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ASI Candidates Survey: The Arts in Our Community

The year Arts Services Initiative of Western New York surveyed candidates for various offices in Erie and Niagara Counties to ascertain their priorities and their positions on the role of arts and cultural institutions in the communities they hope to serve.

“As the cultural sector shows its strength as a constituency, it’s important to know where our elected officials and candidates stand on arts and culture,” says Tod Kniazuk, ASI’s executive director.

The surveys will be published on ASI’s website (www.asiwny.org) and in this newspaper over the next two weeks. In this issue, we offer the responses submitted by three candidates for mayor of Buffalo and two candidates for Erie County Comptroller. See also: candidates for Erie County Legislature and Niagara Falls City Council.



BYRON BROWN

Office Sought: Mayor of Buffalo

Current Occupation: Mayor of Buffalo


Top three priorities if elected:

1. Continue the progress we have made in increasing economic development activity, creating jobs for Buffalo residents.

2. Continue the progress we have made in reducing crime in the City of Buffalo.

3. Continue the progress we have made in improving our neighborhoods by investing in infrastructure, parks, and cultural institutions.

What is the role of arts and culture in our community in general, and specifically in Buffalo?

Arts and culture are integral to the Buffalo community, serving as a major fabric of our identity and culture, and helping to be a catalyst for tourism and economic development. That is why when Erie County cut funding for the arts, I stepped up as mayor have provided $300,000 to the arts in my budgets since those cuts. I was also proud to re-establish the Arts Commission and hire an executive director for the Arts Commission.

What is the role of arts and culture in your plans for economic development in Buffalo?

Arts and culture are pivotal to the city’s “place-based” planning strategy of focusing planning and economic development activity in and around community assets, including arts and cultural institutions.

How would you develop cultural and heritage tourism in Buffalo?

By continuing to promote Buffalo’s many assets and by continuing to invest in and support our cultural institutions and attractions.

What do you see as your role in improving education in Buffalo, and how does a quality arts education factor into your vision?

My role is to lead the city and work with all partners in government, the Buffalo Board of Education, and community stakeholders to improve the quality of our education system. Arts education is critical for students and for the health of our school system which is why I worked with the Common Council to find city funds to restore $400,000 in music funding for the benefit of students in the Buffalo Public Schools.

If elected, will you decrease, hold steady, or increase operational funding for cultural organizations and establish a merit-based, peer review process for cultural funding allocations such as the Buffalo Arts Funding Advisory Committee?

I will continue to provide funding for cultural organizations, and will explore ways to provide additional funding for cultural funding allocations based on merit.

Will you enforce the One Percent for Public Art ordinance already on the books that requires all projects receiving city funding to allocate one percent of the total project to public art?

I support the promotion and inclusion of public art in the City of Buffalo and was proud to allocate significant funding for public art and monument restoration in the City of Buffalo.




SERGIO RODRIGUEZ

Office Sought: Mayor of Buffalo

Current Occupation: Candidate, Mayor of Buffalo


Top three priorities if elected:

Education. Crime. Unemployment. The arts must be actively engaged in programming which reduces crime, contributes to a quality and well-rounded education, and provides stable and fair employment.

What is the role of arts and culture in our community in general, and specifically in Buffalo?

The role of arts and culture in general is to increase quality of life and to provide individuals with a rich inner experience. In Buffalo, we have an unusally high number of innovative and cutting-edge cultural organizations, as well as those that focus on traditional arts. Buffalo is understood to be an important destination to arts and culture both nationally and internationally. It is ranked as the premier destination of arts and culture for mid-sized cities in the United States.

What is the role of arts and culture in your plans for economic development in Buffalo?

The investment into the arts brings back a huge return into Buffalo’s economy. The significance of Buffalo’s arts and culture community is an extremely important factor when businesses and corporations consider relocation. I will ensure that there is a dedicated source of funding for the arts which is removed from the political process. A panel of experts from the field must be created that will award funding in a manner which reflects quality performance.

How would you develop cultural and heritage tourism in Buffalo?

Buffalo has an unprecedented history with the Underground Railroad that needs to be further developed to access national and international interest in this area. We need to tap into that million people that go to Niagara Falls, Ontario and New York and direct them to a very organized and structured tourist industry in Buffalo. We have all the cultural and architectural assets here and limited organizational structure to showcase them.

What do you see as your role in improving education in Buffalo, and how does a quality arts education factor into your vision?

Buffalo has lost a lot of its arts programs. We have a plethora of arts organizations and programming that have the ability to augment existing arts programs within the Buffalo Public Schools system. I want to encourage all arts organizations to create educational programming to be integrated within Buffalo Public Schools system. This concept could be called Portable Buffalo Arts. Funding and supportive services will be available to provide this programming.

