Tag Archives: Buffalo

The City of Architecture: Buffalo

Find the essence of place, and build on it. There’s no better summation of this cultural planning truth than the attached video on Buffalo. And there are few cities where so many groups have come together – CVB, economic development, business leaders, elected officials, neighborhood groups, arts and cultural organizations, even pro sports franchises – to redefine their city for future generations around architecture, art, and design.

Ed Healy – an incredible marketer and champion of Buffalo who heads the CVB’s marketing department – has for years believed that Buffalo’s legacy of breathtaking architecture – its magnificent necklace of parks with contemporary and historic public art, and its commitment to preservation evidenced by its multiple culturally vibrant residential neighborhoods and authentic cultural districts – make Buffalo as singular an attraction as its nearby natural wonder, Niagara Falls.

Having had the joy of working with Ed and so many others in shaping this theme of architecture, arts, and design into a winning cultural tourism strategy that has truly taken off over the past five years, I know first hand that this city I call “The American Story ” is rapidly growing into a major international cultural tourism destination.

The aim of the video is to promote Buffalo as the location for next year’s National Trust for Historic Preservation annual conference location. It tells its own story: the residents of this great city have geared up like never before to show the world their pride in place – their architecture, their art, and the great culture that is Buffalo. Every building, every block, every cultural organization, every garden, every sidewalk: this is a city determined to show its cultural greatness.

Anyone looking for a case study in redefining a sleeper city into a culturally shining star need look no further. Go to Buffalo.

The Arts, Automakers, and Newspapers…

As if the auto industry bailouts and now the bankruptcy of major newspapers such as The Tribune Company aren’t enough…

Today’s news of the Baltimore Opera bankruptcy is the latest in a series of worrisome similar stories. Our good friends at Buffalo’s Studio Arena faced the same sad situation not long ago, closing the doors on a major regional theatre. Last week, the Virginia Symphony went on the record that it may be close to bankruptcy. And there are rumors of more institutions facing similar fate.

For an industry that long considered itself unique, bankruptcy and bailouts show striking similarities between the auto industry, newspaper industry, and the arts.

Haunting similarities…

1) A lot of product out there, some of it of variable quality that left enough people unhappy with past purchases that they stopped new major purchases. (See GM’s apology yesterday about expensive cars and trucks that were variable quality. Think of people dropping their Trib subscription because of spotty quality.) Applicable to the arts, yes, often enough to create ripples in subscriptions and donations. Applicable in people pulling back, purchasing less often, not donating.

2) High labor costs leading to inflated purchase prices. From Detroit, to Chicago’s newsroom, to backstage at a professional theatre – the issues are one and the same. Sky high fixed labor costs and contracts. The arts aren’t unique.

3) Growing debt, lack of funder confidence, and inability to leverage more financing. When funders voice lack of confidence, the ability of nonprofit arts to get new lines of credit just about vanish in the best of times. In the worst of times, forget it.

Is there a silver lining? Let’s pray that an outcome of this will be radical rethinking about the industry, our needs, and above all the accountability to which we hold our industry. The past few recessions haven’t been deep enough or hurt enough to force real change.

I remember working with a group of civic leaders after the last recession to create a firewalled endowment that couldn’t be touched, that required high accountability on balanced budgets, and would have been salvation to that community’s arts in today’s economy. Those civic leaders ditched the concept when the arts groups backed away because easy money started flowing. Too bad. They wouldn’t be facing a local arts crisis today.

This month’s Harvard Business Review includes a superb article on nonprofit accountability. It claims that nonprofits do well when they “are much more explicit about the results they intend to deliver and the strategies and organizations they’ll create to achieve those outcomes.”

Explicit accountability. That’s our new arts era. Let’s use it wisely, and emerge stronger for the long term. We need this silver lining.