A coalition of eight Niagara County arts and cultural organizations is heralding the Niagara County Legislature’s approval of its 2024 budget, which includes critical operating support for coalition members. The budget creates a $300,000 cultural endowment fund that was established using the Niagara County’s share of revenue generated by Western Region Off-Track Betting (WROTB), which operates Batavia Downs Racetrack and Casino, as well as multiple off-track betting locations.
This historic funding follows more than a year of advocacy efforts by the Niagara County Arts and Cultural Coalition, which includes the Aquarium of Niagara, Artpark & Company, Castellani Art Museum, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, Kenan Center, Niagara Arts & Cultural Center (NACC), Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, and Old Fort Niagara.
In August, representatives from the Coalition presented to the Niagara County Legislature on the growing need for reliable and recurring operating support from municipal government, citing the collective impact of its member organizations as economic drivers, tourist attractions, and quality-of-life assets for the community.
“We are thrilled that the Niagara County Legislature has recognized the immense value of arts and cultural organizations through this initiative,” said Gary Siddall, president and CEO of the Aquarium of Niagara. "By allocating annual support for non-negotiable operating expenses, the legislature demonstrates a commitment to the long-term sustainability of these important quality-of-life assets for future generations. We are incredibly grateful to our local legislators for their efforts in bringing this to fruition."
Artpark & Company President Sonia Clark said, “On behalf of the thousands of people Artpark serves annually, we express our deep gratitude to the Niagara County Legislature on the creation of the cultural endowment fund. This newly established fund in the county budget will help support arts and cultural organizations as we continue our work as economic engines for the region. Having this financial commitment enables Artpark to continue growing programs that hold deep meaning in the lives of the people we are honored to serve.”
According to the coalition, this funding designation denotes a public recognition of arts and cultural organizations as essential components of the region's economic revitalization and attractiveness to tourists.
"Economic revitalization efforts around the country often rely on arts and cultural sectors to spearhead growth,” said Kevin Leary, NACC executive director. “As a leader in adaptive reuse and creative placemaking for Niagara Falls, the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center applauds the funding from Niagara County. Their investment demonstrates the legislature's understanding of the essential role our organizations play in this region's revitalization efforts."
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center Director Ally Spongr DeGon said, "The art, cultural and heritage organizations of Niagara County are international destinations that boast the beauty, tenacity and resilience that makes this area home. With dedicated funding from the Niagara County Legislature, we will be able to expand our programs to accommodate our diverse communities and grow our reach even further to new audiences. We are deeply grateful to the legislature for their support to ensure that our community is connected to their history."
This public investment, which does not use funds from the property tax levy or sales tax, is earmarked for organizational operations. It fills a critical gap in funding opportunities for mandatory day-to-day costs, since private foundations and funders tend to support programmatic or capital projects, and these entities have recently displayed a shift away from giving to arts and cultural organizations. Coalition members believe they will be able to multiply this public commitment, leveraging it to secure additional resources and amplify local impact.
“This is a wonderful show of support for our cultural community,” said Robert Emerson, executive director at Old Fort Niagara. “Funding will allow us to do more for the local community and for the traveling public. It will also demonstrate local support, which is key to securing additional funding from outside sources.”
Kenan Center Executive Director Bill Patti said, “Kenan Center joins our cultural partners across the county in thanking the legislature for this allocation. The importance of arts, culture and youth engagement is affirmed as a community value throughout Niagara County. We look forward to the continued elevation of music, theater, visual arts and community events across our 25-acre campus.”
Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University Director Ellen Owens said, "We are thrilled to have the support of our legislators as we work together to provide education and enrichment for Niagara County citizens. Not everyone can learn in traditional educational settings. Both children and adults need access to cultural experiences that help illustrate ideas, remember the past, inspire creativity, or spur action. We strive to be a point of pride for our citizens with welcoming spaces for all. Additional funding resources help with the rising cost of operational needs and ensure we can regularly offer quality programs and employ local staff. I sincerely thank everyone involved with this momentous decision."
Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum Executive Director Ian K. Seppala said, “We are ecstatic for the support granted by the Niagara County Legislature to the arts and cultural organizations of this county. These organizations will be able to preserve and share our unique local cultural aspects to the diverse populations of the region with this annual support of operational expenses. We are immensely grateful to our local legislators for their dedication to the long-term sustainability of these community assets.”
Coalition members are deeply grateful for this public vote of confidence in the value of arts and cultural organizations and look forward to collaborating with the legislature on future opportunities to strengthen the variety of enriching experiences available in Niagara County.
More About the Arts & Culture Coalition of Niagara County
The Arts & Culture Coalition of Niagara County formed in the 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. 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.