Many culturals vying for few county dollars

Apr 21, 2017

Erie County's election-year budget is not due until the middle of October, but the quest to include some money in that budget for arts and culturals brought out around 70 agencies Thursday to the WNED|WBFO studios.

The Erie County County Arts and Cultural Advisory Board put together the meeting to explain how the budget process works, what changes there are this year and how there will be two different application forms: a shorter one for those seeking less than $7,500 and a longer form for those seeking more. Board Member Graham Smith says the goal is careful spending.

"It used to be only a long-form application. That's why there's a short form. Again, it's based on being good caretakers of county dollars, honestly," Smith said. "So Erie County's one of the few in the country, really, that's still funding organizations in arts and culture and so we just want to be good fiscal stewards."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

The forms ask everything from the ratio of men and women on agency boards to whether there is a plan for shutting an agency down if federal or state funding for cultural organizations is shut off. Arts Services Initiative Executive Director Tod Kniazuk said county money is a stamp of approval, while on average it is less than 20 percent of any agency's budget.

"But it's a critical less than 20 percent because it really is kind of almost a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," Kniazuk said. "The fact that public money is being invested means that they are sound as you saw from all of the criteria for getting public funding from Erie County. They will have to pass a number of tests and that's used by cultural agencies to leverage other investment."

Anita Williams was there looking for first-time money for her Taking It To The Streets Ministeries and its 29th annual help and cultural event this summer.

"We're looking for monies to help us put this event on again, even though we're not-for-profit," Williams said. "We're 501(c)3, but, however things that we have to use, we have to pay for and that can be rather painful, especially if you want to get your mission out and your lack of funds and out of our household."

New Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park Executive Director Brian Roche said county dollars are significant.

"We can only survive off of funds that we get from different entities and the fact that the county kind of owns part of the park, it's on our name for the park itself," said Roche. "Those funds can help us ensure that park will be here, not only tomorrow but more in 10 years or 15 years."

Roche said Erie County may be in the name, but there are few direct county dollars coming in.

The applications have to be in by June 8, with a lot of attached paperwork about the agency, its mission, its management and whether or not the county funding is recognized on agency paperwork, at events and on the agency's website. Smith says it takes 10 hours to read and process every application, so they like it right the first time.