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Tod Kniazuk leaves Arts Services Initiative after six years

Tod A. Kniazuk, who helped to build the the Arts Services Initiative into a champion for the region's arts and cultural organizations, announced Monday that he has left the advocacy group to work as a consultant.

The decision to part ways was mutual, said Kniazuk and ASI board president Randall Kramer.

"It's time to move on," said Kniazuk, who will work as a consultant for Ted Pietzrak and Associates, a firm run by the former director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center. "There's always more to do, and it was not an easy decision. But it's probably time for someone else to take a crack at it."

The Arts Services Initiative was formed in 2011 in the wake of a cultural funding crisis launched by then-Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who sought to cut off county subsidies for dozens of local cultural groups. It also replaced the defunct Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County, which was dissolved after years of financial mismanagement.

Under Kniazuk's leadership, the group evolved from a two-person shop lobbying for the inclusion of the arts in local government and business circles to a full-service advocacy group offering workshops, launching programs to broaden access to the arts and partnering with local media to offer more arts coverage. It now has five full-time staff members.

Kniazuk also led a local effort to tally the effect of arts and culture on the Western New York economy into a comprehensive report co-produced with Americans for the Arts, which was released earlier this month.

Kniazuk, who said the organization is in the midst of a strategic planning process, said he was proud of his accomplishments over the past six years. Highlights, he said, included getting broad support from the cultural community, working to establish the equity-minded Arts Access Program and linking the arts to local business, economic and tourism communities.

"In the arts, there's a huge difference between opening your door and inviting someone in," Kniazuk said. "We not only invited people in, we actually went out and picked them up and brought them in."

Kramer said that ASI will soon appoint an interim director who will lead the organization through a period of strategic planning. Several months after that, a permanent executive director will be appointed.

"There's areas that we need to explore to stay viable," Kramer said. "Those areas are development and identifying ourselves with artists and with patrons of artists so that people understand exactly who we are."

Both Kramer and Kniazuk said ASI is in good financial shape. Its funding comes from a consortium of local foundations, as well as from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. It also holds the annual SPARK cultural awards, a significant source of revenue for the group.

Even so, Kramer acknowledged, securing a steady and reliable flow of revenue so the organization can fulfill its mission is a priority for the board.

"We know if we're going to be viable and move forward for the next 50 years," Kramer said, "that has to happen."


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