Seated in the gallery room of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, managing director and curator Sarah Kaufman gushed over her excitement at being nominated for a Women in Business award.
“They sent me an email and notified me that I was a nominee for the culture award, which was pretty exciting. I think it’s a great idea that the Women in Business Association do some recognition of women locally here in Niagara,” said Kaufman.
“I felt very honoured that I was nominated for culture because we are a small non-profit in Niagara and we have a lot of culture here.”
She’s in good company. Rima Boles, director of the Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre, is nominated in the same category.
They were nominated for a 2022 Women in Business Award alongside several other NOTL women in different categories, including Two Sisters Vineyards, Catherine O’Donnell of Willow Cakes and Pastries, Madison Vine of Andrew Peller Ltd. and Stephanie Reis of Ferox Estate Wineries.
Winners will be announced during a ceremony this Friday, Nov. 18.
Kaufman began her career with the museum in 2009 after completing a master’s degree in public history at the Western University. In her time at the museum, Kaufman has revamped it from the inside out.
Beginning with a small staff of only herself and Amy Klassen, the organization has grown to welcome two more staff members and numerous volunteers.
“Our organization when I came here was a lot smaller. Smaller staff, smaller community outreach, smaller budget,” Kaufman explained.
“Since that time we have worked hard to build a relationship with our municipality, making sure that the town council knows about us, advocating for more funding for heritage, specifically the museum because we do house their collection here.”
The museum, which boasts an impressive collection of over 50,000 pieces, now runs with the help of an all-female staff of four.
“All of the women who work here are very strong, passionate historians and they’re all very passionate about getting involved with the community,” Kaufman said proudly.
With the help of about 100 active volunteers, this powerful team of women completes an average of 80 programs and events each year.
The team has also worked hard to connect with the community throughout the pandemic with outreach and online programming, both of which have been successful.
“It has helped us get our name more out to the community,” Kaufman said.
Inside the museum itself, a big goal of Kaufman’s has been to maintain a range of history that caters to a variety of interests.
For the museum’s two yearly temporary exhibitions on local history, the focus is oftentimes on the War of 1812 and military history, but an effort to change things up is always appreciated by visitors.
“We try to change it up with some domestic history or even women’s history. We’ve got stuff on textiles and costumes and clothing, waterfront history, World War One history and artwork from our collection as well,” said Kaufman.
A nomination does not mean Kaufman’s hard work is slowing down by any means. Going forward, her main focus will be on capital expansion.
As she put it, the museum is “bursting at the seams” and needs more space for its collections and programming supplies.
More funding would allow for more storage space and a more open meeting space for programs. Accessibility is another main focus in that regard, with a goal of becoming 100 per cent accessible by 2025.
“Once we get that built, there are so many more opportunities that we will have when we have the space to be inclusive,” Kaufman said.
“We are really excited about changing up permanent exhibits to be a lot more not only inclusive but interactive.”
Calling in from her second-floor office at the Pumphouse, overlooking the Niagara River, Boles says she is “extremely honoured to be nominated.”
“I was thrilled to find out I was selected as a finalist. I can’t wait for the awards ceremony,” she said.
Boles has been at the Pumphouse for eight years and has received multiple awards for her leadership of the centre.
“I’m extremely proud of my achievements as a leader in visual arts in Niagara, especially in leading the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre during the pandemic and in making art accessible and increasing opportunities for visual artists in Niagara,” she said.
For her outstanding leadership abilities, Boles and the Pumphouse were recognized with a 40 Under 40 Business Achievement Award in 2021 as well as a Spirit of Niagara Award for Community Leadership in 2019, both of which she is very proud of.
The Pumphouse, which also happens to have a small, entirely female staff, is committed to leading the world of visual arts in our community and Boles’ dedication to that goal is clear.
“We aim to achieve this through advocacy, education, exhibitions and outreach as the art hub that connects our community by providing art for all,” she said.
“No day is ever the same in this position because we are always working ahead at the next season and that’s the exciting part of this job.”
Boles said the Pumphouse staff have a strategic plan for the next five years that they are all excited to work on in order to continue on their path of advocacy and education.