It's only 3 percent of Erie County's property tax take, and yet it turns over in the community enough times to return two dollars in tax revenue for every public dollar spent. That makes the county's annual contribution to local arts and cultural organizations both small enough, and big enough, to be planted firmly and allowed to bloom.
So County Executive Joel A. Giambra should have an easy time selling the County Legislature on the idea of locking in 3 percent of the county's property tax revenue -- now about $4.5 million a year -- into the process managed by the county's Cultural Resources Advisory Board.
Study after study, including the county's own and those done by the University at Buffalo and a national arts group, show that investment in the arts pays off big time for any community. The investment not only improves the local quality of life, adding value to everything from homes and commercial real estate, it also provides jobs, buys goods and services and turns over enough locally to provide twice as much in sales tax revenue as it costs in property tax expenditures.
Locally, the organizations that have had the county to thank for a baseline of funding include the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Buffalo Zoo, Albright-Knox and Burchfield-Penney art galleries, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center and other theaters, dance companies and public spaces. Those outfits sell tickets, employ people and buy goods and services. Those who buy the tickets also buy meals, drinks, sometimes hotel rooms or even new clothes for the occasion.
But it is not as if the money is simply thrown to the winds with the hope that it will do well. The Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board -- even if it is pronounced "eck-crab" -- goes over the books and business plans of each of the arts and cultural groups it funds with a fine-tooth comb. If you can make it there, the Giambra administration argues, you have the organizational chops to go to individuals, foundations and other private donors with a seal of approval that will ensure anything contributed to those groups will not be good money after bad.
Public investment in the arts pays off. This public investment should go beyond the current habit, and become a matter of law.