Baskin Announces Changes to Arts and Cultural Funding Application Process

pictured:Legislator Baskin (center) with local artists including John Baker to her right and Lorna Hill to her left.

New questions and mentoring opportunities will make the process more responsive to smaller organizations.

Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin joined with representatives from the Poloncarz administration and representatives from local arts organizations to mark an important change to the application process for the county’s arts and cultural funding. Updates will include revisions to the short form for smaller organizations and questions that will help determine if an organization’s mission includes a focus on highlighting the experiences of those in poverty or social injustice.

The revisions also include eliminating time consuming portions of the short form application such as lengthy essays which are often a completion barrier for smaller arts groups who do not have an in-house grant writer or full time staff. In addition, there will be a series of mentoring workshops throughout the application window.

This new application is aimed at groups with operating budgets of less than $250,000 who may have previously found the County process confusing and difficult given their smaller size and limited staff.

“Erie County Government listened to the call to make local government more equitable and responsive to the communities it serves,” said Baskin who last year vowed to support local artists in Erie County. “I know that working together; we can lay the groundwork for a renaissance in Buffalo’s arts community in the 21st century.”

Smaller arts organizations whose mission is to tackle social justice through creative outlets are often small in administrative staff numbers, which makes sustainability difficult. But Baskin believes that their work can provide perspectives that are missing from our region’s current cultural offerings.

“Our smaller arts organizations highlight poverty, racial injustice and sexism, they are housed in communities whose residents have limited access and opportunities to develop their artistic abilities,” noted Baskin.

“These institutions are creating free after-school programs that highlight the undiscovered talents of children whose parents are working multiple jobs to keep food on the table. These organizations challenge systemic customs and laws that marginalized the oppressed. These organizations tell the stories of those so often silenced and ask us to reflect and reconsider our priorities, our politics, and how we value one another. These organizations deserve to thrive. They deserve an opportunity to grow, to reach wider audiences. Day by day, it is their work that pushes us out of our comfort zones and interrogates our complacencies.”

Baskin has been working with local artists and members of the WNY Urban Arts Collective and Frontline Arts Buffalo to better understand the challenges these smaller groups face. 

Late lastyear, she convened a round table group of local artists and the community’s major artinstitutions. At this town hall, local artists voiced their concerns with the application process to the Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board, the organization who makes recommendations to the County Executive’s Office for budgeted cultural funding. Opening thisdialogue paved the way for future conversations directly with the Department of Environment &Planning that ultimately lead to the much needed revisions in this year’s application.

Using the insights gained from those sessions, Baskin reached out to the Poloncarz Administration to see if the arts and cultural process could be designed to be more responsive to the needs of smaller organizations.

 Frontline Arts Buffalo has spearheaded the campaign to make sure Erie County is moreinclusive of diverse arts groups. . Their focus on serving underrepresented and low-income communities has made them powerful advocates for local artists in the City of Buffalo.

Lorna Hill from Frontline Arts and the Ujima Theatre Company praised this first step to bridge the gap between our established institutions and the vibrant smaller organizations and individuals who have so much to contribute. “This is a stunning victory for local artists,” said Lorna C. Hill, founder of Ujima TheaterCompany and a member of the Frontline Arts Collaborative. “We approached the administration and discovered open hearts and open minds. I am confident that this is the beginning of a process that will leader to greater support for local artists.”

 Baskin was pleased to note the Albright Knox’s Open House: Domestic Thresholds exhibit at the Northland Workforce Training Center, which features East Side artist, Rodney Taylor. Rodney unfortunately passed away a few months ago, but his work continues to shed light on life on the East Side of Buffalo. Baskin wants to build on this exposure by pursuing more dialogue with leadership at Albright-Knox and Northland and other large institutions in order to discuss more inclusion and partnerships with smaller arts organizations.

John Baker, a local artist who has been advocating on behalf of Buffalo’s artistic community for forty years voiced his support for the changes. 

Applications for arts and cultural funding are  available   on the Department of Environment & Planning website. For more information, please visit: www.erie.gov/environment/ and look for the section entitled “Cultural Funding”. The standard application for groups with operating budgets about $250,000 will also be available on this site.    

Please visit Legislator Baskin’s page at www.erie.gov/baskin/ for updates on future mentorship workshops which will be conducted at various community locations to assist in the understanding and completion of this process.