Giving Because They're Great
by Jonathan Welch
Talking Leaves...Books and Buffalo First to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Give for Greatness through May 5
Cultural institutions are lifeblood for communities, and serve as bedrock for many small local businesses, from print shops to restaurants, office supply stores to craft stores, carpenters to data processors, accountants to used furniture dealers. Most area cultural workers live here, raise families, buy and rent property, pay taxes. Many volunteer for their cultural work while holding jobs in other sectors of the economy. They eat, drink, and shop in this region, while being, perhaps, our most visible and effective ambassadors. The work they do, cultural and otherwise, helps make Buffalo and the whole region, which has struggled for decades now with severe economic and social distress—and an unwarranted image problem—a wonderful and singular place.
It is certainly true that Talking Leaves…Books has survived the past 40 years in this community in large part because of our symbiotic relationship with literary, theater, art, and music organizations and their supporters. Our stores and these organizations would have trouble surviving without a literate and informed public. We share a customer base. Since our founding we have supported cultural work in all the ways we can; promoting and selling tickets for events, becoming a member of many institutions, advertising in programs, sharing proceeds from book sales at events, providing goods and services for fundraisers, attending events, etc. As a small business working on slim margins, we support cultural organizations large and small to the extent that we can, knowing our survival is linked to theirs. Our mission has always been to be a resource and an outlet for the less privileged, the oppressed, and the under-represented—not surprisingly those hardest hit by the current funding cuts.
Sadly, our current government leaders don’t recognize or acknowledge the importance of these arts and cultural organizations to our community’s economic, social, and psychological well-being. Apparently County Executive Collins and his supporters find the passionate contributions of the area residents who struggle against great odds to improve our quality of life inconsequential in their calculus of what matters, or irrelevant to their vision. They would rather dole out tax breaks that rarely live up to exaggerated claims of economic growth, to developers and over-hyped national corporations. Though studies consistently indicate that the arts generate economic activity equal to or exceeding that of sports teams, our current political leaders maintain without question the public underwriting of privately owned sports franchises whose owners and players all too infrequently make their lives here.
Talking Leaves…Books is joining the Give for Greatness campaign with a pledge to donate a percentage of our sales (excluding sales tax) to the project—not of profits we might earn from sales during this time, but of the sales themselves—during the period ending on May 5, 2011. We encourage other local businesses to make a similar public pledge to donate to the campaign, choosing a form with which they are comfortable, as a way of recognizing the contribution cultural organizations and workers make to their own sustenance. Should this pledge lead to an increase in our sales over the five-year average for this time period, Talking Leaves will pledge a larger percentage of that increase to the campaign, sharing our gain with these organizations.
We also intend, for the month of April, to ask our members, who typically get a 10 percent discount on purchases from us, to donate, voluntarily, some or all of the money they are saving, to the Give for Greatness campaign. Additionally, while most of our store events are free, through May 5 we will be requesting from those attending a voluntary $5 donation to be given to the Give for Greatness campaign.
We hope other businesses will follow our lead by lending support to the campaign. We hope Buffalo’s extraordinary arts audiences will maintain and increase their support by attending an extra event or two. We hope those who have not experienced a play, a concert, a museum exhibit, a poetry reading, will find time to do so. What will best assure the survival and flourishing of these organizations is increased attendance at events and more volunteer help. There is something everyone can enjoy and afford across the broad spectrum of activities programmed by our local arts and cultural organizations.
Though we share a concern that the private, individual support for the arts called for by the Give for Greatness campaign plays right into County Executive Collins’ hands by obviating the need for public government support, we believe the survival of these organizations supercedes that concern. A strong show of individual support for arts and cultural organizations will help enable their short and long-term survival. We can show Mr. Collins and his allies our displeasure and distrust by not re-electing them to another term.
Finally, we hope that everyone—cultural organizations and workers as well as the citizens who support them, and whose support they seek—learns this from the crisis: support of the local living economy, local businesses and local cultural organizations, is key to the economic stability and renaissance of this grand city, just as it is the local, rooted in this region businesses and cultural groups, that give Western New York its unique and distinctive character. Be as local as you can—buy your tickets at the venue, buy your supplies from local stores, patronize local restaurants, fill your prescriptions at local pharmacies, join a CSA. Three times more money stays here in Western New York, working for all us, when you spend at local businesses instead of national chains or online. Even a slight change in shopping habits towards local businesses will have a significant beneficial effect.
We, the community, are the true web, and our human filaments weave a beautiful and powerful communal work of art, one that forms both foundation and net for the institutions and work we will sustain with these efforts.
The board of directors of Buffalo First, an organization of local businesses and individuals formed with the mission of building and sustaining a local, green and fair living economy, has pledged to donate five percent of new membership income generated through May 5 to the Give for Greatness campaign. See www.buffalofirst.org for details.
Jonathan Welch is co-founder of Talking Leaves…Books and a director of Buffalo First.blog comments powered by Disqus
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