Give Until It's Great!
by Jamie Moses
Dear friends, it’s time to get energized! Fat Tuesday is upon us: On Tuesday, March 8, we’ll be at more than 40 venues with beads, bands, bracelets, and a bayou-vibed float parade that hits the streets at 5pm, departing from the Albright-Knox and running through Allentown and the Chippewa district.
Sixteen years ago the first Artvoice Mardi Gras celebration began with one venue and an idea to get big—really big. Since Buffalo began its Mardi Gras celebration, Fat Tuesday events have popped up all over the country, from Miami to Detroit, Las Vegas to California, but the Buffalo Mardi Gras is the only city wide charity fundraising celebration in the country.
This year our fundraising drive is the most ambitious undertaking we’ve ever attempted. On Tuesday, we launch the Give for Greatness. This is a two-month campaign by Artvoice with help from M&T Bank and numerous partners, including the Fund For the Arts, to raise $1 million dollars for 47 cultural organizations that have been abandoned by county government. Every theater company, dance company, arts education organization, every small- to mid-size visual arts group, and every literary organization in the county was, by virtue of the budget he submitted, declared unnecessary by our county executive. We humbly beg to disagree.
We have a county executive who believes government should be run like a business. Which business? Adelphia? Enron? WorldCom? Lehman Brothers? BP? Bernie Madoff? The list of businesses that cost taxpayers trillions of dollars in losses is long. The point is that business practices are not any guarantee of a better outcome and neither are so called development projects. The worst practice in Western New York has been the enduring idea Western New York can build its way to prosperity. Millions and millions have been spent on failed or disappointing, money-sucking projects: the Adelphia Tower, the Peace Bridge, AM&As, Bass Pro, the Main Place Mall, the Statler, the Hyatt Regency, the Main Street Pedestrian Mall, etc. And don’t forget the scores of demolitions that occurred to make way for shovel-ready projects that never happened. It’s senseless. What makes a city great are its people and its cultural assets first. Its location and its buildings come after that.
This Give for Greatness campaign should be a turning point for Western New York. People all over the world are showing they are fed up with the corruption and the misdirection of their leaders. We need to do the same thing here. A successful community does not need big buildings, and it does not even need to be a big city like New York or Paris, both famous for their cultural attractions. And no disrespect to Bills fans, but to be economically successful it does not need an NFL football team, either.
What works best for sustained growth is a strong cultural community. Santa Fe, New Mexico has a population of only 64,000 residents and not a skyscraper in sight. It also has more than 250 art galleries. Tourism to Sante Fe brings in more than $6 billion annually and generates $760 million in tax revenue. It is second only to New York City in art sales. The Shaw Festival is located in a tiny town a half-hour from Buffalo. The entire town is built around its three theaters and accompanying shops and restaurants. It generates more than $20 million a year in tax revenue. Provincetown, Massacusetts, another small town of only 3,500 year-round residents, is the arts epicenter of Cape Cod and draws more tourists than all the rest of Cape Cod combined—and people aren’t going there for the beaches. Furthermore, Provincetown doesn’t live on the fumes of developers’ daydreams; They don’t even allow any building taller than three stories. In bed and room tax alone, Provincetown generates more than $12 million and tens of millions more in sales tax. Retail and property values thrive in communities with deep cultural assets. More derelict New York City neighborhoods were revived by artists’ activity than all the building projects on Buffalo’s drawing boards in the past 50 years.
So where is the wisdom in starving our cultural community? If every theater company closes, then those theater ticket dollars, as well as restaurant, parking, and vendor dollars, will circulate to the Shaw Festival in Canada. If every cultural institution goes under, why would anyone want to live here? For the entertainment of the Geico call center? To shovel snow for fun? Why would anyone consider moving here? I’ll answer that: They wouldn’t.
The Give for Greatness campaign was created as a response to the abrupt funding cut by county government to our cultural treasures. The county’s failure to capitalize on the generous offer put forward by Robert Gioia and his group of $400,000 for only a $100,000 commitment from the county proved that county government was incapable of reaching a political solution to fund cultural organizations. Furthermore, Oishei, M&T and the other foundations already give generously every year, and to demand even more from them is an egregious shirking of repsonsibilty by the county.
The Give for Greatness was conceived, and so titled, because it is our belief that a rich cultural community is one of the crucial elements that define great cities and that Buffalo can be a great city. Artvoice contacted M&T Bank, Oishei Foundation, Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance, Theater Alliance Board, and several others and began cobbling together a number of partnerships to bring the Give for Greatness into being. The two-month campaign begins with a celebration on Mardi Gras, March 8, and closes with a celebration at the Albright-Knox on Cinco de Mayo, May 5. In the course of building the campaign, the cultural recipients targeted in the campaign, and even nonrecipients, have enthusiastically agreed to participate in performances, readings, art installations, or whatever opportunity their discipline offers. WKBW-TV Channel 7 has signed on as a television sponsor, and there is a large NFTA bus and train marketing campaign underway and Lamar billboards, as well. The outpouring of community support for this effort has been simply overwhelming and reflects both how much the community treasures their cultural assets and how severely our county government has misjudged what is important to their constituency. We hope that this campaign is successful and that the county returns to the funding table to give our culturals an opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive.
So please join us on Mardi Gras to launch G4G and support and celebrate the people of Western New York. Let’s be great!
Organizations targeted for Give For Greatness Funding:
Shakespeare in Delaware Park
Irish Classical Theatre Company
Buffalo United Artists
Theatre of Youth
Lancaster Opera House
Road Less Traveled Theater
Ujima Theatre Company
Paul Robeson Theater
Torn Space Theater
New Phoenix Theatre
Subversive Theatre Collective
Jewish Repertory Theater
O’Connell and Company
Playhouse of of American Classics
American Repertory Theater
Configuration Dance Company
Lehrer Dance Company
Buffalo Inner City Ballet
Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center
Big Orbit Gallery
El Museo Gallery
Springville Center for the Arts
Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes
WNY Artists Group
Buffalo Arts Studio
Polish Arts Club of Buffalo
Education and Music
Community Music School
Music Is Art schools program
Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus
Young Audiences of WNY
Explore and More
Just Buffalo Literary Center
WNY Book Arts Collaborative
African American Cultural Center
American Legion Band of Tonawandas
Buffalo Naval & Servicemans Park
Pierce Arrow Museum
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