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Cultural organizations for advocacy group

Amid a growing movement to pin Western New York's identity to the arts, several cultural organizations have banded together to create a broad new arts advocacy group.

The Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance, which is slated to hold its first public meeting Monday in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, will focus on promoting the region's arts and cultural assets as an economic engine. The efforts of the new coalition, which announced its existence this week after months of private meetings, will focus on promoting the arts and advocating for funding and policy on the local, national and state levels.

The alliance grew out of informal talks among a small group of cultural organizations, including MusicalFare Theatre, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Road Less Traveled Productions, the African American Cultural Center and several others. Though it currently consists of 12 organizations, it is hoping to quickly enlist the membership of nonprofit arts groups of all sizes.

As opposed to similar projects initiated by local foundations or non-arts groups, organizers said, the cultural alliance is an attempt by arts groups to have a larger voice in decisions about public policy and arts funding.

"This is a bottom-up group as opposed to a top-down group," said Randall Kramer, artistic and executive director of MusicalFare Theatre and one of the group's original organizers. "We need to have a group that represents the culturals that is from the culturals."

The formation of the alliance comes amid a period of growth for Buffalo's cultural scene. The past decade has seen a proliferation of new art galleries, festivals and theater companies, as well as a boost to the region's national profile provided by the construction of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and renovation of the Darwin D. Martin House and renewed attention to the region's historic architecture. But, to date, that heightened profile has not been matched by heightened funding.

One of the group's goals, as stated in its invitation to Monday's 8 p.m. meeting in Hallwalls, is "to be active participants in determining our collective funding destiny."

But trying to wring more money out of the already stretched budgets of local, state and federal government isn't the only goal of the group.

Mark Mortenson, director of the Buffalo Museum of Science, characterized the cultural alliance's mission as concerned at the outset with promoting what its members see as the value of the arts and culture to the local community.

Maria Morreale, marketing and public relations director for the Albright-Knox, agrees. "Part of the thinking behind the organization is this idea that we need to make arts and culture a part of the ongoing dialogue in this community," she said.

Advocacy had been a key part of Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County's multifaceted mission, but since Executive Director Celeste Lawson was dismissed amid accusations of mismanagement, the group's future effectiveness is in doubt. But Kramer stressed that the new alliance is not an attempt to replace the Arts Council's efforts, but merely a different "grassroots" approach to advocating for a change in cultural policies and funding.

Kramer views the alliance as a natural progression in an art scene that seems to grow and coalesce more by the year.


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