Orlando Arts Groups Hit Hard by Budget Vetoes

ORLANDO — Professional theater and arts groups in Central Florida are still reeling from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to veto $32 million in arts grants approved by state lawmakers, the first time that arts and theater companies have found themselves getting no funding at all from the state.

 Chris Brown, the executive director of Orlando Family Stage, said the cuts will make it harder for communities theaters like his to maintain their operational budgets.

“Defunding the arts is a short-sighted decision with long-term repercussions. Arts and culture are not fringe activities, but central to our humanity,” Brown noted. “It is time for our leaders to recognize that the arts are essential and take action. Funding for arts and culture is an investment in the state’s future, promoting a thriving, dynamic, and inclusive community and should be a priority. The governor should reconsider his priorities and restore this crucial funding.”

Why Did Florida’s Governor Veto Arts Grants?

Florida government has been providing arts grants for decades, and even during tough times such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The governor did not specify why he made the line item vetoes of all arts grants. His press office issue a statement noting that his veto decisions were “in the best interests of the State of Florida.”

Brown called this veto “a devastating blow to our community … this veto eradicates essential support for organizations like mine, Orlando Family Stage, and further reveals a gross misunderstanding of the value arts institutions bring to a healthy society.”

Orlando Family Stage, located at 1001 E. Princeton St. in Loch Haven Park, has been providing family-oriented theater productions for decades, and was previously know as the Orlando Repertory Theater. Brown noted that his theater company had expected to receive $150,000 from the state, but now that funding is gone.

“For organizations that already have limited resources, this elimination strikes a fatal blow,” he noted, and said it was especially frustrating at a time when the state budget is a whopping $116.5 billion.

“Such a move dismisses the critical role of the arts in fostering healthy and vibrant communities,” he said.

What Happens to Arts Groups Now?

Brown noted that Orlando Family Stage is far from being the only local arts or theatre company now forced to make very difficult decisions about their budgets.

“In Central Florida, we have over 82 arts and culture organizations that receive funding from the state of Florida arts and culture grants,” he noted. “The recommendation was a measly $6.9 million dollars to support the 82 organizations — 82 organizations whose missions directly serve our community in incredible ways. Our organization alone supports 40,000 student field trips each year.

“The Florida Agricultural Promotional Campaign Trust Fund is receiving $27.5 million dollars in a ‘permanent distribution’ to promote thoroughbred breeding and racing. I can’t imagine that allocation is impacting 40,000 children each year,” he added.

For years, Florida government has been awarding funds to non-profit cultural organizations in four Grant categories, and this year, state lawmakers approved $32 million in two categories: $26 million in cultural and museum grants that support programming, and $6 million in the Cultural Facilities Grants, which provides funds that can be used for building projects.

The entire amount got eliminated by the governor’s veto.

In a report titled “The Arts Mean Business,United Arts of Central Florida noted that Orlando’s nonprofit arts and culture sector “is a significant industry in the City of Orlando — one that generates $189.2
million in total economic activity. This spending — $123.6 million by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and an additional $65.6 million in event-related spending by their audiences — supports 6,907 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $162.5 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $15.6 million in local and state government revenue.”

Their conclusion: “(W)hen we support the arts, we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest
in the City of Orlando’s economic well-being.”

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the terrifying book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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