Agnes M. Bain loved her community and the arts center that served it, and she battled on behalf of both throughout her 78 years.
“She was just rays of positivity, and had a fight like no other,” said longtime friend and coworker Tammy Curry.
Ms. Bain, the longtime arts administrator and executive director of the African American Cultural Center, died Tuesday after a brief illness. She was 78.
Ms. Bain was born in Buffalo and attended Fosdick-Masten Park High School. She attended Empire State College where she majored in human services.
She spent her entire career at the AACC – including 41 years as its director – building it up throughout the decades and pushing back against municipal agencies in budget battles when financial cuts were made.
“She stood firm on what she believed, and she believed that arts and culture were definitely needed in our community,” said Curry, an AACC program associate director who is also a Buffalo Public Schools teacher. “As an educator myself, we know kids learn better through the arts. With the cutting of arts in schools, the center and Ms. Bain provided an outlet that some may not have been able to have, without her at center. It definitely created many opportunities for youth and adults to engage in the arts.”
Betty Jean Grant, a former Erie County legislator and Buffalo City Council member, said the AACC was an exceptionally well-run enterprise under Ms. Bain’s leadership.
“The African American Cultural Center was one of the best run cultural assets in Erie County and, certainly, in Buffalo, so much so that it became a pass-through agency for numerous politicians, organizations and groups in the city,” Grant said.
Grant said many other nonprofit groups in Buffalo’s African American community – such as the Juneteenth Festival – had such a relationship with Ms. Bain, who was appointed by Grant to pass through city and, later, county grants to smaller agencies.
Grant said she first met Ms. Bain at a cultural event at the AACC in the mid-1980s and eventually learned that Ms. Bain had a stellar reputation as the manager of the cultural agency.
“I got to know her really well when I ran for Council member of the University District, and I used her as a pass-through for a lot of those initiatives I happened to allocate funding for as a City Council member. When I went to the County Legislature, I used her primarily as my sole pass-through agency, and all the other culturals went to her for funding because she was so credible and she was so good and had such a good reputation as a manager,” Grant said.
The programs of the AACC, located at 350 Masten Ave., include the Paul Robeson Theatre, located within its walls, along with the AACC Dance & Drum Performance Company, the Jumpin’ Jambalaya Summer Program and the annual Pine Grill Jazz Reunion, an annual, free jazz concert that is held the first two weekends in August in Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Thousands of youngsters attended the East Side facility under her watch.
“Her legacy is never to be forgotten,” said Ms. Bain’s niece, Azizah Hawkins. “She impacted so many different people’s lives to an infinite degree. A lot of kids were brought up at the center, and it helped create who they are as a person. She was like a mother to everyone – everyone would say that’s my mother, or call her mom.”
Ms. Bain was honored with several awards during her lifetime, including last year’s Community Service Award from Concerned Citizens Following the Dream Committee, which puts on Buffalo’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
Ms. Bain also was appointed by former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello to the Buffalo Arts Commission. She also was a member of the East Side Coalition of the Arts, Niagara Frontier Folk Arts Council and the Collective Buffalo. Ms. Bain received awards and recognition from the YMCA of Western New York Women’s Club, the Langston Hughes Institute and 1490 Jefferson Black Achievers.
One of six children, she is survived by a sister, Alforna Hawkins-Evans and a brother, Donald Hawkins.
A celebration of life will be held Monday at Friendship Baptist Church, 420 Clinton St., with a noon funeral.
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