Arts and culture add immeasurably to the quality of life in Western New York.
You hear it all the time. Advocates say it when county cuts to arts funding are proposed, Visit Buffalo Niagara representatives make the point when touting the benefits of living here. It’s heard from people who have become immersed in the region’s varied cultural offerings.
Several people involved in local arts and culture were asked what it adds to the region’s quality of life. Here’s what they said:
Valerian Ruminski, Nickel City Opera’s founder and artistic director, speaking from Seattle, where he was rehearsing for a role in the Seattle Opera’s performance of “Cinderella”:
“The arts bring paychecks and jobs and tourists, but there is a bit of shortsightedness as to their value in Buffalo. I think the people in general don’t really know the quality we have in the context of other cities.
“One of the main reasons of having the culturals is not only to appeal to the people of Buffalo. I built Nickel City Opera so that people in New York want to come up, or as in Toronto, want to come down. That should be the main purpose of a lot of the culturals. If we don’t have a national and sometimes international appeal, then Buffalo doesn’t benefit as much.”
George Scott, musician and Colored Musicians Club president:
“If you don’t have a culture, you don’t have a town or a city, because all of that is important. Culture can touch a lot of different things. Educationally, it helps in understanding how things came to be the way they were.
“In our museum, we have a lot of people who were locally known, but also on a national level. For the kids we work with, we say that if you work hard, you can accomplish things like these people were able to do.”
Ron Ehmke, writer and performer:
“The arts are the reason I’ve stayed here for 30 years. If you travel around the rest of the country at all, you start to realize there are very few places that have the kind of mix of cultural institutions and small organizations that Buffalo has. I’ve seen other cities of comparable size, and even larger cities, that just don’t have as vibrant an arts scene as we do.
“The economy has a lot to do with it. It’s very, very easy to find cheap studio or rehearsal spaces, and there’s a freedom to do just about anything here. The downside is it may often feel as if no one cares, and you don’t feel like you’re making much of an impact on the larger society.”
Constance McEwen Caldwell, actress and Buffalo History Museum communications director:
“We have an amazing and vibrant theater scene, with something for everyone from Torn Space to Shea’s Performing Arts Center and everything in between.
“There also seems to be a burgeoning jazz community, where there’s something going on almost every night. Then there’s the fine arts: I just went to A.J. Fries’ exhibition and was blown away. It’s all there – a vibrant arts and cultural scene, period. There is never nothing to do in Buffalo. It’s all accessible. It’s affordable and, in many cases, free.”
Polla Milligan, puppeteer:
“I think the arts in general are brain food and every bit as important as anything you put in your stomach. Buffalo is superior in its love and pursuit of the arts. There are so many talented, creative and wonderful people here. It’s like Madison Avenue hasn’t infiltrated and destroyed everything. There is still a very pure desire to create and share beautiful things.
“I really think that in this day and age, when so much art and creativity is manufactured, Buffalo stands apart.”
Rahwa Ghirmatzion, Ujima Theatre director:
“Western New York has a large and diverse arts community and has coalesced in recent years to be in the driver’s seat in determining its future. The opportunities are great, and I hope diversity and variety in programming, technological innovation and training will play central roles.
“The arts generate revenue, with recent data in Western New York suggesting the return on investment is 9 to 1. They are integral to economic development in the region and create the framework for creative place-making that helps grow and retain the population.”
Marty Boratin, music promoter:
“There are thousands who come to see whoever is playing at the arena, but there are also hundreds who come in for smaller shows. You have people driving in from Erie or Syracuse or Hamilton who, if they’re not getting a hotel room, are at least getting dinner somewhere. It adds up.
“Buffalo is just a perfect stopping point between Toronto and New York, or Chicago and Boston, and the booking agents have finally figured that out. I know people from Cleveland who come here frequently [to hear music] and people in Rochester who come up two to three times a month.
“The music keeps a lot of younger people here and actually attracts some younger people.”