Update: Sarasota arts organizations face lower state support in new budget
Though the arts are a major economic driver in Sarasota County, local non-profit arts organizations are taking a slight hit in state funding in the new Florida budget.
About $5 million, the same as last year, will be divided among 279 organizations statewide, about 40 more than last year, in the 2013-14 budget.
While it’s far more than the $950,000 set aside in the 2009-10 budget, the Florida Cultural Alliance had requested at least $14 million.
In Sarasota County, 14 arts groups are slated to receive about $374,000, a $45,000 reduction from last year’s budget. Three groups in Manatee County will share nearly $64,000, while the Military Heritage and Aviation Museum is the lone Charlotte County recipient, with $2,372, Cultural Alliance reports show.
Arts leaders say they have to do a better job of stressing the economic and tourism value of the arts in Florida.
In Sarasota County, the arts had a $180 million impact last year with more than 4,000 jobs linked to arts organizations, according to a study by Americans for the Arts.
“In the scope of the big picture, this is not a catastrophic deal, but anytime you’re losing funding you’re going in the wrong direction,” said Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. The new budget “probably puts us in the bottom five or six states in arts funding.”
Local and state arts leaders met with legislators in Tallahassee to talk about arts funding, but they said a more coordinated effort is needed to have an impact.
“I feel that we’re dropping the ball,” said Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of Florida Studio Theatre. “When I talked to legislators, they know the arts is important, but I don’t think they’re hearing from us as they are from other people” promoting other causes and issues. “The universal message we were getting when we visited Tallahassee for Arts Day was how things were doing better, and in that same year, there’s no increase, in fact we went backward.”
Linda DiGabriele, managing director of Asolo Repertory Theatre, agreed. “I don’t think we’ve gotten the message through appropriately. If we had, we would have seen different results. There are tough decisions to make about a lot of issues but this is disappointing.”
Shirley said term limits mean that there are few legislators still in Tallahassee who remember back to 2006-07 when Florida allocated $13.1 million to arts and cultural groups.
“They see that there was $900,000 a couple of years ago and think it’s a great improvement when they put $5 million in the budget,” he said.
The Hermitage Artist Retreat, which ranked fifth overall among all organizations in the state, is one of the dozens of new groups sharing in the grants. It received its first grant of nearly $12,000.
Executive Director Bruce Rodgers said he hadn’t applied in the past “because there wasn’t enough money in the budget to make it worthwhile for our small staff to go through the application process.”
Rodgers said arts organizations need to do more to connect with legislators.
“We have to have them to our organizations,” he said. “We haven’t done that yet for federal, state and local officials, to have our delegations really understand our organizations and the contributions we make to the things they care about, like employment.”
Rogers said with 4,000 jobs tied to the arts, it “puts us in the top 10 among employers in the county. The economic argument is one legislators care about, and our ability to provide jobs and tourism, on which the state depends for so much.”
Sarasota fares well in comparison to other, more populous counties, with many organizations ranking among the highest in the Division of Cultural Affairs application process. Seven organizations ranked in the top 30, more than any other county, and several, including Asolo Repertory Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Orchestra, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Sarasota Ballet and Venice Theatre, get between $34,000 and $36,000, among the top grants available for general program support.
Last year, for example, Pinellas county received $266,279, Hillsborough received $301,000, Lee County received $109000, Palm Beach received $596,000 and Miami-Dad received $969,248.
Hopkins said the $36,248 that FST expects is “not as big a hit as we took a few years ago,” when legislators slashed arts funding to $950,000, less than Sarasota County provided through tourist tax grants.
She is more concerned, however, about a $500,000 cultural facilities grant, a separate program, that the theater was expecting to help complete work on its new Gompertz Theatre and Hegner Theatre Wing. The company ranked high in the application process, but facilities with lower scores received funding.
“It looks like they jumped around picking pet projects instead of following the established system,” she said, expressing some hope that the funding could be restored.
Rodgers said area residents prove every year how they value the arts through contributions. He noted that the total budgets for the county’s top organizations is about $20 millio.
“Half of that is donated,” he said. “that is a huge amount of giving, much more than you’re going to find in any other county in Florida. It’s because arts and culture are so important to the people who live here that they’re going to give their money at that level to have culture of this quality.”
Sarasota County grants
Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County — $11,819
Asolo Repertory Theatre — $35,967
City of Sarasota (Van Wezel) – $34,768
Co-Existence — $6,264
Florida Studio Theatre — $36,248
Gulf Coast Heritage Association — $18,877
Hermitage Artist Retreat -- $11,872
Players Theatre — $22,480
Sarasota Ballet — $34,094
Sarasota Film Festival — $21,850
Sarasota Opera — $34,576
Sarasota Orchestra — $35,753
Selby Gardens — $33,969
Venice Theatre — $35,530
Manatee County grants
Manatee Players — $26,700
South Florida Museum/Bishop Planetarium — $33,844
Southern Atelier, Inc. — $3,357
Charlotte County grant
Military heritage and Aviation Museum — $2,372
Projections provided by Florida Cultural Alliance