BRO submission by ‘A Friend of the Arts’:
On Wednesday it was reported that Erie County Executive Chris Collins is going to entirely eliminate cultural funding for all organizations except his “top ten”. Much like other top ten lists, this is a joke, but unfortunately it’s no laughing matter.
Here are some of the gruesome details of the Collins cuts:
– There will be NO funding for any organization that provides its programming primarily free of charge; this in the second poorest city in America;
– There will be NO funding for any theater, even while we have one of the largest and most vibrant theater communities of any mid-size city in the country;
– There will be NO funding for any organization that provides its programming for a primarily minority audience; completely ignoring a large segment of the county’s population;
– There will be NO funding for any organization that primarily works with young people to develop the next generation of artists and arts patrons;
– Other than the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, there will be NO funding for any organization that provides live music, dance, or spoken word performance; this in a county that boasts musicians, dancers, writers and actors of national and international renown.
The 2007 Americans for the Arts “Arts & Economic Prosperity III” report shows an annual economic impact of $155.29 million by arts and cultural organizations and their audiences in Erie and Niagara Counties. This spending, $92.97 million by the organizations and an additional $62.33 million in event-related spending by their audiences, supports 4,740 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $95.9 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $24.05 million in local and state government revenue.
Collins has stated that his focus is only on those organizations that have the most potential for bringing tourists, and therefore “new money”, into the area. Cultural tourism is important, but it accounts for less than 20 percent of the total economic impact of arts and culture in the region. Collins is putting hundreds of jobs at risk and gambling on the loss of millions in spending and tax revenue by only providing funding targeted on that 20 percent.
For a businessman, Chris Collins apparently doesn’t understand the concept of an economic sector. Does he think we should only provide public subsidies for the “top ten” bioinformatics firms, or manufacturing plants, or call centers? Does a business have to attract “outside” money in order to be worth public investment? Of course not, those are ridiculous arguments, and it’s no less ridiculous when applied to the arts and culture sector. Our industrial development agencies target programs specifically for small and mid-size business, not to mention for diversity in the business community, because it’s understood that a healthy sector needs big, medium, and small businesses to thrive. Yet Collins refuses to acknowledge these accepted economic principles when dealing with the cultural sector. Isn’t it good enough to provide a needed service to the local population while employing thousands of our residents and returning millions in taxes? That’s exactly what the arts do in Erie County.
Under Chris Collins, the mission statement of Erie County is to be “a world class community where people want to live, businesses want to locate, and tourists want to visit.” So why is he ignoring the first plank in his platform? Remember, it’s OUR property and sales tax dollars that are being given out here, yet Collins doesn’t care what we find value in. He only wants to use our money to show our visitors a good time. As for that third plank, in the new economy businesses want to locate where they can find a well educated and dedicated workforce, and those workers want to locate where they can find amenities such as arts and culture. It’s called quality of life, but that seems to be another concept lost on Chris Collins. And really, what world class community can you think of that doesn’t value its cultural assets?
Perhaps the most infuriating thing was hearing the county executive say that “It’s time these organizations stand up on their own two feet.” These are OUR tax dollars Chris Collins is playing with, and it’s the future of organizations that will be around for decades after the Collins administration is nothing more than a distant memory of a bad dream. If you value arts and culture in this community, then let’s collectively stand up and tell Collins that just because his two feet don’t set foot in any local theatre, concert hall or gallery doesn’t mean he stands for our values.