter century, Buffalo has honored the standouts of its theater community with the annual Artie Awards, and this year’s new presenter of the “Arties” is WNED|WBFO.
WBFO Theater Talk co-host Anthony Chase was the creator of the awards. He said 26 years ago it struck him and “Artie” co-creator Javier Bustillos that every major theater community had a local award, but Buffalo did not.
“Washington D.C. has the Helen Hayes, and Chicago has the Joseph Jefferson, and Philadelphia has the Barrymore,” said Chase. “And so we thought that this would be a good opportunity to raise the public awareness of the theater community, which was coming on strong. It was an extraordinary time because Buffalo was economically plagued at the time. So you could get a storefront downtown and open a theater easily.”
Chase said while it is not as easy to open a storefront theater these days in downtown, the legacy of that time still exists in the many vital theater companies of Buffalo.
When the awards program began, Chase didn’t necessarily have a specific length of life in mind for the “Arties,” but he did hope for its endurance.
“We were younger then, too,” Chase recalled. “I think we had no sense of ever being able to throw on a phrase like, ‘26 years ago.’ And we didn’t realize how immediately the theater community would embrace the event. We did it at Garvey’s restaurant, behind the bar, and were amazed that people just packed that place. With people out onto the street, we instantly needed a larger venue and it was embraced immediately.”
After the first year’s tremendous success, Chase and the Artie team realized the event could be leveraged for a larger cause. Since that time, it has been a charity fundraiser for HIV-AIDS-related causes.
Now, after 26 years of 19 awards categories and numerous special achievements, over 500 “Arties” have been presented. Chase said the whole experience has been a blur.
“With something like that, even before you’re finished this year, you’re working on next year… Time just keeps hurtling forward. I just will be startled if there’s every a point at which I turn back and say, ‘50 years ago we started it.’”
Chase said the support of WNED|WBFO will open up the awards to a realm of new possibilities.
Donald K. Boswell, President & CEO of WNED|WBFO, said the Arties are "respected and loved" in the region's theater community.
“We are proud to be a part of this iconic Buffalo celebration which provides the theaters with increased visibility and a heightened sense of community,” said Boswell. “All of us at WNED|WBFO firmly believe that the thriving theater scene is one of the best things about Buffalo and deserves to be celebrated in first-class fashion.”
Officials said WNED|WBFO's new role as presenter ensures that the respected awards will remain strong for many years to come.
This year’s Artie Awards will be presented at Shea’s 710 Main theatre on Monday, June 5.