Rare first edition book titled “Year of Illumination” is gifted to Erie County officials

To celebrate Erie County’s Bicentennial, and on behalf of 70 arts and cultural organizations, The Baird Foundation has presented a book of “Thanksgiving” to Erie County officials titled, “Year of Illumination.”

This rare first edition book is intended to serve as a piece of public art commemorating this historic milestone year in our local history. The Baird Foundation commissioned the book in partnership with The Western New York Book Arts Center and the artist Yames. It features 70 unique letters of appreciation from cultural organizations addressed to everyone in Erie County expressing gratitude for continued support throughout the years. The book title is a tribute to the 125th anniversary of the moment when human creativity and imagination led to the first successful long-distance transmission of AC power between Niagara Falls and Buffalo on November 16, 1896.

Year of Illumination

“Year of Illumination” is a limited-edition publication, custom-created with archival paper, digitally printed letters from the organizations, letterpress dedication and end pages, hand illumination, and gold foil embossed lettering on the cover.

Catherine Schweitzer, Executive Director of the Baird Foundation

“It’s our hope that the profound appreciation expressed in this book for the immeasurable investments made in the cultural sector for nearly a half century by Erie County and its residents will be read by many now and decades from now,” said Catherine Schweitzer, Executive Director of the Baird Foundation. 

“It was our desire to work as a creative team to showcase – through their own individual stories – the broad scope of art produced in our community as well as the exceptional talent and vision within these organizations. This project produced a historic treasure during the Covid pandemic, illuminating our incredible cultural organizations, in addition to a collaborative commemoration of the Erie County Bicentennial. We asked all of them to join us as we Remember the Past, Celebrate the Present, and Invest for the Future.” 

The book pays homage to Erie County’s long history of financial support for our community’s cultural organizations. The County’s budget for arts; culture funding was initiated by former County Executive Edward Regan during the fiscally challenging times after Bethlehem Steel closed in the 1970s. It has continued for more than 44 years under the leadership of every successive County Executive. The County’s current budget for arts and culture funding is greater than $6 million, allocated to 93 local cultural organizations.

The Baird Foundation invited all the organizations to participate and asked for a letter of appreciation for the operational and/or capital funding provided by the County. They received 70 in return, all of which are featured in the book, below are a few submissions:


Alleyway Theatre 

“The Year of Illumination feels particularly like most Buffalo cultural institutions, Alleyway Theatre has been dark for over a year, but because of Erie County support, we were able to survive this hard intermission.”

– Robyn Horn, Managing Director, Alleyway Theatre, founded 1981 – Celebrating 40 years. 

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

“The BPO is proud to have met the challenges of the pandemic head on in no small part due to the generosity of our funding from Erie County. While the community is shining a light on Erie County to celebrate its Bicentennial, we cannot do so without placing the importance in a broader historical context to help illuminate the significance Erie County has had on the evolution of Western New York. County Executive Poloncarz and Members of the Legislature, we celebrate this historic moment by taking the time to reflect back on what has been accomplished to transform Erie County. Not only has your support helped the BPO flourish, it has invigorated a robust and exciting arts scene in Western New York, one that we – and our musicians – are proud to call home.”

– JoAnne Falleta, Music Director & Dan Hart, President & ED. The BPO is a recipient of 2 Grammy Awards, produced over 40 recordings that have been broadcast all over the world, and partnered with hundreds of arts and cultural organizations, schools, government entities & businesses to produce programs & events that resonate and hold meaning to our community.

Buffalo International Film Festival

“I’m writing to you just before the 200th anniversary of Erie County’s official birthdate – April 2, 1821 – and from a place of collective becoming, where our past, present and future is visible in our landscapes and cultures. We are just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a year-long pandemic that has ravaged our Country and County. During these dark days, we have retreated to our cave walls (this time watching screens instead of shadows), and cinematic arts have been essential to escapism and connection – a way to share our stories and to understand this time. In Buffalo, Erie County’s largest city, we have always loved the cinema, and I hope that we always do.

“The cinema is a place where people come together to collectively dream in a darkened cathedral, and films are those collective dreams. No matter where we watch them, films connect us through stories and offer us new windows through which to see our world(s). In the basement of the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo, the first dedicated cinema was designed from scratch solely to screen motion pictures. Edison’s Vitascope Theater opened to the general public on October 19, 1896. Our organization is founded on a celebration of this legacy, and each October over Indigenous Peoples Day holiday weekend, we try our best to honor it.”

– Anna Scime, ED & John Fink, Artistic Director, Buffalo International Film Festival

Arts & Culture Organizations

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

“On the momentous occasion of Erie County’s Bicentennial Celebration, the Buffalo Philharmonic wishes to express our deepest gratitude for your unwavering support. Your belief in, and commitment to, the arts and cultural organizations in our community is a significant reason why Buffalo has grown into an arts mecca that welcomes people from all over the world.”

