My $100,000 garden project

Tomorrow night (Tuesday, April 20), local garden guru, Sally Cunningham, and myself (along with slide show technician, Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Creative Services, Matt Steinberg) will be making a presentation to the 21st Century Fund, for a $100,000 grant competition.

Sally Cunningham is a columnist, book author, radio & TV personality, educator, Master Gardener. She's seen here in her role as Chanel 4 WIVB's garden contributor at about 8:20 a.m., Sunday mornings.

The 21st Century Fund is a local Buffalo granting organization made up of 350 members. To become a member of this fund, you just have to make a one-time donation of $2,100. This makes this a very involved, committed and diverse group. There are many young professionals and families in their membership. The fund is managed by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

Our proposal (Garden Walk Buffalo along with the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau) is to use the $100,000 to promote and help fund a five-week-long annual National Buffalo Garden Festival from June 18 to July 25. We plan on promoting all the existing great garden tours in the area (18 of them) and already-planned programming by garden centers and culturals in the area and wrap them in a garden theme. The culturals (at this point) include the The Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Buffalo Zoo, among others. Also wrapped in will be a visit from about 70 garden bloggers & writers from 23 different states and Canada.

We also are planning a few new events: Open Gardens (with select residential gardens open for viewing at certain times during the week for five weeks); Keynote speakers (Stephanie Cohan & Amy Stewart); Four garden-themed bus tours; and a Front Yard Garden Competition (on the East Side of Buffalo) among the members of the WNY Nursery & Landscape Association.

This is a competition. Of the 28 original applicants, the committee whittled it down to 10 semi-finalists. Each were requested to set up tables with only one 8.5"x11" handout, one poster or table-top display (no brochures, no props, limited to two presenters) and a rehearsed, five-minute spiel to share with small groups of Fund members, allowing for about three minutes of questions. Then that small group would move on to the next table. And we'd share our handouts, and give our spiel again. 12 times.

This first phase, held at the local PBS station's studios (WNED), felt more like a science fair than a grant competition. But it was fun. A few friends & acquaintances (and even one client) were among the ten semi-finalists in attendance. Of the 100+ members of the Fund there to vote, I knew a good number. Each were given four votes to vote on their favorite use of their $100,000. At the end of the evening, they announced the four groups that would go on to make presentations, which happen tomorrow.
Finalists for the grant include the Buffalo Museum of Science (to develop a Science Studio); the Just Buffalo Literary Center & WNY Book Arts Collaborative (to make their building a literary arts center & make the building ADA compliant); and the Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY (for improvements to its restaurant-style soup kitchen). Worthy causes all.

I do believe our proposal has the potential to make a dramatic impact on outsider's (and local's) perceptions of Buffalo. Establishing an annual garden festival from garden events already happening in the area, and built on the successes of Garden Walk Buffalo's national press, can do more to chip away at the rust-belt/snow-belt moniker the national press seems to associate with Buffalo. In addition, granting organizations do like to see collaboration of groups banding together for the greater good. Our partners in this effort include dozens of groups -- professional organizations, businesses, green non-profits, museums, galleries, garden tours, garden clubs & societies and more.

One fun part of the presentation prep, is that each finalist is paired up with a local advertising agency for consultation. This was established so smaller groups, with less resources, can compete on an equal playing field with larger groups. This was fun for me -- I spent 18 years working in advertising agencies, and no matter where I ended up, I knew I'd be in good hands -- most likely working with people I already knew. We ended up being paired with Crowley Webb & Associates, one of the area's premier agencies. They were a great help, giving our pitch a fresh perspective & critical eye.

We'll know at the end of tomorrow evening, before we leave, if we won or not. If we win, be assured I'll announce it here. Wish us luck!


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