If elected, will you decrease, hold steady, or increase operational funding for cultural organizations and establish a merit-based, peer review process for cultural funding allocations such as the Buffalo Arts Funding Advisory Committee?

Yes, I would like to create a dedicated source of funding that is removed from the political process, as previously stated. Part of my plan for arts and culture for the city in terms of dedicated funding is to increase current budgetary allocations.

Will you enforce the One Percent for Public Art ordinance already on the books that requires all projects receiving city funding to allocate one percent of the total project to public art?

Yes, I have done research on this in the very beginning of my campaign and acquired the original legislative debate and action that resulted in this one percent funding for the arts but is not currently being enforced.




BERNIE TOLBERT

Office Sought: Mayor of Buffalo

Current Occupation: Retired, Special Agent in Charge, FBI; Vice President in charge of Security, NBA


Top three priorities if elected:

1. Education: Create programs to connect education and youth development, not just focusing on literacy but all academic subjects and the arts.

2. Crime: Investing in the future through city resourced youth development programs is a major cornerstone of preventative policing that is essential to mitigate factors that create the school to prison pipeline and make streets safer for all.

3. Jobs/Economic Development: Create job opportunities in all facets of the economy including the arts.

What is the role of arts and culture in our community in general, and specifically in Buffalo?

The importance of arts and culture in Western New York is essential in creating a vibrant and dynamic community especially with the small to mid culturals within the City of Buffalo. Much of the excitement in our city revolves around all of the cultural assets in our city. A thriving cultural life generates a better education for our youth, income for our tax base and quality jobs. My administration will work collaboratively with all of the cultural institutions in the City of Buffalo.

What is the role of arts and culture in your plans for economic development in Buffalo?

Americans for the Arts “Arts and Economic Prosperity III” report states that the annual economic impact by the arts and cultural organizations had an impact of $155.29 million on the local economy. A rich cultural life generates quality jobs, income and tax revenue. When elected mayor of the City of Buffalo I will work with the IDAs to attract new businesses and professionals to all of our unique neighborhoods throughout the city. Cultural funding is an absolute necessity.

How would you develop cultural and heritage tourism in Buffalo?

The arts, cultural and heritage assets play an essential role in the broader economic development strategy of our entire region. When elected mayor I would ensure that our Arts Commission and Preservation Board would work with the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau and all of the culturals in our area to capitalize on these assets, recognizing that they are part of the region’s basic infrastructure for sustainable economic development and should be invested in accordingly. Hiring a preservation expert.

What do you see as your role in improving education in Buffalo, and how does a quality arts education factor into your vision?

The biggest barrier to improving the public education for Buffalo’s children is the unwillingness of leadership to be accountable and implement major changes for the sake of children.

I am the leader that will be accountable for the the solutions. I intend to implement structural and operational changes including aggressive policy and legislation,accountability mechanisms, and a complete arts program to fully utilize the power of the office to improve public education for children in Buffalo.

If elected, will you decrease, hold steady, or increase operational funding for cultural organizations and establish a merit-based, peer review process for cultural funding allocations such as the Buffalo Arts Funding Advisory Committee?

Work with the Buffalo Arts Commission and ensure that appointments and funding are current and maximized. Actively work with the commission and it’s Arts and Cultural Funding Advisory Committee to recruit new businesses to increase our tax base.

Will you enforce the One Percent for Public Art ordinance already on the books that requires all projects receiving city funding to allocate one percent of the total project to public art?

Yes, enforcing the one percent funding for new projects will help establish our city as friend to the arts, thereby recruiting more businesses and professionals to be part of a cultural renaissance in Buffalo.




KEVIN GAUGHAN

Office Sought: Erie County Comptroller

Current Occupation: Attorney; Founder, Let People Decide


Top three priorities if elected:

1. Aggressively root out county government waste, misuse, or inappropriate expending of citizens’ money.

2. Ensure that government spends citizens’ money wisely, properly, and in a manner that nurtures those residents most vulnerable to life’s harsh realities, not those whose private wealth buffer them from virtually every storm.

3. Restore a sense of humility to the idea of public service.

What is the role of arts and culture in our community in general, and specifically in Erie County?

The contribution that arts and culture make to the human spirit is difficult to explain, but easy to feel. We are all enlarged by the natural canvass of Olmstead’s Delaware Park, lifted by the elegance of Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, soothed by the strings of our Buffalo Philharmonic, and humbled by the majesty of EB Green’s First Presbyterian Church. Our community is blessed with unparalleled examples of human imagination. And they all must be celebrated and sustained.

