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Monroe County Legislators Advocate for Grant to Support Arts Organizations

By Tyronda James

Photo screenshot from Monroe County Legislator Vincent R. Felder Facebook Live announcing funding relief for not-for-profit fine arts organizations impacted by the COVID-19.

Monroe County Legislators Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, Vincent R. Felder and Frank Keophetlasy introduced legislation that will provide financial relief to not-for-profit fine arts organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At a recent press conference Monday, the legislators announced the proposal that would allocate $131,000 to organizations who have not received other pandemic funding thus far.

“I am proud to submit this legislation that will begin to address the longstanding inadequacy and inequity in funding for the arts community in Monroe County and look forward to working collaboratively to find a long- term solution to this problem,” said Minority Leader Vince Felder.

“What we’re doing today is short term. But we’re going to make sure we have a long-term plan to actually have enough money to be able to meet the needs of these organizations so they can continue their mission in this community. We want to make sure that we’re able to give people what they need because they’re contributing to the community.

The funded arts organizations will receive a one time payment, however legislators say that plan to advocate for additional funding in subsequent budgeting.

“We will continue to work on behalf of our districts to ensure that they have access to County dollars and services,” said Black and Asian Democratic Caucus Leader Ernest Flagler-Mitchell.

“It’s important that we take care of those who don’t have a voice or can’t be heard. …trying to make sure they survive through this pandemic.”

Reenah Golden, Founder and managing Artistic Director of the Avenue Blackbox Theatre said it’s a really good sign that the Avenue Blackbox , a grassroots Black-led organization, is being recognized for support by the legislators as the region recuperates.

“We’re grateful that it is being recognized,” she said. “We’re small but we’re strong and our impact has been felt deeply throughout our city and county with socially-impactful programming from plays to live music performances featuring creatives and content traditionally marginalized.”

Blue Cease, Executive Director and Curator at Rochester Contemporary Art Center said there has been a long-standing arts funding problem in Monroe County that has increased over the years that has really been brought into focus due to the pandemic. “I see this is a great step in the right direction with this effort. Legislator Felder and others are finally recognizing the arts organizations, especially that midsize or arts organizations have a major impact in our community.”

Cease said many performing arts organizations were forced to completely shut down during COVID, while many other industries were able to adjust and pivot. “But if you can’t have a performance and all of your income, all your revenue based on ticket sales, but you know what do you do?,” he questioned.  “I’m asking the Legislature and the county to address our big problem, which is our big problem in Monroe County is that we underfund the Arts.

He said recognizing the midsize arts organizations’ their need for support now more than ever is a critical first step and looks forward to continuing the work of transforming the way Monroe County supports the arts.

“I’m in for the long haul for sure working with the Legislature and the county executive and other leadership to help take more steps in this direction and really fix what is obviously a problem in Monroe County.”

The proposed legislation was deemed a matter of urgency and is to be considered March 11 at the full legislature meeting, at 6pm.