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Chris Collins is a Boor

At the height of World War II, with Britain being bombed, Winston Churchill’s finance minister proposed that the government cut all funding to the arts in order to focus on the war effort.

County Executive Chris Collins

Churchill’s response?

“Hell no! What are we fighting for?”

During the Great Depression, Roosevelt pumped money into the performing arts, putting people to work and bringing culture to unprecedented numbers of Americans.

In Erie County, known across the nation for the vitality of our theater scene, County Executive Chris Collins has just announced his intention to cut funding to most cultural organizations. No theater will receive funding. What can he be thinking?

Granted, I doubt that the theater is a very important part of Mr. Collins’ life. I am at a theater most nights of the week and I have seen him in attendance exactly never. Indeed, no matter how many studies are done and how many statistics are cranked out to demonstrate the irrefutable economic impact of the arts to our local economy, I have yet to meet a politician who is interested.

Nonetheless, it is a fact: The arts help vitalize our economy and help make Erie County a splendid place to live. I am not a native Buffalonian. I never would have settled here were it not for its arts community.

Consider Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Each summer, 40,000 people see Shakespeare in Buffalo—for free. That’s amazing. Over the course of its 35-year history, 1.75 million people have attended Shakespeare in Delaware Park. County funding of $81,000 a year represents 25 percent of the Shakespeare budget. It would seem to be worth the investment.

But Collins is cutting everyone except the “Big 10.” Really? Forty thousand people over the course of two months, every summer? Not “big” enough? That begs the question, how is he defining “Big 10”?

It seems his emphasis is on “cultural tourism.” How do we attract day-trippers who don’t’ live here? Gee, Chris, what about the million people who live right here in Erie County? Is our quality of life immaterial?

The Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance, a grassroots advocacy organization whose membership comprises more than 60 501(c)(3) organizations from the Greater Buffalo/Niagara region, has released the following statement: “If these reported budget cuts are indeed true, it is a shocking and crippling action. Why gut one of the most productive and viable sectors in our area’s economy? There were more than 2.5 million attendees at GBCA organizations last year. Nearly half of them attended small and mid-sized organizations’ events. Our County Executive is potentially disenfranchising one million local arts and culture attendees.”

I quite agree.

With the loss of 25 percent of its budget, Shakespeare in Delaware Park could be as good as dead.

So would Theater of Youth, a unique children’s theater, bringing programming to thousands of school kids each year.

So would the African American Cultural Center, which brings tens of thousands of people through its doors, serving one of Buffalo’s most economically depressed communities.

Well, the message is clear. Collins thinks you can all go to hell. Apparently, we’re seeking to serve an elite group of people who don’t even live here with the expectation that the benefits might trickle down. Surely some crumbs will fall down from their table of joy! But Erie County’s vibrant smaller culturals no longer have a place at that table.