Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Better late than never.

Through a posting on regional arts advocacy group's, Empower Arts Buffalo, social network page, a representative from the Theater Alliance of Buffalo provided a link to the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance's detailing the rationale behind recommending cash-strapped cultural groups that should receive a portion of the recent $430,000 The Fund for the Arts donation .Although the FFA press-release associating the donation and the GBCA is dated February 28th, the information was finally made available to the general public as of March 16th.

This rationale behind how GBCA qualified potential recipients is relatively precise and generally lays out the mathematical equation into how a cultural group was to receive this one-time donation. Making clear GBCA executed this process fairly, the release says "Every organization on GBCA's list received a Erie County contract...whether it was a reduced amount or received zero payment." Stressing to those seeking clarity, "All organizations thus defined were included regardless of whether or not they were members of GBCA."

And so the process of whom was included is defined.

The GBCA press-release details the mathematical equation of how the money was allotted based on a 20% reduction "across the board" of what may be considered money Erie County was supposed to have provided via contract to selected cultural groups. This was to fall in line with the proposed $600,000 originally slated for the donation. This ultimate figure was determined by how much a cultural group stood to lose with Erie County funding and we are left to understand this amount was presented by those who were appealing for a piece of the donation. 

Additionally, the GBCA determined the allocated amounts based on "organizations actually received funding in 2010," the GBCA "used that actual (lesser) figure."Other mathematical methods of determination included the GBCA, in cases where the cultural group's amount was zeroed out, "we used the Legislature's approved (not vetoed) amount." 

GBCA also considered when the "Legislature's approved amount was way of whack," the steering commitee "went back to 2009 actual funding or for new applicants used 50% of the Legislature's approved amount."

And so the mathematical equation of who was getting what was determined.

Although the press-release issued by The Fund for the Arts (FFA) was on February 28th, I have to congratulate the GBCA for finally rising to the occasion and presenting something of transparency with this matter. And good for the GBCA for stressing that the decision of who was to receive funding wasn't based on membership but by who was under contract with Erie County for 2010 funding.

Of course, the question of who was in charge of assembling the list of those who were under contract is begging to be asked. 

Did the GBCA request from Erie County a list of cultural groups who were targeted for cuts and in turn present a survey or some other source of notification of this process?

That is unclear, and the GBCA does not list the groups who received funding from the FFA. The website provided by FFA detailing the list of recipients is not in service as well. As for the mathematical equation, who was in charge of this? Did the GBCA hire a public accountant and was this notarized? Or did a handful of GBCA steering committee members determine the allocation for 32 cultural groups?

One item that does remain clear is the curious final note of GBCA's press-release indicating the Artvoice Give for Greatness campaign "is using another process entirely." Emphasizing that "other organizations not previously funded by Erie County or recommended for funding by ECRAB or Legislature" will be included in the funding process.

One may be incline to see this statement as a indication those who were in charge of making the decision of which groups got money recognized that some groups, regardless if the groups were under GBCA membership or Erie County contract, would be purposely left out of the loop. This recognition faintly reflects a sentiment that those left out would have to fend for themselves or find other sources of funding faintly resembling Chris Collin's directives.

Despite this cynicism, the GBCA's efforts to at least piece together their idea of a rationale explanation is a good thing for the overall cultural group community because it gives some much needed creditability to all involved.

Once credibility is established then perhaps there can be greater recognition and, ultimately, restoration of funding for ALL members of the Artistic Community.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

430,000 Chunks of Bread

Manna from Heaven.

The blessed Israelites received this food from God's merciful grace as they trudge onwards in the great Exodus. The white flakes were supposedly honey-like in taste and gave the noble Jewish tribes a lifeline to keep moving forward in their great quest.

A lifeline.

In a recent
The Buffalo News article, Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance spokesperson, Randy Kramer, said of the recent $430,000, manna from heaven, donation to help reeling cultural groups, as a lifeline."This very good news. For some groups, this is a lifeline."

Does this mean that "some cultural groups" were on the verge of perishing?

