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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

M&T Ditches Shea's

By Anthony Chase

They said they would, and they did. After decades of supporting Shea's, M&T Bank has pulled out, lock, stock, and barrel. No more will the Broadway series bear the name of the Buffalo-based colossus of corporate support for the arts. In addition to sponsoring Shea's Broadway series, M&T also supported the theater's gala fundraisers, and its capital projects. It is worth recalling that it was M&T's decision to forgive loan debt that was largely responsible for the old Studio Arena Theatre coming under the Shea's umbrella as Shea's 710.

In a bizarrely out of tune response to what looks like a potential calamity, Shea's board president, Randy Best, released a cheerful statement, quoted by Mark Sommer in today's Buffalo News, assuring us all that "As we approach the 100th anniversary, we are working with M&T Bank to determine the most meaningful way for them to support Shea's Performing Arts Center beyond the Broadway Series.... We appreciate the generous support M&T has provided to Shea's over the years, and look forward to future partnerships."

By contrast, M&T Bank spokeswoman Thea Pecht stated emphatically and unequivocally that, ""The bank is not having discussions regarding any upcoming Shea's projects." (ital added)

Whoa! Somebody's out of touch with reality, and I don't think it's the bank!

Pecht further confirmed that the withdrawal of M&T's support had everything to do with the debacle over the leadership of former Shea's president, Michael Murphy, who was kicked out in October after being accused of fostering a "toxic" work environment. "The decision, while difficult, is tied to the management issues that started last summer," she told Sommer. "We're sorry it got to this point. It was not an easy decision for us."

It was notable that five board members jumped ship during the summer when the Shea's board was still officially standing behind Murphy. The defectors included Rich McCarthy, head of retail banking at M&T. At the time, Best and fellow Shea's board member Jon Dandes made public statements diminishing the significance of the defection. Others had doubts.

Previous to Murphy's abrupt dismissal, dissonant messages were coming out of Shea's. While five board members quit, the official board position was total support of Murphy. At the same time, the Shea's staff became increasingly vocal and arguably desperate in their desire to see Murphy removed. Because he was the M&T representative, many saw the departure of McCarthy as the writing on the wall.

It is difficult to conceive of a major not-for-profit cultural organization in this community thriving without the support of M&T -- especially one that is hoping to embark on a capital expansion. As Sommer outlines in his article, the M&T Bank Charitable Foundation gave $9.4 million to more than 300 nonprofit organizations across Western New York in 2022, and is one of Western New York's most generous supporters of arts and culture. In addition to the M&T Broadway Series at Shea's, the bank also sponsors Broadway seasons in Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira and Binghamton.

Banks don't support cultural organizations merely out of the goodness of their notoriously cold hearts. If that were true, Shea's highest profile activity would not have been branded as the "M&T Broadway Series." Banks lend their names, in large part, to burnish their own reputations. Clearly, M&T began to see their association with Shea's as more of a liability than an asset. The next question is, will other donors follow their lead, or will they move in to fill the void?

Litigation between Michael Murphy and Shea's continues.


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