The beauty, intelligence and relevance of the Beyond/In Western New York regional art show was stunning. The theater season's opening with Curtain Up! filled downtown streets and restaurants to capacity. The foremost writers from around the globe came, visited and thrilled audiences of a thousand or more at Babel, leaving with a transformed vision of Buffalo.
At the same time, neighborhood children poor in means but not in imagination learned to paint at Locust Street Neighborhood Art Center. Local artists found expression as new work was written, danced and played. Handmade books, photographs and sculptures were created. An ecosystem of small galleries, theaters, coffee shops, museums, centers and programs wove the community together.
What an outstanding season -- not only for everyone who attends, participates and appreciates Western New York's vibrant arts and cultural community, but for everyone who lives here, works here, is raising children here, is retiring here or calls this place home. And therefore, what a bitter pill to end the year with a senseless withdrawal of vital support by Erie County, a major beneficiary of this vitality.
It is time to reaffirm the importance and value of this most important community asset, and come together to find a way to provide the dedicated, crucial and -- in the big picture, very modest -- support necessary to ensure its health.
This community takes pride in our arts and cultural organizations and at their success in securing for us international, national and statewide prominence. This has both benefited the local community and attracted tourists. Support for cultural organizations is widespread, with high levels of participation throughout Western New York and Buffalo-Niagara. If anything, local community members resent an unbalanced emphasis on outside tourists, wanting a proper valuing of how essential all of our arts and cultural organizations -- small, medium and large alike -- are to the quality of life for those who live and work here, and to our future.
Diversified support is essential for these organizations to operate effectively. Struggling to survive, as is triggered for many when key support is pulled mid-season by an important piece of the funding pie, means much less is possible. This is true in terms of presenting ambitious and important work; opening our doors to those who can't afford to pay; competing at the national and international levels; and maintaining basic and sound operations.
But make no mistake: the decisive factor will not be any actions of elected officials over the last two months. It will be the support and involvement of the people of this region, and the cultural community's own unity that make the difference going forward.
As this new decade commences, come out! Participate, enjoy, get involved, be nourished, be provoked and make your support felt. A better investment could not be made.
Laurie Dean Torrell is executive director of the Just Buffalo Literary Center.