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Foundations Say No Thanks to Collins’ $100K

Filed under: Art, Erie County

The Oishei Foundation has withdrawn its offer to match $100,000 from Erie County Executive Chris Collins with $400,000 in private funds, which would have been used to help restore funding to cultural organizations that Collins struck from his proposed budget this year.

Frustrated by the haymaking by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the leadership of the Oishei Foundation decided Monday night that they’d be better off leaving Collins’ money on the table and distributing their funds as they see fit, in coordination with other private entities.

Rescinding the offer frees the Legislature’s Democrats to try to force Collins to honor their restoration of funding for the public library system and the cultural organizations, most likely in the courts.

The Republicans of the Erie County Legislature just released this statement:

The Republican Caucus was disappointed in learning that Robert Gioia and the Oishei Foundation have withdrawn its offer to support cultural organizations through a public-private partnership with Erie County. The announcement came one day after the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee met and criticized the foundation’s generous offer and how it was made.  The Caucus thanks Mr. Gioia for his offer to help County cultural organizations and for his continued support for the region. This public-private partnership was an exemplary plan, one that the Republican Caucus strongly supported.

That’s somewhat disingenuous: The Oishei Foundation will continue to support cultural institutions in Erie County. They’ll bring as much, or more, money to the culturals as they’ve promised to do. They apparently just don’t want to be party to the maneuvering of both parties. Collins’ grudgingly given $100,000—two months after Gioia first suggested the deal—didn’t seem worth the hassle.

In part, the Republicans supported Gioia’s offer because it gave them political cover: Coupled with the deal they’d struck with Collins to restore $3 million of the $4 million the county executive wanted to cut from the library system, the Oishei deal allowed Republicans to say to constituents that they’d saved endangered culturals for a year without jumping across the aisle to join Democrats in overriding Collins’ vetoes of the alterations the Dems had made to his proposed budget.

That cover is gone now, and the ball is back in county government’s court: Will Republicans support any public funding to cultural organizations this year? Will Democrats find a way to force Collins to respect the legislature’s will?

Here is Oishei’s statement:


To:      Chris Collins, Erie County Executive

Barbara Miller-Williams, Chair, Erie County Legislature

Clotilde Dedecker, Convener, Fund for the Arts

From:  Jim Wadsworth, Chair, The John R. Oishei Foundation

Robert Gioia, President, The John R. Oishei Foundation

Re:      Offer of Cooperative Assistance to Cultural Organizations

Date:  December 21, 2010

Because of the astounding amount of responses, misunderstanding, and apparent “unintended consequences” related to the Oishei Foundation’s offer to raise $400,000 to match a county contribution of $100,000, we have decided to revise our strategy and work directly with the cultural organizations through the Fund for the Arts. Whatever funds we are able to raise will be provided to them through the process established by the Fund for the Arts.

It is our strong hope that efforts to provide support to the critical ‘second-tier’ cultural organizations, as well as the Library, will continue in earnest by those legislators who believe in their importance. 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.

The Fund for the Arts was begun in response to a similar legislative budgetary disaster in 2005, when many of the same organizations were similarly caught in a political struggle. Since it was begun, nine foundations – all with differing funding processes and philosophies – have managed to agree to distribute over $1 million in pooled funds to these groups for general operating support and for technical assistance and training programs. We will continue to work toward strengthening the arts and cultural sector.

The Oishei Foundation has been a major contributor to the Fund for the Arts, and in addition to that effort, has made major contributions to such organizations as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Roycroft Campus, Darwin Martin House, Buffalo Philharmonic, and many others. We will continue to do so. However, we have concluded that working with the leadership of the legislature and the administration of the county on this effort is doing more harm than good in a number of ways.

We are announcing this action to the public via press release today.

  • The Clarence Squirt

    WAAAHHH WAAAHHH those meanies are not playing fair !! It’s my ball and I will say when I want to take it home. This is not fair… MOMMY MOMMY !!!!

  • Lloyd Marshall Jr.

    Goes to show that those who get money from WE THE PEOPLE should remember: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

    Thank you, Collins, for standing up for common sense!

