Florida doubles funding for arts and cultural programs in new budget

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Florida Studio Theatre, which produced the world premiere of “America in One Room” during its winter season, topped the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs ranking list of 556 organizations receiving money in the new state budget for general program support.

Arts organizations across Florida will get a major boost in funding in the new state budget, which provides more than twice as much money as last year.

The budget signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis allocates slightly more than $59 million for three major grant categories, up from the $26.7 million last year. Once again this year, the budget provides no money for the cultural endowments category, which provides operating resources for longer-term sustainability

The bulk of the money, slightly more than $46 million, was awarded in the cultural and museum grants category, which provides programming support to qualifying organizations for the performances, exhibitions and special presentations. This year’s money will be divided among 556 non-profits. Last year, the state provided $23.2 million divided among 517 organizations, which was up slightly from $20.2 million in 2020.

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Jennifer Jones, president and CEO of the Florida Cultural Alliance, said after years of partial funding, the state had more money from revenues to spend. “I think the arts and cultural field is doing a great job for advocating and we have some great champions in Tallahassee.” The alliance advocates and coordinates lobbying efforts for arts and cultural programs around the state.

Arts and cultural organizations submit applications through a vetting and ranking program and may receive up to $150,000 each. This year’s budget marks the first time since 2014 that organizations will receive all the money for which they qualify. That also was a gubernatorial election year.

The money comes as many of the organizations are still recovering from shutdowns, missed performances and layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In recent years, legislators working with less money, focused their financial attention on other areas of the state budget.

Jones said that even with an often changing roster of legislators because of term limits or people not seeking re-election, “there’s a growing understanding and appreciation for what we’re doing. We have real numbers based on tax returns to underpin our argument about the impact we have across the state, how many jobs are created because of the money the state provides.”

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In Sarasota County, 26 organizations will share $2,681,131 for their programs. Florida Studio Theatre and Asolo Repertory Theatre, topped the statewide ranking list and will reach receive $150,000. Also receiving the top grant amount are the Circus Arts Conservatory, The Players Centre for Performing Arts, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera, Selby Botanical Gardens, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Venice Theatre.

Embracing our Differences, a free outdoor art exhibit in Sarasota's Bayfront Park, will receive nearly $100,000 for its programming in the 2022-23 Florida state budget.

La Musica di Asolo, the annual chamber festival that returned to live performances in April after a two-year COVID hiatus, will receive $20,000, the smallest amount awarded to Sarasota County organizations, but up from the $7,500 it received last year. Other programs receiving varied amounts of funding, from $33,000 to $110,500 are funded are the Art Center Sarasota, Artist Series Concerts, Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, Choral Artists of Sarasota, Embracing our Differences, Hermitage Artist Retreat, Key Chorale, Perlman Music Program/Suncoast, Sarasota Concert Association, Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, Sarasota Film FestivalSave our Seabirds, Venice Symphony, WSLR.

In Manatee County, five organizations will share $452,539, topped by the $150,000 awarded to both Bishop Museum of Science and Nature and the Florida Cultural Group, the umbrella organization for the Manatee Performing Arts Center and Manatee Players. The list also includes Art League of Manatee ($90,000), Reflections of Manatee ($25,000) and Southern Atelier ($37,539). Reflections is a museum at the Curry Houses Historic District in Bradenton.

The Charlotte Chorale is the sole organization on the list from Charlotte County and will receive nearly $15,000.

The cultural facilities category for building and expansion projects, which received no money in last year’s budget, will provide $10 million to 23 projects. Locally they include $500,000  for the new home of Mote Marine Laboratory, $500,000 for a new rehearsal hall and production facilities building at Asolo Rep, and $157,557 to FST for hurricane protection to its campus. The Art League of Manatee County also will receive $500,000 toward its new $11 million building.

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A $146,600 grant request for mechanical improvements at the Van Wezel just missed the cut-off list. But the planned new Sarasota Performing Arts Center received a special grant of $990,000 to support the architect selection for the project.

Four individuals and programs in Sarasota qualified for $25,000 Culture Builds Florida grants, including the Jazz Club of Sarasota, New College of Florida, flutist Donna Wissinger and writer theater artist Gabrielle Lennon. Easter Seals Southwest Florida, Inc., will receive $25,000 in a Manatee County grant. The Punta Gorda Symphony, Charlotte Local Education Foundation, Charlotte County Public Schools and Charlotte County Art Guild, each will receive a $25,000 grant.

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