The cuts are a major blow to 11 arts and culture organizations in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Two years ago, Florida Studio Theatre and dozens of other major nonprofit cultural organizations in the Sarasota area and across Florida received $97,000 each in the state budget. Last year, the grants dropped to $47,550.
In the state budget approved by legislators over the weekend, FST and other groups that qualify for the highest state grants will receive less than $10,000 each, which may lead to job and program cutbacks.
The state budget provides just $2.65 million in the Cultural and Museum Grants category to be shared by about 480 organizations, compared to $11.1 million last year and $19 million in 2016.
In comparison, Sarasota County provided nearly $2 million to three dozen arts and culture organizations last year with money collected from tourist taxes.
The cuts are a major blow to 11 arts and culture organizations in Sarasota and Manatee counties that qualify for the highest grant totals of $150,000 each, based on a long-established application and ranking system. Instead they will get about $9,600 each.
The total represents less than 7 percent of what the organizations qualify for in years when the Legislature fully funds the budget category.
“Three years ago we were fully funded at $150,000 and the economy has gotten better, not worse,” said Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of FST. “The arts are not a priority at the state level. It’s a travesty. It’s not just my organization, it’s the entire region. This should be a major priority.”
Twenty-five organizations in Sarasota County and four in Manatee County qualify for grants ranging from $25,000 to the Chalk Festival, Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, Venice Symphony and Sarasota Concert Association to the $150,000 that would go to FST, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Ballet, Van Wezel, Circus Arts Conservatory, Selby Botanical Gardens, Venice Theatre, South Florida Museum/Bishop Planetarium and the Manatee Players. They will get only 6.3 percent of their potential grants.
Both Hopkins and Asolo Rep Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards used the word “disgusted” to describe their reactions to the state budget.
“It’s a kick in the teeth,” Edwards said. “It’s just despairing to have them not recognize, even at the most fundamental level, what we are doing for our communities,” Edwards said. “It’s willfully ignorant. I’m just disgusted.”
Edwards said for $9,600, it may not be worth his theater staff’s time to fill out grant application and funding request forms for the state. “What have we got to lose? They have no respect for me or the theater. Why should I respect them.”
Hopkins said the loss of state funding will mean she she can hire fewer people or will be forced to produce shows with smaller casts. “It means we will have to cut jobs” even though numerous studies show that the arts help to drive the economy.
“I hate to be so demoralized, but I’m just disgusted that we have gone from being one of the strongest states in the nation supporting the arts to the bottom of the list. And we know that the arts drive so much. I can make all the economic arguments in the world. There’s a 9-1 return for every dollar spent on the arts. It’s been proven again and again that it’s a good economic investment.”
State Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said he has been “probably the biggest proponent of arts and cultural funding” in the Legislature, but the Valentine’s Day shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shifted priorities.
The Legislature approved a $400 million package to enhance school security and mental health funding and imposed new gun restrictions. “There were discussions but obviously in a tight budget year, it’s not possible to fund everything. I am fortunate for the money we do have going for arts and culture.”
Gruters said that legislators do understand the economic impact and importance on arts and culture programs in areas of the state where they are most prevalent.
Aside from the $2.65 million for cultural and museum grants, the Legislature did not set aside funds in three other categories: Culture Builds Florida, Cultural Facilities and Cultural Endowment State Matches.
But the budget does provide $7.1 million for 14 specific projects, including $750,000 for the Bill Edwards Foundation, which programs events at the Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg; $1.65 million for an expansion of the Camp Blanding Museum in Clay County; $800,000 for the Miami Military Museum and Memorial Education Center; $750,000 to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg; $500,000 to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater; and $500,000 each to the Florida Endowment for the Humanities, American Craftsman Museum in St. Petersburg and for the first South Florida Holocaust Museum permanent exhibition.