Buffalo-Area Donors Walk Away From Public-Private Partnership to Assist Cultural Groups

The John R. Oishei Foundation and other donors have decided to move forward with a plan to create a Fund for the Arts to support struggling arts and cultural groups in Erie County without the involvement of the county, the Buffalo News reports.

Oishei Foundation president Robert Gioia and members of his team decided to "revise" the public-private partnership plan — which would have created a $500,000 fund to support struggling galleries, museums, and theaters in the area in 2011 — after they became convinced that county legislators would prevent them from dealing with the cultural agencies "as quickly as possible."

Earlier this week, Gioia met with lawmakers to discuss the plan. According to the News, county Democrats at the time believed they were close to a veto-proof agreement that would have added $1.2 million for the arts to the county budget. After Republicans heard Gioia's offer at a meeting on Monday, however, they persuaded county executive Chris Collins to commit to $100,000 — the amount needed to meet the fund's declared goal of $500,000 but far less than what Democrats hoped to deliver.

Despite the commitment from the county, Gioia and his partners opted to move forward without public money and outlined a new plan with a $600,000 fundraising target — roughly the amount, said Gioia, that dozens of nonprofits would have shared had they not been frozen out of the county's 2011 budget.

While Democrats and Republicans in the legislature appear to be in no hurry to resolve their differences, Gioia did not close the door on working more closely with the county in the future. In a memo sent to Collins and the legislature's chairwoman, Barbara Miller-Williams, on Wednesday, Gioia and Oishei Foundation chair Jim Wand Wadsworth wrote: "If the legislature or the executive wishes to participate in the Fund for the Arts with a financial contribution to the fund, it will be welcome. However, it will only be accepted without any conditions beyond a requirement to report on how it was distributed."

Matthew Spina. "Donors Scrap County Arts Deal." Buffalo News 12/22/2010.