CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers walked back their decision Tuesday to make significant funding cuts to the local arts council.
Council for Resources to Enrich the Arts, Technology and Education, or CREATE, formerly known as the Greene County Council on the Arts, serves Greene, Columbia and Schoharie counties. Greene County has been supporting the council since 1980.
Lawmakers decided in January to reduce the county’s annual contribution to the council from $35,990 to $12,000 due to concerns about how the funds were serving Greene County. After receiving supplemental information from CREATE Executive Director Marline Martin, lawmakers decided to reverse their January decision and reinstate the $35,990 contribution — the same amount the council received in 2020.
“We received this letter declaring how you use the funds,” County Resources Chairman Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, said Tuesday. “If we could get the information maybe a little earlier the next time, maybe November or December as we approve the budget for the next cycle, we would have an understanding of how the money is being spent.”
Legislator Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, agreed.
“There were a number of things we didn’t know at the meeting,” he said. “I think you made it a lot clearer for us and made a strong case to reinstate the funding.”
Understanding the way the arts contribute to the economy is important, Martin said.
“I think the numbers are very important and I think we need to focus on the economic impact of the arts in Greene County and what we are doing to make the arts available and accessible to all in the county — the jobs, the economic growth, the role it plays in the quality of the community in Greene County and the participation of the artists in the community,” she said.
Legislator Greg Davis, R-Greenville, was the lone dissenting vote on the County Resources Committee.
Davis and Legislator Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill, questioned the county’s contribution to the council in January.
“Columbia County has authorized $12,000 for the Greene County Council on the Arts or CREATE, as it is now known,” Overbaugh said at the Jan. 4 meeting. “Schoharie County has not determined that they would give anything for that.”
Overbaugh proposed the contract be reduced.
“The council on the arts, CREATE, has been given more money than any of our other county resources and I think we need to seriously look at that,” she said. “I think we’re really overpaying the council on the arts, CREATE, for what they’re doing for us. I’d rather see the money go to Community Action, to be honest with you.”
Some of the programs are not happening, Davis said.
“I agree with Linda and I think most of these projects really aren’t happening now with COVID,” he said.
“These seem to be a bunch of these programs that were put on hold even though the money was budgeted to them to go for this,” he said.
Overbaugh proposed the contribution be reduced to $12,000.
“I don’t think we should give any more than $12,000 because Schoharie is giving nothing,” she said. “And it’s turned into this thing called CREATE rather than Greene County Council on the Arts.”
Legislators Jack Keller, R-Catskill, and Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, agreed.
Following the January meeting where the funding was reduced, Martin sent an explanation of the council’s budget to lawmakers.
CREATE supports 30 organizations in Greene County, holds five exhibitions and three special events, has 300 members, administers 25 artist grants and two fiscal sponsorships. In Columbia County, by comparison, the council supports 13 organizations, has one exhibition and no special events, 150 members, one artist grant and no fiscal sponsorships.
“We do not believe that the proportion cut from our general operating support based on contributions from another county is equal to the programs, activities and operations that the council provides to Greene County residents and the artistic community,” Martin wrote. “Last year, we received $12,000 from Columbia County as an initiative for program development, unprecedented since the 21 years that the council has been administering the New York State Council of the Arts grant to Columbia County. I would hope that the Greene County Legislature would see this as progress and not punitive by reducing our grant funds to align with Columbia County’s contribution.”
The council has supported a number of arts organizations in the county over the years including the 23Arts Initiative; Lumberyard Center for Film & Performing Arts; Bridge Street Theatre, Inc.; Bronck Museum; Catskill Community Center; Catskill Mountain Foundation, Inc.; Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural & Sports Centre; Music & Art Centre of Greene County; Planet Arts; Prattsville Art Center; Stephen Petronio Dance Company, Inc.; Thomas Cole National Historic Site; and Wave Farm.
“Most of the organizations we work with operate on small budgets with tight margins and rely on the council for resources, support, training, marketing and promotional support,” Martin said. “General operating support enables us to provide these and other outreach activities including fiscal sponsorship, educational programming and collaboration.”
The county’s support of the arts makes the area a more desirable tourist destination, Martin added.
“Greene County’s commitment to the arts has helped all of us collectively position our cities and county as thriving and highly desirable destinations for those who seek – and spend heavily – on cultural tourism, which in turn supports our restaurants, makers and so many other creative and traditional businesses,” she wrote.
After receiving Martin’s letter, Bulich proposed Feb. 3 that the committee revisit the contract.
“There was a lot of information in that letter that we had not received previously,” Bulich said.
“The whole thing wasn’t clear,” he said. “If we had known this information, it would have been different.”
“I think this could have all been avoided,” Bulich said.