When the city of Albany announced it would eliminate its annual budget of $350,000 for local arts funding, I sighed - and then got busy soliciting donations for my favorite ex-beneficiaries of the city's largesse. And when the New York State Museum announced it would be closed on Sundays beginning at the first of the year, I thought, "That sucks, but it was great while it lasted."
These cuts are the inevitable result of an economy in a tailspin and a culture that has always undervalued the arts and education. Yet I see hope, and it is exemplified by an existing community-based organization that is thriving right in front of our eyes: The Albany Public Library.
Funded as an independent tax district that the voters approved in a special referendum, the library system has blossomed all over the city with new and renovated branches that look beautiful and are always buzzing with activity. They are inviting, well stocked, high-tech, low-carbon edifices to the fact that Albanians DO care about culture and education, and are willing to pay to make it available to all citizens.
Why can't we do the same for Albany arts funding? The city has about 90,000 residents, which translates to about 35,000 households - so, for just $10 per household, that $350,000 can be replaced. I'm not sure how it's done (Dennis, Elissa, Holly - any advice?), but I think it's worth a try.
The big question remains: Would the city's voters approve a new tax for the arts, just as they did for the library? If so, we would suddenly look like the most enlightened community in the U.S. And we could look forward to seeing some pretty spiffy new arts centers, too.
Let's do it.