Pinellas County legislators and educators renewed their commitment to the arts Tuesday, announcing a proposed bill – filed in Tallahassee just this week – that would recognize high school graduates who have achieved high levels of skill in fine arts coursework.
State Senator Darryl Rouson (District 19) and State Representative Ben Diamond (District 68), the bill’s co-sponsors, made the announcement at the Dali Museum, alongside Michael A. Grego, Pinellas County Schools Superintendent, St. Petersburg Arts Alliance director John Collins and other dignitaries.
The proposal, Senate Bill 110 and its companion House bill 1123, would establish the Florida Seal for Fine Arts, affixed to the diploma – and the resume – of any student who has met a series of established guidelines, including continued participation in arts programs, solid grades and community art involvement.
Rousson recalled his four years as a student at Bishop Barry High School (now St. Pete Catholic), where he was president of the Drama Club. “I understand the work that these young people put in during school hours, and after hours,” he said. “I wish there had been the opportunity to have a seal on my diploma recognizing that hard work that I put in for those four years of high school.”
Through the Florida Seal for Fine Arts, he added, “we’re encouraging future generations to contribute to our ever-growing community of the arts.”
Grego stressed that the arts are part of the core curriculum in Pinellas County Schools. “We view the whole educational system to teach the whole child,” he said. “Yes, academics are exceedingly important, standardized tests are exceedingly important … but it’s also important to balance that with life skills for students. The arts accomplish that.”
The proposed Florida Seal for Fine Arts next comes under consideration for legislative committees, then hopefully to the House and Senate floors where the votes will be taken for passage into law.
Tallahassee dramatically reduced arts funding in 2018-2019, and although there was more grant money in play for 2019-2020, Diamond remarked, he hopes things will improve dramatically with regards to the next legislative budget.
“Places like this are a big reason people are visiting St Pete,” he said, indicating the sweeping bayfront view from the Dali’s third-floor picture windows. “If we lose sight of that when we’re writing our state budget, and if we lose sight of the arts as a real economic driver for the state, we’re going to hurt our continued economic success.”
The Division of Cultural Affairs considers grant proposals from arts organizations across the state, then generates a proposal list for legislators – and, ultimately, Florida’s governor – to consider.
“If we fully fund it,” Diamond said, “communities like ours are going to see the benefit.
“We’ve got to do better. Last session, we did better. This coming session, in my opinion, we should fully fund that list.”