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Will DeSantis approve significant arts funding?

Bill DeYoung



"Between Riverside and Crazy" was an early highlight of the 2018-2019 season at American Stage. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

Don’t hold your breath, but the Florida legislature might be ready to put more money into the arts this year.

The proposed 2019-2020 budget, which is waiting for Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature, includes $21.25 million in grants for arts organizations and programs. Last year, under Rick Scott, the amount was a puny – and to some, downright insulting – $2.65 million.

Arts funding in Florida declined by 90 percent over a five-year period. The state had been ranked 10th in the United States in terms of cultural appropriation; with the 2018 slash-and-burn, Florida dropped to 48th.

DeSantis received the full state budget May 4, which means he has until the 19th – this Sunday – to decide whether to approve it, veto certain items or request wholesale changes.

The Division of Cultural Affairs, part of the Florida Department of State, approved approximately half of the funding requested by statewide art entities.

According to the nonprofit Florida Cultural Alliance, each grantee on the final Cultural and Museum list would receive approximately 29 percent of their request – provided the governor doesn’t request additional cuts.

Using that equation, among the Pinellas groups on the list, the following would receive $43,500: The Morean Arts Center, The Florida Orchestra, Ruth Eckerd Hall, American Stage, the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation, Dunedin Fine Arts Center, Clearwater Aquarium and Great Explorations Children’s Museum.

The “29 percent rule” would award $39,440 to freeFall Theatre Company, $39,150 to St. Petersburg Opera Company, $29,246 to the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties,  $26,100 to Creative Clay and to the Florida Craftsman Museum, and $23,200 to Creative Pinellas.

Smaller amounts were approved for thestudio@620, Eight O’Clock Theatre, the Conservatory for Teens, the Dunedin Museum, Academy of Ballet Arts and the City of Tarpon Springs.

The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance was granted $25,000 through a category called Culture Builds Florida; unless there’s a veto, the organization will receive the full amount.

“There are four categories that the Department of Cultural Affairs has been managing for years,” Arts Alliance director John Collins explains. “One is endowment, which they haven’t funded for years.” There are no Pinellas organizations approved in the fourth category, Cultural  Facilities Grants.

“Last year, I don’t think the Legislature even realized there were four buckets, and they just cut it all,” Collins explains. “They didn’t fund Culture Builds Florida at all last year; we got zero.”

The National Endowment for the Arts granted $15,000 this year to Collins’ organization; the only nonprofit group in Pinellas County to receive NEA funding.

Collins considers this a “glass half full” situation; he says he’s cautiously optimistic. “We’ve gone up and down through the years. I keep saying to folks that there should be a way that we don’t have to beg for it every year, and prove the value of what we’re delivering.”







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