    Thank you, Mr. Gioia, for your contributions to art and culture in the Commonwealth of Niagara.

    SHAME ON THE DUMBOCRUDS, namely Barbara Miller-Williams, for acting like petulant spoiled kids!

  • Claude DeBussy

    I’m still shaking my head. The legislature, led down the path of destruction by Barbara Miller-Williams, doesn’t have a clue on how they’re going to come up with money when there is none. They insulted the head of the largest foundation in the area, who had every good intention and no political motive.

    Gioia did the right thing. He’s still spearheading the funding of $400k for our culturals, and keeping it out of the hands of idiots who would divert the funds to their own constituencies. Thank You!!

  • chester

    What a mess, but good for Gioia for realizing he’d made a mistake in trying to forge a public-private partnership on this in the first place. The County Legislature has once again shown itself to be a complete embarrassment.

  • Mike

    Imagine the investment that’s been made in all the government’s time and resources in holding meetings, debates, and media coverage over what amounts to absurdly small amounts of funding. Embarrassing … and for what?

    Kudos to Gioia for stepping in and filling the leadership vacuum in this ridiculous, trumped-up political football. It is the kind of move that’s made from someone who gets things done.

    Gioia is also completely correct that, to the extent government does offer real support again, a more metrics-driven approach to the grant allocation process needs to be introduced. The culturals need to present a true overall, comprehensive economic impact assessment of the organizations on the area (including things like the opportunity cost of whether businesses and capital are willing to come to an area or not, or stay). Asking individual organizations to be cash-flow positive or neutral is a red herring. Looking at the cultural climate as a whole is the only way that the misguided, cliche spouting “run government like a business” crowd can be addressed in this political climate.

  • Claude DeBussy

    It now appears that Oishei, along with other philanthropies, may be able to muster up as much as $600,000 independently.

    Now that the culturals have “a soft landing” for next eyar, there are a few tenets that need to be established:

    1. All culturals need to demonstrate earnestly where they were able to cut their own budgets. From personal experience as a board member, I can tell you that “the creatives” are not concerned with watching their dollars. I can site Studio Arena as a clear example of this. They have to learn how to do more with less in the future. Right now, they simply think “We received X dollars last year, so we should receive it this year”. Process improvement is the furthest thing from their minds.

    2. All culturals, probably via their grant applications, need to demonstrate a better job of quantifying why they are important to the community. They need help with this in the form of structure in the donor applications. Culturals are classic right-brain thinkers. They don’t have a God-given right to exist. There are many non-profits (e.g. Garden Walk Buffalo) which is a shining example of how to do more with less. Garden Walk in the last four years has now made itself the largest event of its kind in the country, and they ask nothing of the County. Their budget is miniscule. Yet they now bring in yearly all sorts of commerce and positive press from outside the community.

    3. While politics will always be part of the selection process, as much transparency as possible in the process will help minimize it.


    For starters let’s have disclosure of the COUNTY-funded culturals’ budgets, 990’s, profit and loss statements and salaries, and require that these favored entities are run as efficiently as businesses such as Zeptrometrix, Buffalo China, Mead Supply, and Volland Electric.

  • James Derry

    I’m a long time dem. and I am very embarrassed over my party’s behavior. To call out people who tried to help or are waiting to find out their fate because you were outflanked by the other side is obscene. Ms. Miller-Williams and crew need to get better at what they do and stop thinking they can pass the buck to the not-fors for ruining something they never had to give.

  • Disco Duck

    Let’s not forget that it was Chris Collins and the GOP, that made Barbara Miller Williams the Chair of the EC Leg.

  • Too True Sue

    Thank you, Disco Duck, for reminding us whose drum it is that Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams dances to. Chris Collins, Steve Pigeon and Mayor Byron Brown put together the Miller-Williams leadership coalition with the Republicans, and Democrats Tim Kennedy and Chrisrina Bove. That so called Reform Coalition has been a diaster. Miller-Williams may have many titles but she is no leader. A leader has to have followers and also must know how to listen to others. Miller-Williams only wants to hear herself talk. Shame on Collins for shaming us with her.