|Date:||August 30, 2021|
The City of Buffalo adopted a spending plan for the American Rescue Plan funds totaling $331M. The projects slated to receive funding include a number of PPG Community Agenda priorities; Frontline Arts Buffalo, who advocated for the Frontline Arts Organizations Sustainability Fund, released the following statement.
Buffalo, NY -- Frontline Arts Buffalo (FAB) is pleased to announce the City’s adoption of the Frontline Arts Sustainability Fund, part of the Buffalo Transformation Fund plan, made possible by American Rescue Plan funds awarded to the City of Buffalo. This fund will provide $2.5 million over three years to frontline arts organizations, collectives, and artists. Frontline Arts Buffalo will work with the City on the program rollout and will release guidelines for the grant funding process in the Fall of 2021.
Frontline individuals and communities are those who are first and worst impacted by climate, economic, and racial injustice. Arts and Cultural organizations within these communities are often negatively impacted first by events that lead to funding cuts or redistribution, even as they serve their communities in ways that far exceed their missions to offer access to the arts in the form of education, creation, and presentation. Often, they provide quality arts education, offer safe spaces for young people after school and on weekends to learn new skills and connect with peers, provide free or low-cost programming to underserved communities who may not have access to the arts otherwise, and more.
Frontline organizations often have smaller organizational budget sizes and staff sizes, serve and/or are located within frontline communities, offer wages below the industry standard for the region, and prioritize Black, Indigenous and People of Color in leadership, featured artists, and staff roles. The Frontline Arts Sustainability Fund will offer organizations, collectives, and artists access to grants that can have significant impact in terms of capacity or programming as they recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
A coalition of individuals and nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, Frontline Arts Buffalo will serve as an intermediary. Formed in 2018, Frontline Arts Buffalo is committed to advocating for frontline arts organizations, artists, and constituents to ensure environmental, economic, and social justice for the underrepresented members in this community. Core members include representatives from Ujima Theater Company, El Museo, Locust Street Art, African American Cultural Center, Buffalo Arts Studio, and Partnership for the Public Good. In order to manage these funds, Frontline Arts Buffalo has established a partnership with the Western New York Foundation who will serve as the fiscal sponsor for the grant funds. Bernie Tolbert, the President of the Western New York Foundation, stated that the Foundation is pleased to be a part of this initiative and looks forward to supporting any effort that results in a more vibrant frontline arts community.
Maria Ta, Frontline Arts Buffalo steering member, and Program Director for Ujima Company remarked:
“This is a historic and momentous victory not just for Frontline Arts Buffalo but for the artists and organizations we represent, those at the frontlines of our communities. I vividly remember one of the first conversations we had as a coalition nearly three years ago where Lorna C. Hill, the late Founder and Artistic Director of Ujima Company and founding member of Frontline Arts Buffalo, remarked that this coalition represented the passing on of a torch. She was tired. She, along with many elders and ancestors like her, dedicated their lives to the fight for justice and equity with very little fruit to bear for their labor. It had seemed like an endless fight. This Frontline Arts Sustainability Fund represents an important yet singular step closer to that vision of a community in which all arts are provided the resources to thrive. I can only imagine what great and beautiful things will come from this investment into our communities.”
Frontline arts organizations and artists who are interested in learning more about the availability of this fund should sign up for email updates here. Updates will be released on the Frontline Arts Buffalo website as well: www.frontlineartsbuffalo.org.
About Frontline Arts Buffalo
In 2018, artist and activist Lorna C. Hill, founder and artistic director of Ujima Company since 1978, brought together artists, arts administrators, engaged citizens, justice advocates, and policy researchers as part of the Crossroads Coalition to advocate for frontline arts. The core organizations founding Frontline Arts Buffalo include African American Cultural Center, El Museo, Locust Street Art and Ujima Theater Company. Although Lorna C. Hill passed away in 2020, Frontline Arts Buffalo continues her work by fighting for systemic change to the funding and legislative structures which affect frontline arts communities.
In 2019 Frontline Arts Buffalo held a series of forums at each of the four organizations named above. We engaged with the public and with constituents of these organizations to build a framework for what action steps are most pressing. What emerged was a need to collect and document archival material relating to frontline arts organizations and to address the systemic inequities in funding that plague our city’s arts and cultural organizations. A video documenting that process is currently being completed, and will premiere in 2021 in Buffalo.
Frontline Arts Buffalo’s vision for the arts in Buffalo is one where organizations, collectives, and artists are able to live and create without being under constant threat of losing access or resources, which often leads to their decline and eventual demise. In this future, our artists and organizations operate within an arts ecosystem that focuses on positive values such as collaboration, community, and regeneration instead of extractive and exploitative practices that unfortunately also create unhealthy competition for an inadequate pool of resources. We see sustainability as a goal, and consider philanthropy rooted in a just and equitable transition a tool towards this.
Frontline Arts Buffalo Advocacy
In 2020, Frontline Arts Buffalo worked with Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin and the Department of Environment and Planning to advocate for changes to the annual Erie County Cultural Funding process. Approved changes included ways to reduce barriers to entry for smaller organizations and prioritized diversity and inclusion in organizational leadership, racial, environmental, and social justice programming.
In 2020 and 2021, through Partnership for the Public Good’s annual Community Agenda process, Frontline Arts Buffalo aimed to increase transparency in the Public Art and Buffalo Arts Commission processes and cultural funding at the City level.
Cultural Funding in Buffalo
Arts organizations in Buffalo have suffered from the impacts of funding cuts for decades; the tenure of County Executive Chris Collins had especially destructive impacts. In 2011, Collins completely cut cultural funding for all but the “Big 9” cultural organizations in Buffalo. The impacts of this loss of funding was devastating and ultimately caused multiple arts organizations to cease to exist. Thankfully, the Fund for the Arts and the Give for Greatness campaign rallied to raise funds to offset the impact of these losses, ultimately raising more than $430,000 to support 36 local arts organizations.
Cultural Funding in WNY going forward
The cultural funding landscape in Western New York will experience disruptive fluctuations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The arts and cultural sector is grateful for the continued cultural funding from Erie County, but the ability and reach of funders will likely be reduced in coming years, as it has in the past. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, arts and cultural organizations have already experienced regional funders stopping their funding process and pivoting to “basic human needs” which does not include the arts—despite the youth engagement and community support that many frontline arts organizations provide—and that ultimately will impact frontline arts due to decades of underinvestment.