Orlando Fringe Denies Being a "Sexual" Festival

ORLANDO — Orlando Fringe is calling on the public and all theater & arts lovers to donate to their favorite artistic organization after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed funding for all state art grants, and the organizers of the Orlando international Fringe Theatre Festival also denied being a “sexual” event, an accusation made by the Republican governor.

DeSantis recently cut $32 million in funding for all arts grants, despite the fact that Florida government has been providing arts grants for decades. That was true even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when theater companies were shut down during the lockdowns.

The governor initially issued a press statement noting that his veto decisions were made “in the best interests of the State of Florida,” but he later claimed that the cuts were in retaliation for the content at Orlando Fringe.

At a recent press conference, DeSantis said he cuts the funds approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature because some of it was “being given in grants to things like the Fringe Festival, which is like a sexual festival where they’re doing all this stuff.”

DeSantis did not clarify what “stuff” was a reference to.

But Orlando Fringe said that characterization is way off the mark.

How Did Orlando Fringe Respond to Ron DeSantis’ Criticism?

“In referring to the fringe as a ‘sexual’ festival, he incorrectly characterized our festival and misrepresented our contributions to the arts community, locally, nationally and internationally,” Fringe noted.

As the longest-running Fringe Festival in the U.S., Fringe pointed out that its main mission has remained the same for decades: to “foster a vibrant community of artists, providing low barriers of entry to produce and enjoy art across diverse genres including theatre, dance, music, puppetry, circus, as well as children’s programming and visual arts. Orlando Fringe is proud to be part of a network of over 200 Fringes across the world, contributing to a global movement of artistic expression and cultural exchange.”

Fringe also noted that it does not censor content at the festival, leaving creative decisions to the individual artists. Productions at Fringe are selected by a lottery system held every December, and submissions are not judged on content, either.

Noting that the Sunshine State is home to four Fringe festivals which include Tampa Fringe, Fort Myers Fringe, and Squeaky Wheel Fringe, Orlando Fringe pointed out that these theater festivals “play a crucial role in enriching the vibrant arts and cultural landscape of Florida, for which Governor DeSantis vetoed funding.”

The Arts Mean Business,” a report by the United Arts of Central Florida, concluded 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.”

Supporting for the arts, the report concluded, means “we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest in the City of Orlando’s economic well-being.”

Orlando Fringe wholeheartedly agreed.

“To veto all state arts funding in Florida based on one aspect of a large and growing arts industry ignores the economic, cultural, and quality of life benefits the arts provide to the communities they serve,” Fringe noted.

An Arts & Economic Prosperity report by Americans for the Arts found that in Orange County, Florida alone, the arts contribute $15 million to state and local taxes and provide upwards of 3,200 jobs.

How Can Supporters Of The Arts Help?

Orlando Fringe is calling on people everywhere to donate to their favorite arts and theater companies.

“Now more than ever, Orlando Fringe and all arts organizations across Florida need your support,” Fringe noted. “Please consider making a donation to your favorite local arts organization. And if Orlando Fringe is among your favorites you can donate at our website Orlandofringe.org/donate.”

Fringe also called on arts and theater supporters to “make your voice heard” by emailing Gov. DeSantis’ office or calling his office at 850-717-9337 “to share why Fringe Festivals are important to you.”

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.

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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