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Chris Collins: Fund The Culturals

Chris Collins likes to talk about how he runs county government like a private business. I have to wonder what business he means. Enron? BP? Collins has a habit of making decisions that leave you scratching your head. Take his latest brainstorm—eliminating county funding for a wide range of cultural institutions. Just looking at this as a business decision, this is a dumb move.

Buffalo has acquired a hard-won reputation regionally and even nationally as a cultural destination. Indeed, cultural tourism is one of the few growth industries in the area. Cutting funding for culture is cutting our own throat. Collins will say that he will continue to fund the “big hitters”—Albright Knox, et al. But Buffalo’s strong point is the diversity and richness of cultural projects—art, drama, music, architecture, and spoken word. The less prominent, less affluent enterprises play a significant role in defining this city’s cultural landscape. To take one small example, I know two out-of-town families who plan a trip to Buffalo every summer to attend Shakespeare in Delaware Park.

I dare say every dollar invested in the arts will be returned ten-fold in tourism money. Of course it is silly to reduce this issue to dollars and cents. One cannot put a price on experiencing, say, the wonderful production of Macbeth in Delaware Park this past summer. But purely as a business decision, this is remarkably short-sighted.

Long story short, Mr. Collins should follow the immortal advice of that sage, Archie Bunker and “stifle yourself.”

Joe Gerken, Buffalo

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Buffalo is known all over the world as a cultural city. From Shakespeare in the Park to the African American Cultural Center to the Irish Classical Theater, there is something for everyone’s taste in the city. We have gone on to win several national awards for our gems here.

It is difficult for me, as a county legislator, to understand the rationale behind the county executive’s move to basically destroy what little cultural pleasures we still have left to enjoy, at a free or reduced rate. I support our cultural institutions 100 percent. All of them, including the Big 10, need the taxpayers’ support. Please write to Erie County Executive Chris Collins and let him know that he must not decrease our quality of life.

Betty Jean Grant, 7th District Legislator Erie County Legislature

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I am a patron/member/supporter of Shakespeare in Delaware Park and am writing in response to the Erie County Executive’s proposed 2011 budget cuts to the culturals. Mr. Collins said he will only give money to the 10 attractions he deems “regionally significant” that are “unique to the region and the best draw to visitors.”

• Shakespeare in Delaware Park is the region’s only free professional theater company and has been so for 35 years;

• Shakespeare in Delaware Park has drawn more than 1.75 million audience members since its inception in 1976;

• Shakespeare in Delaware Park entertains and educates 40,000 to 50,000 audience members each summer both from within and outside Western New York;

• Shakespeare in Delaware Park is one of the largest free professional outdoor Shakespeare festivals in the country.

With these facts, how can the Erie County Executive not deem Shakespeare in Delaware Park regionally significant? Shakespeare in Delaware Park summer productions are available to every resident in Western New York and to the many tourists who visit our area regardless of ability to pay. Shakespeare in DelawarePark plays have remained free and accessible to your constituents and all residents of Erie County and beyond for 35 years.

Mr. Collins’ proposed cuts make up 25 percent of Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s operating budget and could be devastating to the very existence of this cultural jewel.

I am grateful for your time and consideration, and hope that you will recommend reinstating funding to Shakespeare in Delaware Park, so that the company can embark upon its 2011 season and continue to provide free, high-quality public theatre to all.

Trish Chapin, East Aurora

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As a member of the Buffalo theater community, I want to express my opinion: I’ve been following the news of the funding cuts to the smaller culturals, and I’m appalled at the dismissive remarks made by Erie County Exececutive Chris Collins about small theaters in this city, and his smug assertion that whatever support Erie County has for the arts must now go only to large culturals (e.g. Albright-Knox) for outside tourists, and not for tax-paying Erie County residents. It’s a bit like the loss of affordable family seats for ordinary taxpayers at the Bills games to fancy, private boxes for the corporate rich and their clients. Stick it to the little guy who paid for the stadium in the first place. Well, it is time to fight back!

I am one of many people who earn an important part of my living from the arts. And it is time we arts workers state our position at more than sotto voce level! It’s time we project loudly to the back balconies that theater is small business and not just an expendable frill.

Perhaps it will take a sit-in to reach our county executive and the county legislature with the shocking revelation that downtown is safer because of theater. That Buffalo is more attractive to relocating industry and professionals because of the Theater District. That theater itself is an industry as well as an art. That, of all the theater districts in the medium-size cities of the entire country, Buffalo is the acknowledged best and most admired. That there are rear ends in the restaurant and tavern seats because of theaters, that cooks and waitresses have jobs because tech workers and actors and their audiences need food and drink. That theaters buy printers and computers, and fabric and furniture, and office supplies, and paint and nails, and wine and beer for their bars. That theaters hire workers, and pay actors who then go out and buy food for their families, and pay their rent, and shop for dance tights and stage shoes and cosmetics. That theaters hire cleaning companies, and carpet scrubbers, and caterers, and carpenters and plumbers, and window cleaners, and buy electricity and gas, and floral bouquets, and shovel their damn sidewalks in winter, and string up Christmas glitter, and pay taxes, and light up the desolate streets of economically and emotionally suffering Buffalo in the evening…and have Curtain Up festivals, and provide the names of local hotels to half the population of Dublin that came with a recent, visiting playwright—friends and relatives going home to Ireland singing our praises as a destination, I might add. That a small business like Theatre of Youth entertains almost 500 children from all the schools in Western New York every single day. That hundreds come nightly to Shakespeare in the Park. That Ujima Theatre has been in existence for 33 years. That theater brings pleasure to the citizens of Erie County who have hung on to their homes here in spite of the poor excuse we have for a government—the same county government that is presently slashing funds to all small arts businesses while blaming the Obama administration for not doing enough for small business. That the theater community not only contributes enormously to the economy, but, together with other small culturals, enriches the Buffalo/Niagara region with beauty, music, poetry, gardens, literature, and drama. And that those same arts communities almost single-handedly keep the night lights on in downtown Buffalo, improve the quality of life for everyone—not just out-of-town tourists—and lift the spirits of this struggling city.

Please restore these funds to small arts businesses.

Kathleen Betsko Yale, Buffalo

PS: Perhaps our local Western New York Theatre Alliance should change its name to the Theatre Industry Workers Alliance and Small Arts Business Association. TIWASABA—that sounds like a creative union that means business, doesn’t it?!

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