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Lift the roadblock; Mayor needs to utilize existing system for funding city cultural organizations

When it comes to helping close a critical funding gap for smaller arts organizations, Mayor Byron W. Brown still doesn't get it.

He didn't get it when he vetoed a Common Council bill that would have channeled $200,000 to city-based arts groups that had their funding eliminated by Erie County, and he doesn't get it now in setting up his own process to deliver his office's $100,000. Brown wants the Buffalo Arts Commission to help decide how the mayor's funds will be distributed. But there is no reason to reinvent the wheel when there is already a process for distributing the money that draws on knowledgeable, independent experts.

Some on the Common Council have accused the mayor of playing politics, which the mayor vehemently denies, or at least of wanting to control where the money goes. Again, denials. But by insisting on setting up his own process for doling out $100,000 of the city's money, Brown runs the risk that the groups expecting city funding will only get half -- the Council's half.

Under an informal deal between the Council and the Brown administration, Council members would provide $100,000 from their budget lines and the mayor $100,000 to help out arts and cultural organizations in the city that were dealt a blow when the county cut funding late last year.

Back then, Robert T. Gioia of the Oishei Foundation heroically stepped in to offer $400,000 under the auspices of the Fund for the Arts, and suggested the County Legislature provide another $100,000. His offer was met with a very public slap-down by Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, who didn't like the idea that she hadn't been informed of this plan.

Gioia quickly rescinded the offer and the Fund for the Arts, of which the Oishei Foundation is the largest contributor, announced it would distribute $430,000 to local theaters and arts organizations this year to make up for the county cutbacks. The $200,000 from the city was meant to augment the generous donation from the Fund for the Arts, and all seemed on track until Brown's veto.

Brown apparently felt left out of the process and perhaps a bit miffed at the Council's plans. However, representatives from the Fund for the Arts had written to the mayor in mid-August pointing out that the Council did not have its own process to distribute the funds, but was only using the process developed by the Fund for the Arts and the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance.

The list of organizations and amounts submitted to the Council was based entirely on the list of organizations that had their funding terminated by the county.

The county had already vetted and approved the organizations before the decision to cut the funding. The letter from the Fund for the Arts pointed out that the city money would go only to city organizations. The $100,000 each from the executive office and the Council was meant to close the gap in funding that was awarded, then canceled.

That process was clear and should have been acceptable to everyone, but, as the Arts Commission chairwoman informed the Council, making such funding recommendations is one of the roles assigned to the panel by the city code.

In reality, injecting the Arts Commission into the process now will just create more delay and freeze out some of the 27 city-based arts groups that saw their Erie County funding eliminated. Delaware representative Michael J. LoCurto has it right. Formulas have already been established for distributing the $200,000 in city aid. It doesn't make sense to open up a new process.

The Council members need to override Brown's veto when they return from summer recess and make sure the entire $200,000 is distributed to the already-designated groups.

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