Arts in Collier, Lee fully funded in latest state budget
Cue the music. Some 28 Lee and Collier arts groups are doing a victory dance after learning the state has fully funded their programming, project, and facility requests for fiscal year 2022-23.
And give that music a full string section. Both Artis—Naples, home of the Naples Philharmonic, and the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra in Fort Myers received their full grant requests, $150,000 and $145,788 respectively.
Up there with them: Gulf Coast Symphony, the Lee County community orchestra, which is getting $150,000.
"Can we get a choir of angels to sing?" asked Hyla Crane, who is ecstatic that Marco Island Center for the Arts — where she's executive director — received both its full request for $90,000 and its first-ever grant from the Collier County Tourism Development Council this year. "You're going to see some great work done because of this funding."
Florida appropriations doubled for arts
The 100 percent funding of three categories of arts and culture requests is something of a lightning strike. The last time all categories — including a fourth for endowments — were fully funded was eight years ago. Since then, appropriations have yo-yoed as low as 5 percent of the grant requests in fiscal year 2019.
Planning for fiscal year 2019 was set in the first six months of 2018, when the economy was in repair mode after Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in Collier County and battered the state in September 2017. And just five months later, Florida was reeling from the mass killing of 17 schoolchildren Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland and school security was the largest object on the radar.
Since then, funding for all arts categories had not climbed above 39 percent of what was recommended to the legislature, figures from the Florida Cultural Alliance show. This year's funding is more than double last year's in the three categories that were funded. (One category, endowments, was not.)
"It’s less than 10 percent of our budget, but that’s so much more than the number would suggest," said Dean Hargis, chairman and treasurer of the Grand Piano Series, based in Lee County. The organization stages piano and chamber music concerts over a three-county area, along with classroom programs and master classes.
Hargis pointed out that to reach the 80th percentile of qualifying attributes — the baseline for receiving state funds — the applicant must meet certain criteria, and those ramp up all applicants' creativity.
"The state looks at ethnic diversity, inclusiveness, how you’re handling accessibility to handicapped and special individuals — and the entire community. As a management tool, it helps you get out of your own little world, just thinking about what artist you’re going to get next," he said.
Local organizations say they give state funding a gimlet eye when they're setting their budgets. It's too vulnerable to the economy and political philosophies of the state's Republican leaders for dependability.
But when it does come, as it did this year, "it gives you the confidence to explore new avenues or try some things that are the kinds of things the state wants to see," Hargis said. They're working on a shoulder season mini-festival of music to entice Floridians from other regions to come for a weekend stay.
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It meant Gulfshore Opera could begin casting its operas, which it held off until the announcement of state funding — $90,000 for it this year.
"Last year was a big leap forward for us," said Steffanie Pearce, general director of the opera, which performs in a three-county radius. For the first time, it staged "Tosca" at both Collier and Lee major venues, Artis—Naples and Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. It will stage a grand opera in both again this year. It also moved into its own office in Estero.
John Locuisto, curator of the Wasmer Gallery at FGCU, calls the coming $35,000 state funding peace of mind as prices rise: "Ours will go directly to fund the stipends for some of the artists working with us. It could be for travel. It could be for materials."
The funding will enable the Holocaust Museum and Education Center of Southwest Florida to restore some of the artifacts they've received that are still not ready for exhibition. An example is one recent restoration now on display: a Hitler Youth shirt with its knife and belt. Membership was mandatory for young children in World War II Germany, Executive Director Susan Suarez said.
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"It's an important artifact for us because we can show it to kids and talk about freedom. What if you didn't have a choice about being in something like this?" she asked. Suarez said the museum serves some 15,000 students annually who will see the shirt and hear about its ramifications on their tours.
Choral Artistry, the Fort Myers-based choir known to many as the Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida, has certain set expenses because of its paid core, according to Patricia Rice, the group's president. Full funding will help it expand its workshops and community concert opportunities. This season, it's stretching its reach with a Feb. 4 intensive performance of music to celebrate Black history.
They're bringing Rollo Dilworth from Temple University and the public can sign up to study in a Friday evening-Saturday daylong workshop culminating in a performance. Expect to work hard on harmonies and rhythm: Dilworth is a conductor-composer-arranger known for his work with spirituals like "I Sing Because I'm Happy."
Rice says she's beyond excited to be bringing Rice to Southwest Florida: "He's such a rock star. You can never get on his schedule because he's so in demand." (Those interested can watch the Choral Artistry website for details.)
DeSantis' surprise wasn't secret
One of the surprises of this 100 percent funding is that it wasn't a surprise to everyone. Kristin Coury, CEO and producing artistic director of Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, was at a fundraiser where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke and put the question to him.
"He stayed true to his word, I have to say," she said. "He said this year I'm looking at that line and I intend to fully fund that line, because I recognize the value of the arts."
The budget DeSantis signed allocates slightly more than $59 million for three major grant categories, up from the $26.7 million last year.
The bulk of the money, slightly more than $46 million, was awarded in the cultural and museum grants category that provides programming support to qualifying organizations for the performances, exhibitions and special presentations. This year’s money will be divided among 556 nonprofits. 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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Coury said she's "absolutely thrilled" with the funding.
"We had gotten to the point where we stopped budgeting or expecting to ever get the full allotment," she said.
"This is our big transition year, so we're going to have bigger shows onstage. We're going to have big things we're working on operationally, so that money is going to help us transition to the big new theater."
