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David Midland is leaving today as president of Artpark, and the state has cut off its formerly generous funding for programs there -- but the volunteer group that may take over operation of the park said Friday that the shows will go on next year anyway.

Dolly W. Ladds, retiring chairwoman of Artpark & Company, said the park's Main Theater and its Artpark-at-the-Church program in a former church building at 415 Plain St. would be open for the 1997 theater season.

Mrs. Ladds said Artpark & Company was "considering" a 10-week season with eight productions in the Main Theater, and a continuation of the "popular format" in Artpark-at-the-Church.

She added that the 1997 season would include the opening of a gift shop and improved concessions in Artpark and possibly a new starting time for theater productions that would be more convenient for members of the audience.

Because of the bleak financial outlook, most of the Artpark staff was furloughed at the end of this summer's theater season and Midland announced that he would retire as president sometime in October. Midland's retirement is effective today, said Edward J. Rutkowski, district director of New York State Parks.

The future of Artpark has been uncertain in recent months, after Gov. Pataki announced that its state funding would be phased out and that a private operator would be sought. Artpark was established in 1974 as a unique state-supported center for the visual and performing arts, and its state subsidy amounted to $2.5 million in 1989 -- Midland's first year as president.

The subsidy has dropped precipitously in the 1990s. Pataki slashed it to $1 million in 1995, pledging to cut it to $500,000 this year and to nothing at all in 1997. As it turned out, that last $500,000 was split into two grants of $250,000 apiece -- with one of them received for the 1996 theater season and the other due next year.

An additional $150,000 in special funding for Artpark was secured this year in legislative "member items" sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph T. Pillittere, D-Lewiston, and State Senator George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda.

Rutkowski told members of the Niagara Frontier State Parks Commission Wednesday in Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island that no state funding is planned for Artpark after next year, unless additional member items are adopted for that purpose.

Such funding, if it were to materialize, would be a figurative drop in the bucket when compared with the millions of dollars that
the state once spent on Artpark.

Rutkowski said Artpark & Company believes it can triple the attendance at daytime programs in the park if it takes over operations from the state for the coming year.

Although attendance and revenues declined this year at Artpark, Rutkowski said Camp Artpark was operated near its capacity for six weeks. He said Artpark's Young Writers Camp, operated in conjunction with Canisius College of Buffalo, and its Elder Host, in conjunction with Stella Niagara, enjoyed strong seasons this year.

The park's hands-on workshops and art spaces were heavily attended, and the credit courses at Niagara County Community College continued to draw solid enrollment, he said.

Mrs. Ladds said a study of Artpark's future by Canisius College's Center for Entrepreneurship was "in hand and it provides a road map for initiative and new processes aimed at strengthening Artpark."

Her comments were made at the 20th annual meeting of Artpark & Company in the Niagara Falls Country Club, where 14 new members were added to the organization's board of directors and its focus was changed from a mostly volunteer fund-raising group to a new, private, not-for-profit organization aimed at taking over operation of the park.

No formal agreement has been reached between the state and Artpark & Company, but Rutkowski said: "Soon this partnership will commence and a new era for Artpark will begin."

Dario A. Violanti, capital facilities manager for the Niagara Frontier State Parks, said state employees soon would begin construction of the Artpark gift shop that was mentioned by Mrs. Ladds. Violanti said most of the materials would be donated, and the design would be provided by the University at Buffalo.

He also said a portion of the roof of the Main Theater needs to be replaced, but that work is on hold pending the status of a new management for Artpark.

Mrs. Ladds also pointed out that Artpark & Company had contributed the $102,000 that was called for in this year's Artpark budget "and actually ended the year with a cash surplus for a good jump start towards next year."

During the annual meeting, Fred Attea, a partner in the law firm of Phillips, Lytle, Hitchcock, Blaine and Huber, was elected chairman of Artpark & Company to succeed Mrs. Ladds. Attea said next year's season would be "an opportunity for the friends and supporters of Artpark to widen the circle and deepen the commitment to the park as they take on the added responsibilities for programming."

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