Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ArtsBuzz: State funding for arts 'an embarrassment,' cultural leaders say

Sherron Long,‭ ‬left,‭ ‬and Rena Blades.


By Gretel Sarmiento


This is about money,‭ ‬or rather,‭ ‬about the absence of it.

That‭’‬s what‭ ‬80‭ ‬executives representing cultural organizations from Palm Beach County heard at‭ ‬the State of the Arts meeting Monday at the Armory Art Center.‭

Turns out they are part of the problem‭ ‬and the solution.

Last fiscal year,‭ ‬Palm Beach County received‭ ‬$150,000‭ ‬in arts money from the state‭ ‬in the form of six grants.‭ ‬If that seems bad,‭ ‬now it will take a miracle to get that from a state that only has‭ ‬$950,000‭ ‬to give.

The proposed state budget for‭ ‬2010-2011‭ ‬exceeds‭ ‬$70‭ ‬billion. When it comes to arts budgets per capita,‭ ‬Florida ranks‭ ‬49th in the country,‭ ‬with‭ ‬14‭ ‬cents spent per Floridian.‭ ‬Next year,‭ ‬that will drop to‭ ‬5‭ ‬cents.

‭“‬To say this is a crisis is an understatement.‭ ‬It‭’‬s an embarrassment,‭”‬ said Rena Blades,‭ ‬president and chief executive officer of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council,‭ ‬which has seen its revenue drop dramatically since‭ ‬2008.‭

And yet,‭ “‬there‭’‬s reason for some hope,‭”‬ Blades said,‭ ‬referring to the fact that five consecutive months have registered high hotel occupancy.‭ ‬And a recent tourism stimulus program resulted in‭ ‬341,‭ ‬000‭ ‬serious requests for information,‭ ‬which means outsiders‭ ‬are interested in visiting.

But it may take a while for the revenues to catch up with‭ ‬hotel occupancy.‭ ‬

In the meantime,‭ ‬Palm Beach County has‭ ‬21‭ ‬applications to the state for arts money,‭ ‬out of‭ ‬250‭ ‬statewide.‭ ‬Ideally,‭ ‬those arts groups would get everything they‭’‬re asking for‭ ‬--‭ ‬$19.1‭ ‬million‭ ‬– but right now are praying to get just a piece of the less than‭ ‬$1‭ ‬million available.‭

The state‭ ‬actually has dedicated‭ ‬$2‭ ‬million for cultural grants,‭ ‬but of that amount‭ ‬$1‭ ‬million is‭ ‬earmarked for the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center‭ ‬in Broward County‭ ‬−‭ ‬not yet built‭ ‬− and‭ ‬$50,000‭ ‬for programs at Ocala's Appleton Museum.

Just a few years ago,‭ ‬during‭ ‬the‭ ‬2006-07‭ ‬fiscal year,‭ ‬Florida had‭ ‬$34.4‭ ‬million to distribute among cultural institutions all over the state.‭ ‬Then,‭ ‬it was spending‭ ‬62‭ ‬cents per capita on culture.‭ ‬Also that year,‭ ‬Palm Beach County received‭ ‬$4‭ ‬million of that money for‭ ‬44‭ ‬arts institutions.‭ ‬

A lot has changed.‭

What‭’‬s even worse is what this does to people psychologically,‭ ‬said Sherron Long,‭ ‬president of the Florida Cultural Alliance.‭ ‬With such a small amount of money available,‭ ‬many‭ ‬groups just stop trying and don‭’‬t even‭ ‬bother to apply.‭ ‬They are understaffed,‭ ‬pressed for time,‭ ‬and‭ ‬focus on the present instead.‭ ‬It‭’‬s understandable,‭ ‬but problematic in the long run.‭ ‬

“When you don‭’‬t apply,‭ ‬the sense of demand goes down,‭”‬ Long said.‭

Realistically,‭ ‬many organizations won‭’‬t see a cent from the state,‭ ‬but that doesn‭’‬t mean they shouldn‭’‬t try to be heard.‭

“You can‭’‬t give up just because it‭’‬s hard.‭ ‬We can‭’‬t be like,‭ ‬‘OK,‭ ‬this is what we want,‭’‬ and expect it to be a smooth,‭ ‬straight line,‭”‬ Long said.

One‭ ‬person who‭ ‬believes in being personally involved,‭ ‬if his organization can‭’‬t,‭ ‬is Joe Gillie,‭ ‬executive director of‭ ‬the‭ ‬Old School Square Cultural Arts Center in Delray Beach.‭ ‬On Monday,‭ ‬he gave Long a check for‭ ‬$200.‭

“I believe in what she is doing,‭”‬ Gillie said.‭ “‬She is one of the few voices we have left.‭”‬

Tricia Trimble,‭ ‬managing director of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre,‭ ‬feels like she hasn‭’‬t been as engaged as she would like to and it‭’‬s because of the heavy workload,‭ ‬particularly during season.‭

“I‭’‬m working‭ ‬16‭ ‬hours a day.‭ ‬I‭’‬m lucky if I can open an e-mail,‭”‬ she said.

Right now,‭ ‬lawmakers don‭’‬t hear enough from board members,‭ ‬administrators and regular people,‭ ‬Long said.‭ ‬Politicians are in need of overwhelming and concrete evidence that the‭ ‬arts and culture are fundamental and that people still care,‭ ‬she said.‭ ‬That could be as simple as showing them a child‭’‬s smile.

‭“‬I don‭’‬t have excitement.‭ ‬I don‭’‬t have the students and the programs.‭ ‬You do that,‭”‬ Long told the crowd Monday.‭ “‬Policymakers have to experience that.‭”

The audience at Monday‭’‬s State of‭ ‬the‭ ‬Arts gathering.

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