What is the role of arts and culture in your plans for economic development in Erie County?

Buffalo Niagara’s economic resurgence rests on our ability to emphasize that which renders us unique. From the Elmwood Village’s long narrative as an artistic community, and Buffalo’s storied theater tradition, to the rich sound produced by Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s Kleinhan’s Music Hall, and the “angels in our architecture”—Sullivan, Richardson, Lloyd Wright, and EB Green—we’ve always been a creative community. And our economic development efforts should be centered on this fact.

How would you develop cultural and heritage tourism in Erie County?

Some 10 years ago, when Albany sought to bury our Commercial Slip, and with it the authentic Erie Canal history that only Buffalo possesses, I founded a national conference on waterfront development, heritage tourism, and our Erie Canal western terminus. The conference helped save our original slip and streetscape, and placed history at the center of our waterfront development. I learned then how to create citizen coalitions to advance cultural tourism I will continue to employ those skills.

What do you see as your role in improving education in Erie County, and how does a quality arts education factor into your vision?

Of all people, it’s rocker Keith Richards who tells of how he was a lost, misfit adolescent. In a last-ditch effort to give him direction, his mother one day brought home a guitar and, as Richards relates, “my world, which to that moment had been black and white, turned into color.” Music, painting, and the performing arts give voice to students otherwise unable to express themselves. Arts are indespensible to education. Shame on any school system which fails to honor this truth.

If elected, will you decrease, hold steady, or increase operational funding for cultural organizations?

Increase. At the height of the Nazis savage nighttime bombing of London in World War II, someone suggested to Winston Churchill that the city close all its theaters. Churchill replied, “If we close the theaters, then what are we fighting for?”

Would you support the creation of a committee to discuss dedicated funding for the cultural sector?

I support dedicated cultural community funding. Perhaps, as should the minimum wage, cultural funding amounts should be tied to inflation. We don’t need more committees to accomplish this. Just right-minded public servants.




STEFAN IWAN MYCHAJLIW

Office Sought: Erie County Comptroller

Current Occupation: Erie County Comptroller


Top three priorities if elected:

1. Continue building upon my reform initiatives. We completed a formal Audit Plan, one was not done since 2006. We finalized a Succession Plan to maintain the integrity of the office, one was not done going back to 1989. Our banking business has not been put out to competitive bidding since 2006. Those bids are being processed now.

2. Hold the line on government spending: I voluntarily reduced my own budget by almost $500,000.

3. Reduce property taxes on our already overburdened families.

What is the role of arts and culture in our community in general, and specifically in Erie County?

Our seven-year-old daughter Mia Theresa is heavily involved in the arts, playing guitar and drums in and out of school. I am a proud graduate of the Buffalo Public School District, the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. There are fond memories of performing professionally at the old Pfeiffer Theater on Main Street. Our community can thrive and survive by a strong arts community that some believe generates more revenue than our professional sports teams.

What is the role of arts and culture in your plans for economic development in Erie County?

Career politicians lack vision. Their only answer to generating revenue is to raise taxes on families that are struggling. By investing smartly in our arts community we can attract supporters who will come to Buffalo for shows and performances, visitors who travel more than an hour to get here. That way we are not “recycling” revenue within the borders of Buffalo. We can increase revenues and help drive Buffalo’s economic engine by promoting our artistic, theatrical and musical treasures.

How would you develop cultural and heritage tourism in Erie County?

I am very proud of the statewide and national recognition Buffalo is now receiving because of our strong architectural history. It boils down to a smart and targeted marketing plan involving our cultural institutions and the Buffalo/Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau. The critical component of the long-term vision is to continually draw cultural dollars from outside of Erie County. If not, we are playing a failing “shell game” of taking potential revenue from one attraction to another.

What do you see as your role in improving education in Erie County, and how does a quality arts education factor into your vision?

My support of Buffalo Schools, especially art programs, is strong. I created an arts program where students create their own gallery at the Rath Building to put their work on display. I pay out of my own pocket to hold a “gala” for families and student artists. I proudly participated in their summer radio workshop to help students grow in the arts field. There are jobs in Buffalo, especially in health care, banking, and education. Now we need an educated workforce to fill those jobs.

If elected, will you decrease, hold steady, or increase operational funding for cultural organizations?

Under the Erie County Charter I monitor and report the County Executive’s management of the budget. Operational funding is determined by the County Executive and Legislature. I support smart investments that provide a measurable return to taxpayers

Would you support the creation of a committee to discuss dedicated funding for the cultural sector?

Productive and positive discourse on strengthening institutions can help stabilize future funding for our cultural sector. We need to work together to find multiple sources of revenue, not just relying solely on taxpayer-funded government handouts.



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