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The devil and two grim reapers stood on the steps of the Rath Building on Monday, gazing over the dead bodies of dozens of local artists. The artists, mostly people from the theater community, lay motionless on the steps of the building in protest of Erie County Executive Chris Collins’ proposed 2011 budget, which would cut around $1 million in funding from all but 10 cultural institutions in the city.
Of course the devil was just a man with a pitchfork, and the artists, brandishing signs reading “Culture Counts WNY,” were only metaphorically dead, but their message was clear: Kill the arts, kill the people of Buffalo. The man with the power to resurrect them never emerged from his office, though. Instead, Gary Earl Ross, a faculty member of the University at Buffalo’s Educational Opportunities Center and a playwright whose Murder Squared recently played at the Ujima Theater Company, called the artists backs to life, shouting, “We want the people of Western New York to realize that Buffalo is a city of arts!”
With signs reading “the arts feed my family,” and “culture cuts = brain drain” in hand, the protesters sprung to their feet and chanted, “City of the arts!” until news cameras stopped rolling. As the protest dispersed one protester, holding a sign reading, “the arts feed my soul,” shouted, “Art is small business!”
That’s a sentiment that Collins, a businessman and former member of the Small Business Advisory Board to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, would be expected to appreciate.
It’s expected that protesters will return to the Rath Building today (Thursday, October 28), when the Erie County Legislature considers Collins’ budget proposal.