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Buffalo eyes $300,000 for city-based culturals

City Hall may come to the rescue of 32 Buffalo-based cultural groups that saw their county funding eliminated earlier this year.

If the plan moves forward, it would be the first time in nearly a decade that the city would aid a large number of arts groups.

Following a fiscal crisis caused by the 2001 terrorist attacks, the city abolished its tradition of providing financial aid to dozens of outside cultural groups. While it still provides aid to some city-owned cultural facilities and targeted projects, it has not provided grants to most groups for 10 years.

Under a plan that could be endorsed by the Common Council today, the city would authorize a one-time grant of $300,000 to the Fund for the Arts, a local consortium that has committed to distributing $430,000 to local theaters and arts groups following the county budget cuts. The Oishei Foundation is the fund's largest contributor.

Among the groups that would benefit are Shakespeare in Delaware Park, the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, the African Cultural Center, Kavinoky Theatre, the Colored Musicians Club, Irish Classical Theatre, Ujima, the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park and Theatre of Youth.

Council Member Michael J. LoCurto of the Delaware District, who sponsored the bill, said he is cautiously optimistic he has the five votes necessary to move the initiative forward.

At an informal caucus Monday, LoCurto tried to ease the concerns of some lawmakers about placing city government back in the business of funding arts groups. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said he believes it sets a "terrible, terrible precedent."

"We're picking up the slack for the county that is shafting the culturals. That's what I have a problem with," Golombek told The Buffalo News. "I'm not anti-culture, but I don't think we should be picking up the county's tab."

LoCurto made it clear that the city would provide funding for only one year "to help close these groups' budget gaps."

He added that the city approved $300,000 last year to help fund construction of a museum at the Colored Musicians Club, a downtown landmark.

Catherine Gillespie, chairwoman of the Buffalo Arts Commission, is urging the Council and mayor to support the plan. She said her volunteer commission has been discussing strategies to try to help find funding for the organizations.

"The city is so full of wonderful art and wonderful art organizations. We need to support them," she said. "These groups bring people into the city."

Mayor Byron W. Brown has not seen the resolution, spokesman Mike DeGeorge said.

Other groups in the city that would receive aid under the plan are: Alleyway Theater; the Arts Council in Buffalo & Erie County; Arts in Education Institute of Western New York; Ballet Artists of Western New York; Big Orbit Gallery; Buffalo Arts Studio; Buffalo City Ballet; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus; CEPA; Community Music School of Buffalo; El Museo Gallery; Folkloric Dance; Hallwalls; Just Buffalo; Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes; New Phoenix Theatre; Pierce-Arrow Museum; Polish Arts Club of Buffalo; Music Is Art; Road Less Traveled Productions; Squeaky Wheel; Western New York Artists Group; and Young Audiences of Western New York.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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