Not perish but, as Saul Elkin of Shakespeare in Delaware Park (despite the looming budget crisis recently held auditions for the 2011 season), said in same The Buffalo News article, put the ability to have a theater season, or any other artistic event, "on hold".

So with a heavy thunk of 430,000 chunks of falling bread, the season for SDP, and 31 other selected cultural groups, was saved by a group of 12 foundations including the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Magaret L. Wendt, the Baird and Oishei.

Why the generous move by these community fondations?

According to president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, this one-time group donation was to insure groups, who's budgets were effected by Erie County Executive Chris Collin's recent cuts to the Arts, had enough funds to "think through their immediate situation without having an immediate budget crisis."

Although Dedecker points out the groups understanding of the intrinsic value of Arts in the community, she does not list who best represents these values. Instead the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo relied on the Greater Buffalo Cultural Agency to put together a list of those deserving of this "lifeline".

The GBCA, in turn, presented a list of 32 cultural groups targeted for this manna. The process is unclear in how this group determined who made the list. There is mention of some groups who were to receive a portion of this donation, but the article does not say how these groups got the money.

The GBCA's website make no formal announcement of this award or details the process of how they assembled a list. Shortly after the The Buffalo News article came out, I sent an email to GBCA's contact page and have not receive a reply to explain this process.

So how did GBCA determine who made the list?

Several beneficiaries listed in The Buffalo News article, including SDP, Ujima Company, Just Buffalo Literary Center, and the Locust Street Neighborhood Art, are GBCA members. Was this a determining factor in being considered?

The lack of transparency on behalf of GBCA indicates there was no formal process but simply those with the connections to the group's steering committee had the opportunity to present their case for receiving money. Essentially, anyone outside this group was not included in the process. No surveys, no notifications, no emails or formal meeting were presented by the GBCA to indicate there was a process of determining who may be entitled to this funding.

I'm not sure this is what the community foundations wanted with this donation.

The 12 foundations believe in cultural diversity as indicated by Ms Dedecker, "The foundations earnestly value the great diversity of the arts and cultural organizations in our community," yet is diversity the true measure of who deserved the financial boost or was it simply those with reputation and a loud representative voice to carry their message.

What is truly troubling is that with the great efforts of Artvoice's founder, Jamie Moses, and his Give for Greatness, funding, those who are already receiving a portion of the $430,000 are lining up to receive a percentage of this campaign.

Fortunately, a reliable source informed me there has been some balance added to the committee overseeing this distribution, and objectively look at which groups are in true need of a financial boost. This will potentially moderate money flow to more established cultural groups who claim to have bigger financial needs than smaller ones.

Overall, this recent 430,000 blessing strikes me as another example of "have and have nots". Where those part of Cultural Advocacy group inner circles or steering committees have the representative voice to put their hands in the air and shout for their Lion's share. Whereas groups outside these circles, or those who may be members but cannot attend meetings, do not have the opportunity to be heard.

Whether or not this is intentional remains up to debate.

What truly should happen with these Cultural Alliance/Advocacy groups is the replacement of cultural group Artistic/Executive directors, who administrate steering and planning committees, with objective, non-cultural, business people. In turn, these individuals can oversee decisions and direction based on sound business decisions, responsibility, vision and transparency that benefits all cultural groups.

Arts community members can still be involved but the conflict of interest dominating the present process would be eliminated. Instead, to influence decisions, these members would have present sound presentations and provide clarity into initiating programs that will benefit all groups and not just their organizations.

A prominent business leader said of these organizations, "I can't act, so don't put me on stage. What makes these Arts people think they can be Business people?"

Does he have a point?


What he should say on behalf of these Cultural Groups is "practice what your preaching" and be more concerned about what it means to support Arts in the community and not supporting one's art to live in the community.
Matthew LaChiusa is the Executive/Artistic Director for the American Rep Theater of WNY. His proudest accomplishment was working up from a waiter to a manager/wine steward positon at a prestigious Baton Rouge steakhouse.

As of 3/3/2011, GBCA has not posted information on their website or returned email