By Christina Wood
When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state budget earlier this year, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations across Florida breathed a sigh of relief.
Making sure the arts receive their fair share of the pie is always an uphill battle. The moneys provided in the budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 weren’t particularly generous, but it was a big improvement compared to last year – when the Florida Legislature had slashed arts funding by some 90 percent.
“I think the cultural community really did a good job of making them understand that they needed to fund us and why it was so good – not only for the economy but for the health of the community,” says Sue Ellen Beryl, managing director and a co-founder of Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach.
They also did a good job of making legislators aware of the fact that because of the drastic cuts in 2018, Florida ranked 48th in the nation in terms of per capita arts spending, she says. Only Kansas and Georgia spent less.
Look at it this way: while Florida’s economy grew, even South Dakota, Idaho and Mississippi managed to spend more on art and culture.
At the time, Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel put it in perspective: “Arts and cultural grants dropped to 0.003 percent of the state’s $88.7 billion budget. That’s three one-thousandths of a percent … during a year of record spending.”
State funding by the numbers
Theaters, museums, dance companies, orchestras, arts education programs and other arts and cultural organizations in Florida receive funding through the state’s Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA), which offers several different types of grants. The primary focus of most arts administrators in Florida is the state’s Cultural and Museum Grants program.
“The wonderful thing about that funding is that it’s for general operating support,” Beryl explains. Getting the money needed to mount a new show or exhibition is always exciting, but whether you’re running a theater, a visual arts program or a history museum, you still need ink for your printer and someone to answer the phones. “So many other grants and funds go to specific programming, so we’re very grateful for whatever we get.”
Palm Beach Dramaworks is one of 52 organizations in Palm Beach County that will be receiving money for operating expenses from the state in fiscal year 2019-2020. Those grants add up to a total of $1,281,994. Thirty-seven organizations in Broward County qualified for a Cultural and Museum Grant. Combined, they will be receiving $1,096,650.
In addition, two Palm Beach County organizations qualified for Cultural Facilities Grants: the Maltz Jupiter Theatre and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach. Each will receive $500,000 from the state for major renovations. No Cultural Facilities Grants were awarded in Broward County this year.
Six organizations in Palm Beach County will receive Culture Builds Florida Grants, designed to fund specific cultural projects taking place within the upcoming year that not only support the mission of the organization but also further the state’s cultural objectives. The grants range from $9,500 for an arts program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Lake Worth Beach to $25,000 for a multicultural arts program at For the Children, also in Lake Worth Beach.
In Broward County, nine organizations received funding for their projects through Culture Builds Florida grants, including the Greater Caribbean American Cultural Coalition, based in Hollywood, and The Heartbeat Foundation, which will be presenting its annual Brazilian Festival in Pompano Beach.
Highs and lows
Every year arts group and cultural organizations submit their grant applications to the Florida Department of Cultural Affairs. DCA reviews the applications and recommends certain funding levels to the Legislature. In the budget for fiscal year 2014-2015, those recommendations were fully funded. That year, Florida ranked 10th in the nation in terms of per capital arts spending.
It’s mostly been a downhill slide since then. By fiscal year 2017-2018, the Legislature provided only enough money to cover 51 percent of the funds recommended by DCA. Last year, less than 5 percent of the recommended amount was budgeted.
“That 90 percent decrease severely affected many organizations,” says Philip Dunlap, director of the Broward County Cultural Division. “For some organizations, that was a huge percentage of their operating budget that just vanished. That affects real lives.”
“We fight for every dollar and I think pretty much every organization does,” says Jeff Rusnak, director of development at the Art & Culture Center of Hollywood. In some cases, deep cuts to funding impact programming. It could be the cost of an exhibition, a free family event or a couple of classes, he says. For many smaller organizations, those dollars would have gone to pay salaries.
In 2017-2018, Florida’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations were awarded a total of $10,959,133. Last year, the total for the entire state was only $1,106,249.
If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, you could say that figure more than doubled this year. The recently approved budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 includes $2,393,394 for arts and culture. Realists, on the other hand, will point out that only about 38 percent of the $6,347,740 recommended by the DCA for fiscal year 2019-2020 was funded by the Florida Legislature during the 2019 session.
Beryl admits the numbers still aren’t close to previous funding levels, but she’s not complaining. “We’re so grateful that it was increased,” she says. “This year that we’re just ending, I think we got something like $9,800 and next year we’re getting $45,000.”
Something to say
If anything positive can be said about Florida’s unprecedented cuts in arts funding last year, it’s that they served as a wakeup call to arts and cultural organizations across the state.
“I think a lot of effort was put in by a lot of organizations to be in more contact with state representatives to make sure that the arts weren’t an afterthought,” Rusnak says.
Passage of the new state budget doesn’t mean it’s time to take a break from those advocacy efforts. “The conversation can’t just happen one time of year; it can’t just be around budget time,” Dunlap says.“It’s an ongoing thing,” agrees Dave Lawrence, president and CEO of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. “We’re never done with advocacy.”
“If we’re not getting into the constant habit of inviting legislators to events, talking with them about why the arts are important, leveraging our board members, who are oftentimes business leaders and influential people within our community and may even be donors to [political] campaigns – if we’re not involved in those kind of activities. then we’re only talking to ourselves about why the arts are important,” Dunlap says. “And preaching to the choir isn’t going to get more money in the coffers to support arts and culture.”
Some have theorized that last year’s cuts were due, at least in part, to the need to fund school security in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Experts agree, however, that it shouldn’t be an “either/or” argument.
Dunlap believes that comparing funding for the arts to funding for health care or education is unfair. “Those are false equivalents,” he says. “You can’t get into those comparative conversations. The arts are just as important.”
Cities and communities across the country are in competition to attract businesses as well as the workforce needed to fill today’s jobs. “We need to make sure that our communities have all the possible amenities they need,” Lawrence says. “It’s about attracting and retaining talent. That’s one of the things that all cities are fighting for right now – the best minds to come and work for them. So, if we want a creative workforce, we need to have a dynamic quality of life.” Wellness, education, sports, a vibrant nightlife, great food – and art and culture – are all part of the mix.
“Here in Palm Beach County, the arts generate $633 million each year in economic activity. We employ almost 16,000 full-time equivalent workers in the cultural sector. So, it is an important part of our economy … There are countless studies about how important the arts and cultural sector is to education. There’s also a quality of life argument that is important,” Lawrence says. “They’re never going to be easy arguments, but they’re important arguments to make.”