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Mayor urged to facilitate cultural aid

The Common Council is sending a unanimous message to the mayor that it wants the city to find ways to help cultural groups that have been ravaged by Erie County budget cuts.

One option favored by some lawmakers would revive a practice that was abolished a decade ago that saw the city provide annual grants to dozens of Buffalo-based groups.

After a spirited 40-minute debate Tuesday, lawmakers stopped short of specifying how much aid the city might provide or the source. But in a resolution that was amended so as to win over Council skeptics, lawmakers said one option would involve working with a consortium, the Fund for the Arts, which has committed to distributing $430,000 to groups in the wake of the county budget cuts.

"These cultural institutions play such a vital role in the city -- for the quality of life of city residents, and also as an economic engine," said Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, the bill's sponsor.

A provision that would have aimed to find $300,000 to deliver to 30 city-based arts and cultural groups was removed after some lawmakers objected. They said it's more prudent to stay flexible.

The Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, the Ellicott Council member who represents downtown neighborhoods where many arts groups are based, argued that the city might be able to leverage aid in a way that attracts additional donations from foundations and other sources. "I say the culturals need more support," he said. "It is important to the growth of Buffalo."

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. had warned Monday that providing one-shot grants to 30 groups would set a bad precedent because it would see the city "pick up the slack for the county." A day later, Golombek helped broker a compromise bill, saying he hopes future discussions may see the city revive its role of helping arts groups on a regular basis.

"We should be looking at a way to put the grant-in-aid back into the budget so that we would be able to assist the culturals in the City of Buffalo on a yearly basis," Golombek said. "Now I don't know if that number is going to be $300,000, but I don't think it should be a one-shot deal."

As a result of a fiscal crisis stemming from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the city abolished its tradition of providing aid to dozens of outside cultural groups. While it still provides targeted aid to some city-owned cultural facilities and for targeted projects, it has not provided grants to most groups for 10 years.

LoCurto wants the city to move quickly to supplement grants that the Fund for the Arts will give to groups. The Oishei Foundation is the fund's top contributor.

Monday, the chairwoman of the Buffalo Arts Commission urged the city to support funding for cultural groups. Catherine S. Gillespie said her volunteer commission has been discussing strategies to try to assist 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."


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