Legislators Deal Setback to the Arts

Arts Alliance

BY JIM SHIRLEY SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAY 20, 2017

Sarasota’s local arts and cultural organizations (along with every cultural organization in Florida) suffered a significant decrease in critical funding from this year's legislative session. This is especially perplexing when you consider that nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Florida generate more than $3.1 billion in spending each year, support over 88,326 full-time equivalent jobs, generate $2.1 billion in household income to local residents and deliver $446.5 million in local and state government revenue. In Sarasota County alone, the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations provide over 5,000 jobs, making them one of the largest employers in the county. These same organizations also spend over $180 million each year on goods and services provided by area businesses.

In recognition of these enviable achievements, the legislature proposed a cut of almost 60 percent from the fully vetted and recommended funding levels for the Cultural and Museum Grant program. This recommendation will have a direct, devastating impact on 480 cultural institutions statewide, including 17 of Sarasota County’s largest organizations. The outcomes are simple to assess. Organizations like Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Ballet, Florida Studio Theatre and Asolo Repertory Theatre and more who qualify for $ 150,000 in grant funding are recommended to receive approximately one third of that amount. In the nonprofit arts world, it is exceptionally difficult to make up that kind of financial support in ticket sales or local sponsorships.

It is difficult to understand the legislature’s thinking in this process when you consider that every dollar granted to these organizations must be matched dollar for dollar by the organization as a stipulation of the grant requirements. Additionally, numerous studies show that every dollar invested in the cultural arts programs generates another $5 in spending by local residents, tourists and businesses. Any logical businessperson or investor would see that this represents an outstanding return on investment and would seek more of them.

As Florida continues the tremendous population growth that we are experiencing, we should be supporting programs that are financially sound and improve our quality of life and education, not cutting them. We must do a better job on the local level to help our legislators understand how important arts and culture are as an economic driver and tourism generator. Advocacy only works when we join together to generate a loud voice that says the arts do matter. Every letter and every telephone call helps. We hope you will join us in letting your voice be heard by our local legislators and to the legislative leadership in Tallahassee.

Jim Shirley is executive director for the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County.

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