Florida arts groups left in the lurch by DeSantis veto of state funding for theaters and museums

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Coral Gables Art Cinema will be short more than $100,000 this year. About $150,000 has suddenly disappeared from the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra's budget. The Miami New Drama also has an unexpected $150,000 budget hole.

Across Florida, arts groups are scrambling after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis unexpectedly vetoed $32 million in arts funding on June 12, eliminating all state grants for those organizations in a move that advocates say will devastate arts and culture in the Sunshine State.

“What baffles me is that Florida has been trying to attract business from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and what message are we sending if we cut funding to our cultural organizations?” said Michel Hausmann, artistic director and co-founder of the Miami New Drama in Miami Beach. “Are you going to attract people to a state where arts and culture aren’t valued? They are the lifeline of a city.”

Arts leaders across the state say it's the first time they recall a Florida governor eliminating all grant funding for arts and culture, and it comes as arts organizations that survived COVID-19 pandemic closures are still recovering with smaller attendance and revenues.

For the more than 600 arts groups and facilities that were up for state grants, DeSantis' veto was a surprise because the Legislature had approved arts funding, though what lawmakers approved was less than half of what was initially recommended by the state Division of Arts and Culture. Florida arts organizations had planned their budgets accordingly.

When asked at a news conference on Thursday why he vetoed arts funding in the state's $116.5 billion budget, DeSantis said some of the money was slotted for programming that many taxpayers would find objectionable because of its sexual nature or for other reasons.

“When I see money being spent that way, I have to be the one to stand up for taxpayers and say, ‘You know what, that is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars,’" DeSantis said. “I think the Legislature needs to reevaluate how that's being done.”

Most arts groups are still assessing the impact, but some may have to cut programming or staff.

“We are appealing to the community to help cover part of the budget deficit and we are exploring other funding opportunities in the private sector,” said Brenda Moe, executive director of Coral Gables Art Cinema. “We must get creative to plug this hole."

The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra will trim expenses, look for a way to increase revenue and hope county and city officials fill some of the gap, said Karina Bharne, the symphony's executive director.

State grants made up 10% of the Coral Gables Art Cinema's budget, more than 3% of the Miami New Drama's budget and around 2% of the Orlando Philharmonic's budget.

PEN America, the free-speech nonprofit, likened the arts funding cuts to legislative priorities pushed by the DeSantis administration, such as laws limiting what can be said in classrooms about sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibiting the teaching of an academic framework outlining the ways systemic racism is part of American society.

”DeSantis is taking his war on culture to a new level," said Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America’s Florida office. "This decision will not only devastate the arts but add to his legacy of censorship and disregard for art, literature, and knowledge.”

State grants are important to Florida arts groups not only because of their monetary size but because they can be used for salaries, rent, insurance and utilities. Often, private donors make gifts with strings attached for certain programs or performances. Ticket sales cover as little as a third of some arts groups' budgets.

“It hurts us dramatically in our ability to pay rent and pay salaries,” said Robert Kesten, executive director of the Stonewall National Museum Archives & Library in Fort Lauderdale, which had been expecting $42,300 from the state this year.

To overcome shortfalls, arts groups may have to explore alternative fundraising strategies, such as tapping new Florida residents who haven't donated before, or collaborate with each other by sharing staff, spaces, costumes or sets, said Jennifer Evins, president and CEO of United Arts of Central Florida in Orlando.

Florida's arts and cultural industry generates $5.7 billion in economic activity a year, including $2.9 billion by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, and supports more than 91,000 full-time jobs, according to a study from Americans for the Arts in collaboration with the state Division of Arts and Culture and Citizens for Florida Arts Inc.

“We make a huge impact on the quality of life. We make the state more appealing, and we don't cost money,” Hausmann said. “There's no justification for this cut unless it's trying to make a political statement. It's not an economic one.”


Associated Press reporters Cody Jackson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this report.


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