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Six area foundations are pooling $250,000 to help 42 cultural organizations that lost all of their Erie County funding as a result of the recent budget crisis.

The joint grant, "with contributions from other interested foundations and community members . . . will help the culturals survive the immediate impact of the cuts," the private nonprofit foundations said Tuesday.

It will be distributed pro rata, based on the county funding recommended for each group last fall by the Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board.

The pool money "is intended to alleviate some of the climate of crisis under which many groups are operating and to provide some leeway for planning their future," said Gail Johnstone, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo.

The contributing group also includes the Baird, Cameron Baird, John R. Oishei, M&T Charitable and Margaret L. Wendt foundations.

Additional funds will be given to help the groups make the transition to a future without government funding, the foundations added.

Those funds will be awarded on a competitive basis to cultural organizations that propose "viable plans or programs" to wean themselves from taxpayer subsidies, said Thomas E. Baker, Oishei Foundation president.

The level of support available through this "transition fund" will depend on the strength of responses received from cultural organizations that apply for assistance, the foundations said. Joint applications will be encouraged.

A briefing on the application process will be held at 4 p.m. today in the Smith Theatre, 660 Main St. Proposals must be submitted to the Community Foundation by May 2.

The 42 small- to mid-size organizations -- generally those with annual operating budgets of $1 million or less -- were stripped of $1 million as county officials rushed to plug a $108 million shortfall in the 2005 budget.

All $2.7 million earmarked for culture in the final spending plan was divided among six larger institutions regarded as cultural icons -- the Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Studio Arena Theatre and Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The zoo wound up with $1.2 million of the $1.4 million it had been allocated before the county budget-making process unraveled in February. That enabled the zoo, which had shut down Mondays and Tuesdays and laid off a third of its staff, to resume full operating hours and restore five of 20 staff positions.

In announcing their plan to help smaller organizations, the six foundations stressed that they "can't fully supplant the loss of close to $1 million in county funding, nor do we think it is our role to do so."

They added that the pool of operating assistance and the money designed to help organizations end their dependence on government "are one-time opportunities and will not be repeated in 2006."

The special help is not intended to supplant cultural grants normally awarded by the foundations.


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