By Anne Y. Taylor
As leaders in Erie County government go through the budget process, we would do well to consider what role art and culture play in both the quality of life of Western New York’s citizens and the financial impact on the region. County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s funding recommendation of $5.6 million for our cultural organizations is more than worthy of support by both legislators and taxpayers.
Just Buffalo Literary Center is one of many vibrant cultural institutions that depend on Erie County for funding. Just Buffalo’s Babel series of internationally renowned authors attracts enough people to fill Kleinhans Music Hall four times a year – a feat that the authors themselves consider astounding.
Our educational programs support more than 2,500 schoolchildren annually in developing their writing and creative thinking skills. In collaboration with CEPA Gallery, Writing With Light brings the literary arts and photography into Buffalo’s classrooms, allowing children to express themselves in profound – perhaps life-changing – ways.
This educational component is an important part of the mission of many local cultural institutions. Yes, we have audiences who pay for our services, but we also provide programs as a public service for non-traditional constituents – socially and economically disenfranchised groups and under-served youth – bringing the community-building power of the arts to serve the common good.
Just Buffalo Literary Center has many revenue streams: ticket sales, grants and donations and program fees. We were recently awarded a highly competitive Kresge Foundation national grant, just one example of the more than $250,000 that we secure each year from outside the area to be spent here. Erie County’s financial support plays an important role in our ability to thrive.
More generally, the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance maintains that more than 2.5 million people attended cultural programs in Western New York last year, and that this programming employed more than 4,700 people, with $155 million spent in the local economy because of it. Each dollar invested returns more than $8 to the region.
Support for the arts is broad-based. Our cultural organizations draw their audiences, program participants, employees and board members from throughout Erie County, and the positive financial impact is spread to every district. A resounding chorus of disagreement met the previous county executive’s position that these organizations were not worthy of government support, in spite of overwhelming evidence that these are precisely the entities that enhance a region.
Poloncarz’s recommended funding is a modest investment on the part of Erie County, but one that will pay enormous dividends.
Anne Y. Taylor of Williamsville is vice president of the board of directors of Just Buffalo Literary Center.