This County Commissioner Did Zero Homework On How The Scranton Fringe Festival Works

The Times-Tribune SCRANTON — Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings voted against awarding a $2,400 grant to the Scranton Fringe Festival for fear it might fund uncensored, adult content.Commissioners on Wednesday awarded more than $257,000 in Arts and Culture grant funding for a litany of projects and programs, including a total of $39,927 in 2018 Community Project Grants for 19 entities and $217,200 in 2018 Arts and Culture Program Stream Grants to 33 organizations.All but one of those awards — a $2,400 community project grant to the Scranton Fringe Festival’s Early Stages program, which provides interactive performing arts education and entertainment for area youth — were approved unanimously. Cummings, however, asked that the Scranton Fringe Festival grant be addressed via a separate motion, which passed 2-1 with her voting no. Commissioners Jerry Notarianni and Patrick O’Malley voted in favor of the grant. “They are listing rated R shows,” Cummings said. “They have rated R, rated PG-13 (shows) at the Scranton Cultural Center and we’re paying for that, and I’m not going to be a part of that. ”While the annual festival does feature some mature artistic content, festival co-founder and Executive Director Conor O’Brien said the $2,400 grant Cummings opposed will be used exclusively for content geared toward children. “What the county funds for Fringe, I can confirm, strictly funds children’s programming,” O’Brien said, noting he did not hear Cummings’ objections firsthand. Cummings, however, said she cannot be sure that is the case, noting that the project description says the festival believes in “bold, uncensored and exciting work in all mediums. ”Moreover, Cummings warned that if the anchor institutions that annually receive funding from a dedicated 1-mill county arts and education tax — the Everhart Museum, Scranton Cultural Center and Lackawanna County Library System — use county funding to play host to R-rated or uncensored performances, she will vote against that funding in the future. O’Brien, who thanked O’Malley and Notarianni for voting yes on the $2,400 grant, stressed that county money does not fund artistic performances featuring mature content. Still, he defended artists’ right to present such content and disavowed artistic “censorship.”“We do not believe in censorship,” he said, encouraging Cummings to attend a Scranton Fringe Festival performance. “Primarily, we are simply here to create a platform for artists … to express themselves and to take risks.”

Go to 49:30 in this amazingly long and wildly boring meeting of county commissioners to listen to the stuff that is directly about the Scranton Fringe Festival

So if you’re a Scrantonite that has any relationship with the arts and culture stuff that happens in Scranton then you probably are aware of a festival called the Scranton Fringe Festival that has been happening for the last 3 years. Each festival lasts about 3-5 days in late September early October and includes a wide variety of arts shows such as plays, comedy shows, poetry slams and some really really unique shows that I can’t recall. Basically, there are about 50 different performing arts shows that get performed at various locations in the downtown Scranton area. One of those venues is the beloved Scranton Cultural Center. This is where the issue is with this county commissioner Laureen Cummings. She is adamantly against the county giving any kind of funding to the Scranton Fringe Festival to perform in the hallowed grounds that is the Scranton Cultural Center because as she says

“They are listing rated R shows,” Cummings said. “They have rated R, rated PG-13 (shows) at the Scranton Cultural Center and we’re paying for that, and I’m not going to be a part of that.”

So commissioner Cummings is worried that children will be inside the completely appropriate area that is the Scranton Cultural Center and will be watching some play or what have you and will be tainted for life by what they are seeing all on the dime of the Scranton tax payer. She also believes that the Scranton Fringe Festival hosts a number of R-rated shows in the Children’s library, which is essentially attached to the Cultural Center. Because apparently there is a universe where people like Fringe organizer and  co-founder of the Scranton Fringe Festival Conar O’Brien want to ruin their good standing in the city by having inappropriate shows inside a children’s library. This is what commissioner Cummings believes is how the Scranton Fringe Festival works. Well, let me be one to tell you that is in fact not how it works.

Nobody would ever argue that every Scranton Fringe Festival show is appropriate for children. Like O’Brien says “we do not believe in censorship” and nor should he or anyone that promote the arts. Can’t be artistic if you aren’t allowed to push the limits and that’s what the Fringe does. When they do push the limits with one of their shows, they make sure kids are not permitted to them. Seems pretty straight forward but it certainly seems that commissioner Cummings has done exactly 0% in terms of looking into those facts. Hey why do that?

It’s not like this children’s programming has received county funding for the past two years….oh wait, it has (2015 and 2016).

I can understand that commissioner Cummings(that has such a nice ring to it) not wanting inappropriate shows happening in a children’s library. Makes total sense. But if she simply looked at their pamphlet that has a list of every show at every venue, checked their website, read the paper, watched their Leckey Live segment on WNEP, read the grant application itself, OR just had a conversation with O’Brien or any other representative of the Fringe, she would be shown the clear cut evidence that they don’t hold those kind of shows there and they use the funds they get from the city solely for children’s content. O’Brien spoke to this

What the county funds for Fringe, I can confirm, strictly funds children’s programming

So to me it appears that a simple conversation could of been had to avoid a prominent city official going forward at a meeting of county commissioners trying to end funding for an organization that tries to bring the arts and culture to an area that is pretty bare of such things. I don’t know commissioner Cummings at all. Maybe her heart in the right place but is not informed properly. I know people are railing against her all over social media and that’s fine. That’s what happens when you try and go against something that literally everyone likes and believes is an absolute good for the area especially when it appears that not a lot of fact checking happened before the wheels got put in motion to take away funding. The 2017 Scranton Fringe Festival(according to their own published notes) had approximately 5,000 individuals in attendance packing not only its performance venues but hotels, restaurants, bars, retail stores and other downtown based businesses. So, it certainly appears that folks are way into the festival. Thankfully, thanks to the supportive votes of the other two County Commissioners (Patrick O’Malley and Jerry Notarianni) Fringe will receive its $2400.00 grant towards its 2018 “Early Stages” programing.

PS- The Scranton Cultural Center is an awesome place that I recommend anyone to go check out a show or just go and explore the building. It’s nice to know that the Cultural Center is still there providing the most quality, kid friendly entertainment there is. This Broadway show that’s happening in March called Kinky Boots seems very appropriate. What I like about it the most is that is that it promotes the upmost wholesome values that our youth need if they ever want to get into the kingdom of heaven. Very glad that the fine  t̶a̶x̶ p̶a̶y̶e̶r̶s̶ folks of Scranton are funding such a nice children’s program. Perfect place for me to bring my nieces and nephews. Here’s a sneak peak




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