Genesee County has a lot going for it, several positive check marks, in a new "community report card" from ACT Rochester but a big surprising negative: Arts, Culture, and Leisure.
The Rochester-based nonprofit agency scored Genesee County with a red mark and trending down in the report released today.
For anybody who participates in arts and culture in Genesee County, that might be a surprise.
Gregory Hallock, director of GO ART!, said he definitely disagrees with the assessment.
"There is a ton of stuff happening in Genesee County," Hallock said. "We have murals all over the county. You can walk an art trail downtown. We have the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, Batavia Players, the Wind Ensemble, the Concert Band. We have breweries. That is art and culture. It's everywhere. It's in architectural design. Our building (GO ART! in Seymour Place downtown) is not only historical, it's an architectural accomplishment. There is just art everywhere."
He then started listing off more arts and culture in Genesee County, such as Genesee Community College's art gallery and theater, and the museums, and the restaurants, and the art schools and dance studios.
"That's a lot," he said. "One of the biggest things is you don't realize it's here. It's everywhere. Art is all over the community."
Hallock moved to Batavia from Buffalo and he said he thinks there is a more active arts community in Batavia than there is in the bigger city.
None of those things, however, are measured by ACT Rochester.
Ann Johnson, the initiative's director, said the report card tries to work with objective, quantifiable data that is accessible through public records. It would be cost prohibitive to survey every county's arts group, even if every county has an art group, to get a complete picture.
What is measured in the report for arts and culture is tourism spending per resident ($1,576), recreation spending per resident ($205), and the number of art teachers in the county's school (with 77, higher than most other counties in the state).
Genesee County tends to beat out other counties in the region in all these counties but not the rest of Upstate.
Johnson acknowledged that the data doesn't capture everything about a community's art and culture activity and how a community might feel about it. The numbers measure, in reality, whether people are coming to a community for arts and culture and leisure. It doesn't measure what local residents are spending for local arts and cultural events.
"I don't think Genesee County should feel at all that all that the red is a negative indication," Johnson said. "It is actually what the data shows us when we add up the indicators in that category. It shows up as red."
Tom Turnbull, president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce said the report reminded him of the old aphorism, "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics."
There's more to tourism and culture in Genesee County then can be captured in numbers and there is no comparison for a rural community when measured against larger counties.
"Anybody trying to base what goes on in tourism based solely on statistics is not really getting the whole picture of what is going on," Turnbull said. "Just compiling stats and trying to make a point I think is really irrelevant. I think it is unfair to us."
Potentially, a person who might think of relocating to Genesee County, or worse, a site selector for a big company, might find this report online and get a negative impression of Genesee County as a place to come and enjoy arts and entertainment.
That is a concern, said Steve Hyde, CEO of Genesee County Economic Development Center.
"I'm all about trying to change the image and enhance the image of this community," Hyde said. "We're really focused on growth we've had that focus for years. We've made a lot of progress but it's a marathon, not a sprint. When reports like this come out, where they may not have all of the relevant facts in order to make a judgment, it is rather weak and distorts reality."
Coming out of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Process, Hyde said he witnessed firsthand how the local arts community on growing and enhancing what they do, including GO ART!, Batavia Players, and Batavia Showtime.
"I look at those trends and they are very good trends for arts, culture, leisure and the local economy," Hyde said. "We are active and engaged and working to make things better. That's the point I would make to a site selector, that we are engaged more than (what) a couple statistics might show that comes out of a book."
To pick up on comments by Hallock, Genesee County has a lot to be proud of in this category:
- Batavia is the only small city in America with both a professional baseball team and a symphony orchestra;
- There is also a chorale, a wind ensemble, and a concert band;
- There are numerous local performing musicians and music acts;
- GO ART!;
- There are several art studios/schools in Batavia and Le Roy;
- There are also dance schools throughout the county;
- Besides art classes, our high schools have thriving music and theater programs (Le Roy just won a national award).
- Batavia High School has a rock band class;
- We have Batavia Players/Theater 56;
- We have Batavia Showtime;
- There are a number of very good, locally owned restaurants in the county;
- Museums include all the town museums along with HLOM, the Jell-O Museum and the County History Department;
- There is live music at Darien Lake, Batavia Downs, the Ridge NY;
- There are local bars/taverns throughout the county that are venues for local and regional acts;
- We have two locally brewed beers;
- We have parks, including Darien Lakes State Park, the County Park, and DeWitt Recreation Area;
- Darien Lakes Theme Park and the water park at Quality Suites & Inn;
- The Batavia Arts Society;
- We have a writers' group and we have local poetry readings;
- The Batavia Photography Club;
- The Paolo Busti Cultural Foundation;
- Polish Falcons Club, Nest 493, Batavia;
- Gillam Grant Community Center in Bergen;
- Richmond Memorial Library, plus libraries in Byron-Bergen, Pavilion, and Corfu;
- The City Art Canvas, murals throughout the county;
- Downtown has a popular and growing public market in the summers;
- Community events all year long in every town and village;
- Three bowling alleys, recreational sports leagues of all types, high school sports;
- Gyms in Batavia and Le Roy;
- Mixed Martial Arts events;
- Batavia Downs Casino & Hotel -- with the oldest lighted harness racing track in America;
- We have several active veterans' groups;
- We have numerous rod and gun clubs throughout the county;
- There are snowmobile trails;
- There are several golf courses and a number of annual golf tournaments;
- Concerts in Jackson Square and the Ramble;
- An autumn wine walk downtown and Christmas in the City;
- Nationally recognized artists such as Roy Mason, Noah North, and Nina Mason Booth came from Genesee County;
- Genesee Community College is a hub of arts and culture, with the Roz Steiner Art Gallery and the Stuart Steiner Theater, and it's a great source of multicultural events (the annual Fashion Show is a big draw);
- The John Gardner Society, which honors the memory of Batavia's most famous novelist with an annual reading at the Pok-A-Dot;
- The Tonawanda Indian Reservation holds cultural events;
- Annual tourism draws like the worldwide Magicians Convention, regional Psychic Fair, Batavia Train Show, Foxprowl Com-Con, and the Batavia Antique Show and Sale;
- There is agritourism that includes Maple Weekend, tours of alpaca farms, and farm-to-table events that showcase locally grown food;
- Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardeners program, with training, workshops, demos, plant sales, and more;
- Genesee County is one of the very few small markets in the county with three competitive news outlets (The Batavian, WBTA, the Batavia Daily News).
What did we forget?
Photos: File photos.