Kathleen Gaffney, the Niagara Falls native who served as CEO and artistic director of Studio Arena Theatre during its final years of existence, was appointed Monday to lead the cultural fundraising and education group Give for Greatness.
Gaffney’s appointment, announced by Give for Greatness board President James A. Lenker, marks a new phase in the young life of the organization, which was launched by Artvoice Publisher Jamie Moses amid the 2010-11 cultural funding crisis in Erie County.
Though Gaffney’s 2½-year stint at the helm of the troubled and now-defunct regional playhouse was not enough to turn it around, Lenker said, her skills and outlook made her the right fit to lead the group.
“It was her combination of executive director experience for multiple arts organizations, as well as the fact that she’s an artist and writer herself,” Lenker said in an interview. “Having both perspectives, we felt, was crucial to the position.”
Gaffney will take the reins from Megan Callahan, original executive director of Give for Greatness and local artist, actor and theater director. Callahan is leaving the job to pursue her artistic career.
Under Callahan’s tenure, the group, known as G4G, raised about $150,000 and distributed that money to 46 cultural groups. Many of the groups had been hard-hit by then-Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ 2010 decision to cut funding for most arts organizations.
That decision was reversed by current County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, whose plan to fund 58 culturals in his 2013 budget is currently making its way through the County Legislature.
However, the cultural community’s efforts to advocate for more exposure and funding have not abated.
“I look forward to helping the team explore new ventures and create an even greater community impact,” Gaffney said in a statement. “Jim Lenker and the board have done a terrific job building the new organization and have nurtured a loyal constituency in Western New York.”
Before coming to Studio Arena in 2006, Gaffney founded the theater organization ArtsGenesis in New York City.
After leaving Studio Arena in 2008, she served for a short time as a vice president at the Dallas-based educational organization Big Thought and is now enrolled in Buffalo State College’s creativity and innovation program, from which she is scheduled to graduate in May.
The mission of Give for Greatness, according to the statement, is to complement efforts to raise money and advocate for the arts on a regional level by the Arts Services Initiative of Western New York and the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance.
These three groups were created during the toughest financial time in memory for local cultural organizations and are participants in a broader effort to tie the region’s national perception and its economic future to the quality of its cultural community.
In a statement, Lanker tried to quell any potential concerns about Gaffney’s unsuccessful tenure at Studio Arena, an organization with deep and systemic financial problems that preceded Gaffney’s appointment by several years.
“In her interviews with our board, Kathleen was very forthright about her time at Studio Arena and the lessons she has carried forward from that experience,” Lenker said.
“Most important to us was her experience with other community-based nonprofits that, similar to G4G, were in a startup phase of development. Kathleen expressed a clear vision to take G4G forward and shares our board’s passionate belief that Western New York’s arts and cultural organizations contribute immeasurably to our overall quality of life.”