The Buffalo News’ Colin Dabkowski beautifully sums up how and why Chris Collins’ decision to only fund culturals which he sees as drawing in visitors from outside the area harms local residents. To him, the cultural life of the region is seen only as a piggy bank – it’s an entry in a ledger, not something that keeps people here in this otherwise depressingly broken place. From Dabkowski’s excellent column:
His approach is focused entirely on bringing new tax revenue into Erie County through cultural tourism.
“The big, five, seven, eight organizations, they bring people in from outside the area. That’s what I’m after. I want dollars coming in here which wouldn’t otherwise come in here, which makes our economy bigger,” Collins said. “From my perspective as chief budget officer of Erie County, it doesn’t matter to me whether they go to the Albright- Knox or the movies. I get my sales tax. Period. I’m not focused on churning within the community.”
In that same interview, Collins said he would support “to some extent” the cultural organizations that add to Erie County’s quality of life, but which don’t necessarily have the potential to bring in outside tourists. If by “some extent” he meant “not at all,” Collins just delivered on his promise.
It’s not that Collins doesn’t acknowledge the importance of culture to the vitality of Western New York. It’s written into his vision statement, which declares one of Erie County’s four major selling points to be its “arts, architecture, and cultural heritage.”
“I don’t care how bad our budget situation ever gets,” Collins said. “I’m going to take care of the roads, I’m going to take care of the parks, the beaches, I’m going to make sure the bridges are open and I’m going to make sure we properly fund the culturals that are helping make our vision a reality.”
But that vision –which hinges on making Erie County “a place where people want to live, businesses want to locate and tourists want to visit” –depends more than Collins understands on the large number of small and midsized cultural groups that county dollars help to support. Those organizations, from theaters to community groups on Buffalo’s underserved East Side, serve a vital function for Collins’ constituents, with whom he seems to be woefully unconcerned. They are the people who live, work and spend money here.
Let’s test Collins’ “draw people from outside the area” theory. Specifically, let’s focus on one of the cultural institutions that’s set to receive funding. The so-called “Hamburg Natural History Museum”.
Unless he’s talking about Hansestadt Hamburg in Germany, a Google search reveals the existence of no such entity. If you add “NY”, something does come up, but not with a website. How, precisely, is an unfindable natural history museum going to draw in people from outside the area?
What they’re all talking about is the Penn Dixie site, which is supported by Republican County Legislator Lynne Dixon and Paladino’s proof of non-racism, Thurman Thomas.
To be honest, I’ve lived here almost 10 years, and I’ve never heard of the Hamburg Natural History Society or the Penn Dixie site. I have, however, heard of Shakespeare in the Park, Music is Art, the Alleyway Theater, and Hallwalls. I also think that if my tax dollars are being used to fund cultural entities, they should fund cultural entities that make life here better for the people who live here.
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- Collins’ Choices, Deals, and Priorities (wnymedia.net)
- Betty Jean Grant: Restore Cultural Funding (blogs.artvoice.com)
- The Proposed 2011 Erie County Budget (wnymedia.net)
- On “Fairness” and Collins (wnymedia.net)