Collins cuts and Beyond/In
County Executive Chris Collins. Buffalo News file photo.
Today, the cultural community of Western New York awoke to some of the worst news it's seen in years. County Executive Chris Collins announced that he would cut cultural funding completely for 31 small and mid-sized arts organizations in his 2011 budget. For some background, read Matt Spina's story here and look for my column, which will appear in Sunday's Spotlight section.
One point that needs to be made right off the bat about Collins' move has to do with Beyond/In Western New York, the mammoth international art exhibition which kicked off last weekend. This is a project that grew out of a collaboration among small, medium and large cultural organizations across Western New York, and which has already drawn large number of cultural tourists to the area and promises to continue doing so throughout its three-month run.
It was a genuinely democratic project that Collins supported with county dollars. (UPDATE: That money, which Collins said he had pledged in a June interview, was not provided. Collins spokesperson Grant Loomis said that the county money was contingent on Beyond/In Western New York organizers getting funding from the City of Buffalo, which the organization was not able to secure.) But it would never have been imaginable, much less possible, without county funding for small and mid-size galleries like Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, El Museo Gallery, Buffalo Arts Studio, Squeaky Wheel and many other groups that use vital county dollars to leverage and pull in support from outside funding sources.
To many, this smacks just ever so slightly of hypocrisy, and seems to be yet another example of how Western New York politicians find innovative ways to shoot themselves in the foot and stunt the region's potential growth. As Hallwalls curator John Massier put it in a Facebook status update:
"Last Friday, I stood on the observation deck at City Hall and heard the Mayor make the point that there were NO HOTEL ROOMS available for the coming weekend, as a result of the Beyond/In WNY 2010 project, clear evidence of the value of cultural activityy. Five days after the Mayor gave us two thumbs up, the County Executive has given us the finger."