A dedicated building is under construction for Gulfshore Playhouse and is expected to open mid-season 2023-24.
"Little birds kept telling us this would happen," said Amy Ginsberg, executive director of the Southwest Symphony Orchestra. "We were cautiously optimistic."
The orchestra knew it was taking a risk, but booked world-famous violinistGil Shaham for its Masterworks series, which is expected to be announced within the next month. The funding is a warm welcome for the orchestra's new music director, Radu Paponiu, and will help fund a return to taking the symphony to Charlotte County, where concerts were put on hiatus during the pandemic.
Artis—Naples will apply its funding to operational costs with an emphasis on the Naples Philharmonic, which was one of the first organizations in Southwest Florida to have to shut down. When it did open, it was limited to smaller, socially distanced audiences. Yet musicians had to be paid, and it needed guest conductors when U.S. travel restrictions kept Music Director Andrey Boreyko from returning.
"We are grateful to the State of Florida for their continued dedication to the world-class multidisciplinary and cultural experiences we provide to the community, and for their commitment to our state’s arts organizations at large," said a statement from Kathleen van Bergen, its CEO and president.
Federal funding helped out here
While arts organizations are writing thank-you notes to state legislators, they may want to mail off a heart-shaped Post-It to the federal government.
Some $3.5 billion in pandemic recovery funds awarded to Florida to be distributed in the coming year is not directly included in the $109.9 billion budget. But it gave that budget breathing room, according to Florida Tax Watch, an independent organization that monitors state budgeting and expenditures. (The 2023 Florida budget itself contains $35 billion in federal distributions to the state, according to Tax Watch researchers.)
Federal recovery money will be used for the arts:
- to fund creation of an artifact curation facility ($13.8 million)
- for the Division of Cultural Affairs category of African-American Cultural Historical Grants ($30.35 million).
Arts spending is a drop in the state's $109.9 billion bucket: $59,088,125, or five-hundredths of 1 percent.
But it's water that's refreshing to every organization here.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
What's coming to SWFL
Bad boys and big ducks love full arts funding. They're part of the children's programming arts leaders say the 100 percent funding approved by Florida's legislature will help.
Opera Naples will include performing opportunities for the rising young singers who are their resident artists, and a good deal of brings mini-operas to schoolkids. "Stop Bullying" and "The Ugly Duckling" are two favorites of Robin Shuford Frank, the opera's administrator for music and director of education, "because they have a moral message with their music."
With the help of full funding, she's hoping to expand the number of children they can reach this year, beyond the 15 to 20 performances at Boys and Girls Club, Superkids Club and, pre-COVID, a dozen schools. Crane values the funding for its Marco Island summer classes, too: "These classes are all free for the kids," she said.
The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island also plans to spread its state funding among initiatives to bring kids to conservation through art. Its Wildlife on Wheels bus is a prime example, according to Sierra Hoisington, refuge associate executive director. The children and schools and camps create an art project that works with the conservation lesson.
That same process draws in adults, too. The refuge offers mindful meditation and journaliing walks, she said: "People may not have conservation as their top priority, but they love the arts."
Alex Levine, director of education at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, does the same thing. They blend art and conservation into field trips and mobile bus presentations to underserved and Title One schools that depend on supplemental funding.
"Throughout all of these programs, participants use creative art activities to better understand our world-class museum exhibits, the work that all of the Conservancy's departments do, and why they should personally be invested in conserving Southwest Florida's native ecosystems," she wrote in an email about its use for state funding.
Organizations who apply for state grants in Florida are ranked for maximum funding on three levels — 1, $40,000; 2, $90,000; 3. $150,000 — according to the size of their audiences, budgets, the scope of their programs and other considerations. Following are the grants approved for Collier and Lee counties for FY 2023:
GENERAL PROGRAM SUPPORT
Grants that came to the two counties are below, followed by special project and facilities grants. Total for all entries in this category in the state: $46,010,129. Those who requested less than the maxium have the amount requested behind their titles.
Level Three — $150,000
Collier: Artis—Naples; Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Inc.; Golisano Children's Museum of Naples; Gulfshore Playhouse, Inc; Naples Botanical Gardens; Opera Naples, Inc.
Lee: Bailey Shell Museum and Educational Foundation, Inc.; Barrier Island Group for the Arts, Inc., known as BIG Arts Sanibel ($127,600); Florida Repertory Company; Gulf Coast Symphony; Lee County Alliance of the Arts, Inc. ($112,000); Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Association, Inc. ($145,788)
Level Two — $90,000
Collier :Art League of Marco Island, Inc.; Gulfshore Opera, Inc. United Arts Council of Collier County, Inc. ($52,000); Southwest Florida Holocaust Museum and Education Center
Lee: Florida Arts, Inc. also known as Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center
Level One — $40,000
Collier: Naples Concert Band ($21,964)
Lee: "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, Inc. ($25,250); Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees for Wasmer Art Gallery ($35,000); Grand Piano Series ($25,000); Love your Rebellion, Inc. (4,833); Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida, Inc.($25,000); Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida, Inc. known now as Choral Artistry ( $27,591);
SPECIAL CULTURAL PROJECT
Total for all applicants in the state is $3,077,996
Collier: Artist Michelle Tricca ($25,000)
Lee: Cultural Park Theater Company Inc. ($24,500); Ghostbird Theatre, Inc.($25,000)
Total for all applicants in the state is $16,145,698.
Lee: City of Cape Coral ($261,661)