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Fruit Belt Arts Group Wins Praise from Noted Poet

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – There is no mercy in the County Executive's worst case budget plan for any not-for-profit groups -- big or small. But not all groups would fold without the county's help.

Some larger organizations, such as the Buffalo Zoo, say this could be the fatal blow. County funding represents a third of its operating expenses. And for some smaller groups, county dollars may be the only dollars. But for places such as the Locust Street Neighborhood Art Center, this is just another funding crisis that the small East Side art center has survived over the past 45 years.

Director Molly Bethel says they've lasted by not relying too heavily on any single funding source. Still, she says patching it together takes its toll.

"I think there's a structural balance that's being created by all these cuts backs for the smaller groups, because too large a percentage of effort and time has to go into raising money to keep the program going, as opposed to actually making the program happen," said Bethel.

The county's $13,000 is about 14 percent of Locust Street's total budget. Bethel says losing it would be a hardship, but not fatal. In addition to other public and private funding sources, fundraising events have become a mainstay for most arts groups.

Poet and Buffalo native Lucille Clifton is a longtime Locust Street supporter. She offers a reading Friday night to help raise money for the center that provides classes to 350 people in the neighborhood. Clifton says it is vital to the community.

"Art saves us. You know, after nine eleven people in this country turned toward art, whether it be music, poetry.... paintings, " said Clifton. "Because something in the heart knew that it was important, and mattered, and could help to heal."

But County Executive Joel Giambra says the county's medicaid burden is robbing resources for non-mandated areas, such as the arts. He wants an extra one percent on the sales tax to restore funding. But many groups say they can't afford to be pawns in a political game, and risk losing other pieces of their patchwork of funding.