Artistic blood from nearly empty stones

There was an article in this past Sunday’s Buffalo News outlining Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ desire for greater representation from the executive branch on the boards of the eight largest cultural institutions in exchange for the regular county funding that is regularly awarded.

The request seems a little heavy handed as most already have county representation, but the explanation being given is to give tax payers a greater seat at the table of organizations that receive county money. That, in and of itself, is hard to argue against.

What I’m not sure about is why the culturals are being singled out. It feels a little like token reform. The amount of money being spent on the 8 largest cultural organizations is roughly 3.5 million dollars give or take. Erie County offers the Buffalo Bills roughly that same amount with absolutely no strings attached. The Bills are not exactly starving as any passing glance at a tv contract will bear out. The culturals were told to consider the county money “the last funds in the door.” that these funds shouldn’t be used to keep the lights on, that they should be used to instead enhance programming and increase multilingual marketing, even translate signage and website advertisments into spanish, french, german, japanese and chinese. Which of the many chinese languages was never actually specified.

While that isn’t terribly practical, the whole thing seems a little petty & petulant. I watch the Bills toy with WNY’s emotions every fall, and they play a decreasing amount of games in the area, yet pocket their county funding without stipulation. It’s an existing agreement and I say let that pass, but the culturals stretch through the entire calendar year and proactively contribute to the quality of life in Western New York. All operate very lean and mean when it comes to funds. Ironically enough, people come to the area to see the BPO, tour the Botanical Gardens, see the Burchfield and so on. And the extra bonus is that the money that gets spent at these places stays here. In an era where corporate support is dwindling and capital improvements have been dealt a body blow, it seems when you got a few things working and comparitively thriving, you count your blessings and work on the bigger problems.

We all need to work together and I don’t think anybody is looking for separation or anything, but the way it was reported in the news made it sound like the county was acting like Deniro in “The Untouchables,” pacing the dining room lecturing his subordinates about Team and brandishing a baseball bat.

You like to think the demand for more board seats truly is for greater representation not for places to hide folk. That office is represented on a number of boards including my employers. I fully applaud the Exec for looking to reform and spend smart.

Given that the arts outlets help broaden the quality of life for all in the area, I hope the powers that be pay due diligence to all agencies where they have an interest.

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