The Schenectady-based New York Folklore Society may be among the first groups to feel the effects of early retirements by state workers.
Members of the society travel the state helping small, locally based organizations put on folk festivals and other cultural events that inform people about the myriad traditions and ethnic roots of Empire State residents.
Theyve taken their expertise to Irish musical festivals in the Catskills and have helped Guyanese immigrants in Schenectady stage performances for their Hindu temple.
This month, theyre headed to Batavia to work with the communitys enclave of Mexican-Americans who are exploring their Latino roots.
Part of the Folklore Societys funding comes from the state Council on the Arts, which for years has acted as a grants clearinghouse and a source of arts expertise for organizations statewide.
But thats changing, as the New York City-based council, facing more than a half-dozen early retirements, is doing away with its panel of arts experts.
Instead of grant requests being reviewed by leaders in fields such as literature, architecture, theater or folk arts, they will be reviewed by a more generic group of staffers.
That, says arts promoters across the state, could leave small, locally based groups without the kind of expert guidance they depend on for developing high-quality programs.
That expertise is being shuffled around, said Ellen McHale, the Folklore Societys executive director.
Without the expertise on staff, I really think its going to change the way they give money away, said Amy Williams, executive director of the The Arts Center of the Capital Region.
The Troy-based organization acts as a conduit for Council of the Arts grants that go to dozens of local, often small, groups.
Theyve helped with dance classes for youngsters in Troy public housing projects, and free classical music concerts at the Voorheesville library.
Officials from the council did not return a request for comment.
The changes also have gotten some attention in the state Legislature.
Earlier this month, Buffalo Democratic Assemblyman Sam Hoyt sent an e-mail to arts groups urging them to contact their local lawmakers to protest the changes, many of which, he contends, have been done behind closed doors.
Hoyt, who serves on the Assemblys Tourism, Arts and Sports Development committee, said the changes were made without the knowledge of committee leaders. And he noted that they are happening in the final weeks of Gov. David Patersons term.
These are draconian changes that completely transform the arts council, he said.
Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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