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County Executive's generosity toward culturals questioned

photo courtesy of WNY Bookarts Center

By Joyce Kryszak


Buffalo, NY – Erie County Executive Chris Collins on Tuesday awarded $300,000 in cultural capital grants to 13 cultural groups. Many of the groups were among the more than 40 groups who lost operational funding from the County.

The announcement was made at the Western New York Book Arts Center, one of groups to get the grants for capital building projects.

The Bookarts Center shares space with Just Buffalo Literary Center on the second floor of its building on Washington Street. The second floor also has a large gathering area for classes and events.

The Bookarts Center will use its $30,000 to install an elevator. The Center's founder Carima El-Behairy said it will give them much-needed access to their second floor space.

But some are criticizing the County Executive for making the grants right before the election.

Comptroller Mark Poloncarz is challenging Collins in the County Executive race in November. In a press release Tuesday, Poloncarz said having Collins dangle more money in front of groups now "is an insult to the cultural community."

He said the grants do not make up for more than two million dollars in operational funding cut from nearly 40 cultural groups. But Collins said the decision to fund most of those groups in the past was political.

"The majority of them had at one point in time a sponsor in the legislature, who basically put that organization in because it was near and dear to them," said Collins. "So, those people that want to disagree with our decision about how to allocate the $4.4 million can disagree."

Collins said he cut funding for those cultural groups that were not bringing in revenue or tourism dollars.

But cultural groups dispute that, or the contention that past funding was politically motivated.

Advocates point out that, in the past, an independent cultural advisory board made recommendations for funding. Collins disbanded that group.

Advocates also cite studies that show their small and mid-size groups contribute to a multi-million dollar impact on the local economy.

The other groups receiving capital funding from the County are: the African American Cultural Center, Studio Arena Theatre, Graycliff Conservancy, Springville Center for the Arts, Lancaster Opera House, Iron Island Museum, Penn Dixie Paleontological Center, Irish Classical Theatre Company, Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Theatre of Youth, Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes, Explore and More Children's Museum.