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State budget brings 'unprecedented increase' in upstate arts funding

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Cultural pics

Clockwise from top left, Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Buffalo Zoo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Niagara Falls Aquarium.

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The new state budget set aside an extra $20 million for theaters, performing arts centers and museums outside New York City. That's on top of the $40 million typically dispensed each year by the New York State Council on the Arts.

"There's more money for arts and culturals in upstate New York than ever before," said State Sen. Sean Ryan.

The 2022-2023 budget approved April 9 also contains an additional $4 million reserved for upstate zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums. That money will come from the State Environmental Protection Fund.  

It will be months before specific allocations for Western New York arts and cultural groups are known, but several local projects have an advantage, Ryan said.  

"We do know that there are Buffalo projects that are shovel-ready, and they will most likely be the first beneficiaries of this increased funding availability," Ryan said.

Among them are expansion projects at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, and Graycliff, the lakefront estate designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Derby. 

Albright-Knox is hoping for $12 million to $20 million on top of $168 million already raised to complete its expansion project. The Botanical Gardens is seeking $10 million, and Graycliff hopes half of the $5 million it needs with come from the state. 

Ryan said Western New York lawmakers are well aware of the Alright-Knox situation. 

"We are working hard to identify state resources to help them close their funding gap," he said.

The Buffalo Zoo and Kleinhans Music Hall are among organizations that have deferred maintenance needs and are seeking upgrades to heating and cooling systems. The zoo is hoping for $5 million this year as part of a long-term $25 million goal, and Kleinhans is looking to make as big a dent as possible in the $15 million it needs.

"It's really great to see there is extra financial support coming to Western New York from the state," said Daniel Hart, director of Kleinhans Music Hall Management, which oversees the concert hall.

"This is coming at a time when the cultural sector is certainly grappling and adapting to the effects of the pandemic, but we also are dealing with a dramatic need for capital investments in our historic venues. So, the funds will have an immediate and positive impact," he said.

The increase in funding is also a boon for smaller arts and cultural organizations that rely on state funds to help pay their bills and keep the lights on.

"I'm really happy that NYSCA got well funded, because they are a major funder of Hallwalls and so many other organizations," said Ed Cardoni, executive director of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. "Wherever the funding is directed, it's all good for the local arts and cultural scene."

The $20 million for arts and culturals is broken down this way: $10 million for day-to-day operational purposes and $10 million that can be used to finance new construction or maintain, renovate and expand existing facilities.

"Usually we give a bigger capital fund and a smaller operating fund, but we recognize that the arts organizations outside New York City really took a wallop during the pandemic," Ryan said.

"They were closed often and their turnstile receipts were down," he said. "We wanted to put this funding together to really help them get back on their feet and continue to grow."

Ryan partnered with Democratic state senators in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany to get the additional funding passed.

The increased funding for zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens, he said, is "another unprecedented increase."

"It's terrific news for zoos like ours in the region," said Keesha Bullock, the Buffalo Zoo's chief external relations officer. "Like many zoos we have a long list of capital needs, and this will go a long way in helping us to resolve them."

"This critical funding will help to support our current programming and expand our services through needed capital improvements," said Mark Mortenson, the Botanical Gardens' president and CEO. 

"The Aquarium is thrilled to see this investment into the upstate cultural institutions that play such an important role in our community," said Gary Siddall, Aquarium of Niagara’s president and CEO.

Ryan said it should take three to five months to know what the individual organizations receive.

He's hoping arts and cultural funding will continue to increase in future state budgets.

"When places like the aquarium or the BPO or the zoo are engaging in routine but expensive maintenance, they need to be confident that there will be a source of state money for that each and every year," he said.

Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News. 

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