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This article from The Buffalo News today reports that the City of Buffalo has been named the 9th best destination for the arts in the United States by American Style Magazine. The top ten, by ranking, are:

1. New York City

2. Santa Fe/Taos, NM

3. San Francisco/Berkeley

4. Pittsburgh

5. Chicago

6. Seattle

7. Washington, DC

8. Boston

9. Buffalo

10. Philadelphia

Buffalo’s appearance on a list like this will come as no surprise to people familiar to the area, with its vibrant arts community that includes such facilities as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, and events like the annual Allentown Arts Festival. It’s somewhat amazing to think that Buffalo, a city that has been experiencing economic hardships for nearly two decades and that is known nationwide for its weather and its football team’s failure to win a Super Bowl, could nevertheless be a better arts destination than such cities as Los Angeles, Portland, Minneapolis, or Atlanta. And this recognition appears to be based mainly on the visual arts; Buffalo’s performing arts scene is also fairly healthy: the Shea’s Performing Arts Center has in the last few years been renovated and its stage expanded so as to be able to meet the demands of today’s blockbuster touring productions (Phantom of the Opera, for example). The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, under the leadership of music director JoAnn Falletta, has in recent years overcome the kind of financial hardships that have plagued many of the nation’s major orchestras (including such powerhouses as the Chicago and St. Louis Symphonies); the orchestra has even begun recording (for the Naxos label) and has had several concerts broadcast nationally on public radio. Add to all this artistic variety and life the fact that Buffalo is home to a large number of buildings that are considered to be architectural masterpieces, and one must conclude that the arts are what Buffalo does best, and that the arts are the key to Buffalo’s future now that the days of the Erie Canal and the steel mills are over.

Sadly, the powers-that-be in Buffalo have apparently drawn a different conclusion. Budgetary mishaps of staggering proportion — for example, the recent admission by City Controller Anthony Nanula that he is unable to account for the city’s recent budget shortfall — and the failure of the State of New York to ride to Buffalo’s rescue (it seems that some other uses for the state’s money cropped up unexpectedly, right around September 11) led to the elimination of all arts funding by the City. Of course, the City government managed to come up with a large set of incentives in order to keep a single K-MART location open after that company recently announced plans to close four local stores following its declaration of bankruptcy. Of course, the City and State governments rolled out the red carpets for Adelphia Cable to build a new office building downtown, insisting that this would create upwards of 1000 new jobs in the city. That project is now in serious jeopardy in the wake of Adelphia’s “Enron”-style meltdown which also seems to be leading toward bankruptcy. And of course, the City and State are lurching toward casino gambling as the latest bit of ambrosia that will bring Buffalo back to life.

I remember exactly one thing that the guest speaker at my high school graduation said: “Figure out what it is that you do best, and then do it better than anybody else.” It seems to me that Buffalo has just been told what it does best, and that except for a few exceptions Buffalo does it better than anybody else. Maybe Buffalo’s leaders might realize it too.

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