– JoAnne Falleta, Music Director & Dan Hart, President & ED, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1935 during the height of the Great Depression; since 1940 orchestra has resided in Kleinhans Music Hall, a National Historic Landmark and known as one of the finest acoustic concert halls in the world.

The BPO is a recipient of 2 Grammy Awards, produced over 40 recordings that have been broadcast all over the world, and partnered with hundreds of arts and cultural organizations, schools, government entities & businesses to produce programs & events that resonate and hold meaning to our community.

Irish Classical Theatre

“[ICTC] has graciously been awarded general operating support from Erie County for over two decades. Through the annual application process, ICTC has made significant developmental gains in its organizational systems, specifically in the increased accountability of its leadership, ensuring fiscal transparency, and in the creation and administration of essential policies and procedures.

“The application process, welcomingly, persists to challenge the Company in its efforts to be an ever- evolving organization… As the County embarks on its next 200 years and ICTC on its next 30, [ICTC] is honored to celebrate Erie County and is truly thankful for the sustained Cultural Operational Funding provided by multiple County Executives over the last 44 years; to not only the Irish Classical Theatre Company but to the whole of the Erie County Arts Community.”

– Kate LoConti Alcocer, Executive Artistic Director + Vincent O’Neill, artistic director emeritus + Jeffrey Stone, President Board of Trustees, Irish Classical Theatre, founded 1990.

Organizations | Training and Development Centers

Assembly House 150

“We endeavor to build a more artful and equitable city [and] are very thankful for Erie County’s embrace of our unique person-centered approach to vocational training – and for the openness, enthusiasm and dedication shown by Erie County DSS employees with whom we worked – in order to build a program that imparts tools for future success and empowers the next generation of builders and tradespeople in Erie County.”

  Dennis Maher, Founder/ED, Assembly House 150 (inception 2015) brings together tradespeople, artists, designers, architects, artisans, planners, preservationists, students, apprentices, and others to build awareness of the built environment, teach skills in design and construction, work together on impactful community projects and empower people through creative action.

Buffalo Arts Studio

“Erie County Cultural Funding has been integral to Buffalo Arts Studio successfully fulfilling our promise to use the transformative power of the arts to inspire and affect positive change. Erie County funding has helped us provide visual artists safe spaces to work and exhibit, offer a supportive community to help artists develop their practice and share their voice, and engage diverse populations with high quality arts access that reflects our region’s population. County support allows us to look to the future, consistently working to be equitable, inclusive, and engaging; to be the place where art and community become one.”

– Alma Carillo, ED, Buffalo Arts Studio

WNY Book Arts

“Buffalo’s industrial history is closely entwined with that of commercial printing. Even if you didn’t have a family member who worked for the Courier, you still share in this collective past; in fact, air conditioning was invented here in the Queen City for a printing operation.

“If you have ever read a newspaper, purchased a copy of a book, or flipped through a magazine, you are a part of printing history – and through your investment of Erie County Arts & Cultural Funding you are fortifying its future as well by way of Book Arts’ mission to promote a greater understanding of printing and book-related arts for a broad and diverse community. Even in the face of immense hardship, Erie Countians know that we are stronger together; we at Book Arts could not do our work without you. As Erie County celebrates its 200th birthday, you can be sure that your support has left a remarkable impression for even more centuries to come.”

– WNY Book Arts

Museums and Societies

Buffalo History Museum 

“Through your belief and investment in our mission, our community is strengthened – thank you! We are honored to mark this milestone with you and the people of Erie County. We will continue to document, preserve, and share Erie County’s stories for future generations.”

– Melissa Brown, ED & Greg Tranter, Board President, Buffalo History Museum, founded 1862

Martin House

“With the steadfast support and endorsement of County leadership and its legislators for over twenty-five years, this project has captured the hearts and minds of the community as it serves as a model for excellence in architectural restoration and economic development. The County’s total current financial investment in the Martin House estate is $7 million, a combination of $4.6 million in capital funds and $2.4 million in cultural (operational) funds. This investment symbolizes the vision of our community and the County’s investment in cultural tourism as an integral component of our regional economy.”

– Mary Roberts, ED, Martin House. Organized 1922. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Darwin Martin

* Statements may have been edited for length and clarity.

Western New Yorkers can find public copies of the second edition at various locations in Buffalo, including:

  • Every public library in Erie County
  • Every organization participating in the original limited-edition book will have a copy
  • Several copies may be read at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

The five unique first editions were donated to the:

  • Rare Book Room at the Central Library
  • Burchfield Penney, collecting institute for our local art & cultural heritage
  • Buffalo History Museum
  • WNY Book Arts for their own collection
  • Erie County, Rath Building

To catch a first glimpse of the book, visit the Burchfield Penney Art Center this weekend November 27th-28th for FREE admission.

Rare first edition book titled “Year of Illumination” is gifted to Erie County officials