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4 projects named finalists for funds

History, art, food and architecture came out the winners after Tuesday night's presentation event for the 21st Century Fund's $100,000 grant competition, held in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Members of the 21st Century Fund selected proposed community enhancement projects of four non-profit entrants -- the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition, Hallwalls, Massachusetts Avenue Project and WNED-TV -- from a field of nine to advance to the final round.

Only one will leave the April 24 "Vote Night" final with the $100,000.

"What's so great about the 21st Century Fund is it's here to support the growth of Buffalo," said Donna Fernandes, executive director of the Buffalo Zoo, which won the grant two years ago to assist in funding its rain forest exhibit project.

The fund, an initiative of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, pools the contributions of more than 250 individuals and organizations, said Gail Johnstone, president of the foundation. Members themselves then vote to award the grant.

"The 21st Century Fund offers everyone in Western New York the opportunity to invest in our community and take part in seeing that their dollars go to a project that will have a significant impact on the future of this area," said Leslie Zemsky, foundation director and fund chair.

Bishop William Henderson of the historic Michigan Street Baptist Church said his prayers had been answered Tuesday. But, many more will be prayed between now and April.

Henderson and the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition hope to win the competition to kick-start their preservation of the historic 1845 church. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the church is a landmark of the Underground Railroad and Civil Rights Movement.

The $1 million project overall has secured reimburseable grants through the state but needs some seed money to get the project rolling, said Sandy White, coalition member.

"This has been standing since 1845; we don't want to lose it," Henderson said.

"I want it to be preserved for years after I'm gone."

The project will have tough competition in April from the Massachusetts Avenue Project, WNED and the Hallwalls group, led in part by Louis Grachos, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The Massachusetts Avenue Project, dubbed Buffalo Grown Mobile Marketplace, proposes bringing organic, locally grown, affordable produce and nutrition education to Buffalo's low-income neighborhoods.

WNED is collaborating with the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier to promote Buffalo as a premiere architectural tourism destination through a national PBS broadcast along with aggressive marketing.

Hallwalls submitted its proposal on behalf of 13 participating art galleries led in part by Louis Grachos, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

It hopes to fund the second edition of its regional biennial collaborative exhibition project of contemporary visual and media artists.
The first, held last year, proved successful, Grachos said. Now, the galleries want to make it even better.

"It was a truly exciting opportunity in that we were able to not only attract people from not just areas across the border but from around the United States," Grachos said. "It's our hope we'll get to take this to a national stage . . . to another level."


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