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Erie County's Cultural Resources Advisory Board recommended Thursday that County Executive Gorski's 1998 budget boost cultural funding by $74,500 to $4.66 million.

The panel approved two new and 44 previously funded applicants, with 25 increases and three decreases in appropriations.

"Those who love culture are greatly indebted to the county," said Kerry S. Grant, advisory board chairman. "State funding has dropped precipitously. City funding has shrunk, and the county has provided stability to weather these changes."

"Had the county disinvested, we would have lost a good number of our important organizations," Grant added. "They would have closed."

The largest appropriation, $1.2 million, is recommended for the Zoological Society of Buffalo, but that is the same as this year.

Two of the top five cultural groups inched up but not by much. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery was recommended for $515,000, or $15,000 more, and the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences for $980,000, an additional $10,000.

Two major grants would remain the same, $400,000 for the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society and $634,500 for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

After Gorski makes his recommendations, his budget will go to the County Legislature for a series of hearings. One hearing will be devoted to the cultural appropriations.

A briefing for applicants is set for 9 a.m. Nov. 3 in Hallwalls, Suite 435 of the Tri-Main Center, 2495 Main St.

The advisory board's smallest proposed grant is $1,500 for Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble, down $500 from this year.

Music of all sorts, dance, the visual arts, museums and drama are represented. Grant said a series of 31 review meetings emphasized the importance of a variety of cultural programs to the quality of life of citizens of all ages.

"The board does its work exhaustively, visiting every site," he said. "If you've been on this board, you have been to some of the agencies a number of times and begin to get an idea of problems and progress."

The board also recommends and additional $90,000 to help fund the final year of a three-year Cultural Incentive Funding Program. The program primarily serves struggling newer agencies and those serving minorities.

"We've increased support for small agencies and minority groups," said Grant. "They were struggling along with small amounts."

For several years, the board has urged all agencies to be aware of the real economic environment and to plan for their own survival.

"Some are much more self-supporting," Grant said.

Gorski asked for the board's opinion of the Shea's O'Connell Preservation Guild's planned $14.5 million expansion that will accommodate large touring shows. One concern was the impact on the several locally supported live theaters.

"There is a real belief that the more vital an arts community is, the larger it grows," Grant said. "The facility is needed and will bring great benefit."

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