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NEA Head Briefs Local Arts Groups on Securing Funding

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo arts community got the chance to "audition" for the nation's top director Monday. National Endowment for the Arts Chairperson Eileen Mason met with a packed auditorium of Buffalo's art hopefuls at the Historical Society for a funding workshop.

The standing room only crowd ranged from independent musicians and writers, to Buffalo's established art elite, such as the Albright Knox and the Buffalo Philharmonic. But all were looking for the same thing. A starring role in the NEA's funding scene.

"The two most frightening sentences are: I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help you...but I am, and I am," said Mason.

Acting NEA Chairperson Eileen Mason is well versed in some of that frightening federal policy. But the former regulatory manager also has a softer side. Mason holds a fine arts degree and has a history of serving arts organizations. The NEA chief offered local arts groups, hard hit by state and local funding cuts post-9/11, the benefit of that experience. The workshop gave artists tips on increasing their chances of receiving a coveted NEA grant. Mason's best advice, keep trying.

"Sometimes if you don't get it the first year, we can give you a little guidance on how to write a better application, what might have been missing," said Mason. "It's a learning experience. But if you don't apply, we can't give you a grant."

The NEA has so far this funding year given local organizations about $135,000. And she says there's still more where that came from. The NEA has a national budget of $117 million this year, an increase from the previous year. But Mason says even the NEA struggles for funding.

"In these times, there are a lot of conflicts fro resources," said Mason. "And if we can hold our own and not be considered frill, but be considered important, then I think we're doing very well."

Local arts groups may be counting on it. The Arts Council estimates the local arts community has lost more than $3.5 million since September 11thin public, private, and attendance revenue.