Guest Editorial by the Arts & Culture Coalition of Niagara County
The Niagara County Legislature generously made time on its packed agenda Tuesday evening to address the important economic and community benefits of local arts and cultural organizations, a coalition of which are appealing to the legislature for annual operating support.
Representatives from the Arts & Culture Coalition of Niagara County, which includes the Aquarium of Niagara, Artpark & Company, Castellani Art Museum, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, Kenan Center, Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, and Old Fort Niagara, presented on the growing and crucial need for reliable and recurring operating support from municipal government.
Arts and cultural organizations are considerable revenue generators for the community, and an investment would pay-off in dividends. According to the 2017 Arts and Economic Prosperity Report, a study conducted by Arts Services Inc. (ASI) in cooperation with Americans for the Arts, the cultural sector contributed $352 million in annual economic impact and supported more than 10,100 full-time jobs right here in Western New York. For every $1 of cultural sector payroll expense, the economic impact is doubled.
The coalition strongly believes that investing in local nonprofit arts and culture organizations results in a positive return and strengthens the economy.
“As Artpark celebrates our 50th anniversary, we reflect upon the millions of people who have been impacted by our programs over the past five decades,” President Sonia Kozlova Clark said. “Whether it’s the musicians and artists we’ve brought to Lewiston from all over the world to perform, or the hundreds of people we’ve hired from Niagara County – production crew, concessions and box office staffs, musicians, singers, dancers and more – Artpark is an economic engine for the region and a magnet for international audiences.”
The coalition asserts that public investment into arts and cultural organizations in an operational capacity is especially important since there are few opportunities in the private sector to help offset non-negotiable day-to-day costs. Private foundations/funders tend to support programmatic or capital projects, and these entities have recently displayed a shift away from giving to arts and cultural organizations.
Aquarium of Niagara President and CEO Gary Siddall said, “There are only three accredited aquariums in New York state, and we are incredibly proud to serve Niagara County by providing opportunities for authentic animal interactions and informal learning. It requires millions of dollars to fuel our mission, and many of those expenses are essential animal care costs. New funding for arts and culture will have an immediate and direct impact on core programs, experiences, and animal wellbeing.”
Castellani Art Museum Director Ellen Owens said, "As the only visual arts museum in the county, we are passionate about providing access to diverse artistic expressions and creative activities, both inside the museum and in nearby communities. This requires additional operating resources, particularly after the pandemic, when we lost personnel and revenue. At a time that we need more funding to serve our local audiences, there are fewer and fewer local opportunities that support the arts."
The group also believes that arts and cultural organizations are important quality-of-life assets to the community, providing historical and anthropological context, and inspiring a sense of pride in our region.
The coalition is confident that public investment will only strengthen the variety of information and enriching experiences available to both residents and visitors.
"The cultural institutions in Niagara County are vital to the education and wellbeing of our communities," said Ally Spongr, director of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. "At the Heritage Center, local residents and visitors come together for experiential learning that fosters equitable dialogue, connecting the past to the present."
Ian Seppala, executive director of the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, said, "Niagara County arts and cultural organizations are integral to fulfilling community needs like education and pride in the region. Operational support for these organizations will strengthen the community in Niagara County."
Old Fort Niagara Executive Director Robert Emerson said, “With the upcoming ‘USA 250’ celebration, Niagara County support would be critical in highlighting Western New York’s role in the founding of our nation. Funding would support exciting educational programming and bolster tourism in the region.”
The organizations involved represent a combined annual attendance of nearly 725,000 visitors and employ more than 500 individuals. Their geographic footprint is spread throughout Niagara County with locations in Lewiston, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Lockport and Youngstown.
The Arts & Culture Coalition of Niagara County formed in fall of 2022 to address the need for support for the arts and cultural community. It strives to emphasize the economic, educational and community significance of its constituents.