Organizers of area concert series’ are breathing a sigh of relief after the New York State Council on the Arts made a partial disbursement of grant money that makes summer concert series’ possible in a number of local communities.
Ellen Butz, executive director of the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC) said NYSCA released last week half the funding promised to communities and organizations in Washington and Warren Counties for arts programming, including many summer concert series.
“We’re going to get the checks out immediately to organizations that have already had programs or have programs in the next few weeks,” said Butz, whose organization is in charge of administering the grant money in Washington and Warren Counties. “We’re delighted to at least be able to make partial disbursements to organizations and we’re taking this as a good sign that the funds are moving and the rest will be released soon. This should give some relief to organizations.”
More than 30 organizations in the local counties apply to NYSCA, which is dedicated to the preservation and expansion of the arts in New York, for grant money to use for arts programming throughout the year.
Applications for are due in September and many organizations learn in December whether they will receive money. Traditionally, LARAC receives the money in January and distributes it in February and March.
But recipients have been in limbo since January when the executive branch of the state government issued a directive that any state contracts over $50,000 (LARAC’s total disbursement exceeds that threshold) be held until the end of the year. Some groups have already had their events and were forced to scrape together the upfront costs themselves, a difficult task for organizations, some of which are not-for-profits.
Although many other state contracts are set up as reimbursements, Butz said that has never been the case with money from the Council on the Arts.
“The state handed down the mandate at the last minute. There was little warning and little notice. It caught the Council on the Arts in a bind,” she said. “The organizations in Warren and Washington Counties have been trying to keep their programs together and put them on without any funding.”
And while Butz is lobbying state officials to change the policy, she’s unsure if it will happen in time for next year.
“This really can’t happen like this again. I hope next year will be different. I’d like to promise it will be better, but I can’t,” she said. “Hopefully it will be, because this is ridiculous.”
Carol Greenough, a member of the Whitehall Festival Committee, the organization that plans and implements the Canal Festival and the Concerts in the Park Series, has expressed on several occasions her concern about the delayed disbursement of funds.
“This has caused a real ruckus,” she said.
Greenough said the village did receive a check for $1,900 earlier this week, but said she worries about the fate of the summer concert series and canal festival if in the future the organization has to cover the costs upfront.
“It’s not difficult to say it would be restricted greatly.”
Butz said if the state doesn’t make a change organizations may have to schedule programs for later in the year or find alternative sources of funding to cover events that occur early and hope they get reimbursed later.
She said she’s encouraging organizers to reach out to their elected officials and express their concerns.
“We’re helping do the New York State Council on the Arts’ work in terms of bringing the arts to far-flung rural areas of the state like Washington and Warren Counties. It’s something that could never be done by administrators in New York City and we feel we should be treated better,” Butz said.