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The cutting edge

Money Talk is swirling today -- along with the snow -- about County Executive Chris Collins' proposed cuts to local arts entities. Voices were raised in protest, and legislators have voted to renew grants for a variety of cultural entities that Collins had budgeted out.

Not everyone opposes the cuts. This morning, Tom Bauerle's talk show on WBEN-AM focused on whose responsibility it is to fund arts entities. The discussion grew heated. One caller called the taxpayer funding "involuntary charity."

It's not an easy matter to resolve. If the money is not there, reinstating the funding could result in higher taxes. Everyone seems to agree that our taxes are too high, but whenever or wherever cuts are threatened, the protests begin.

Collins' cuts have been on everyone's mind for weeks now. The situation came up after a talk given at UB recently by British author Norman Lebrecht. Lebrecht has written a series of tell-it-like-it-is books about the music industry, including "The Maestro Myth: Great Conductors and Their Pursuit of Power" and "The Life and Death of Classical Music." He knows where all the bodies are buried. And though his talk at UB focused on his newest book, "Why Mahler?," UB asked him to talk about the changing music industry, too. He did that.

And in a Q&A session afterward, someone spoke up and asked about government funding for the arts, and what to do when it is threatened.

You would have expected Lebrecht to speak out in outrage against proposed cuts. Well, I expected that. But he did not. He acknowledged, instead, that there are no easy answers.

He said, "Maybe it's time to start getting away from government dependency."

He went on to make suggestions, some off the top of his head, others things he has thought about. Thinking about the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra -- a bunch of BPO musicians, including Music Director JoAnn Falletta, attended his talk -- he wondered out loud if perhaps the orchestra should court younger listeners by scheduling concerts at offbeat times. "When do you go out?" he asked students. "You go out late at night, right?" They laughed in agreement. Lebrecht said, "Maybe the BPO could have a concert at 10 p.m. Forty minutes long. You could go, and see what you might discover."

That was just one idea of a number that he floated. But it stuck in my head. And so did the bigger reality that it illustrated. Our cultural entities make our society richer. Practically speaking, they help make our town attractive to the kind of people we would like to see live here -- successful people, who create jobs. But I think Norman Lebrecht is right and it is time to start thinking of ways to get around depending on the government.

One of these days we might have no choice.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


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