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Arts / Culture

Jacksonville Arts, Culture Organizations Plan For Cuts After Legislative Session

Jacksonville students stay after school to learn visual and performing arts through the Cathedral Arts Project.
Jacksonville students stay after school to learn visual and performing arts through the Cathedral Arts Project.

Florida arts organizations are saying they feel like losers in this year’s state budget process.

Hundreds of them that pull from a single pot of funding are seeing drastic cuts.

Other cultural organizations gambled on a different process to win state dollars, just to see those projects vetoed by Governor Rick Scott.

Impacts On Programs

In Duval County, fifth-grader Maia Thaxton was sticking around after school at John E. Ford Montessori School Tuesday.

“I love this program. I’ve been in here  since I was in first grade,” she said.

She and the other kids in her twice-weekly arts program through the Cathedral Arts Project were practicing for a big show at the University of North Florida.

“We’re doing The Wiz,” she said, adding that her number has a gospel feel, and she gets to wear a gold skirt.

“I’m really excited to do this one because I love gold,” Maia said.

Cathedral Arts Project CEO Kimberly Hyatt said these classes are the main way they connect kids with the visual and performing arts.

But the just-approved state funding is less than a quarter of last year’s. Though Cathedral Arts was initially recommended for the maximum program grant — $150,000 — it will be getting less than $10,000 for its overall $2 million budget.

“It will have a one-to-one affect on how many after-school programs we can offer, how many students we can serve,” Hyatt said.

A Rigorous Process

Somewhere around 500 organizations applied for parts of the main pot of state arts money  called general program support. After a rigorous vetting process by arts and culture experts, 489 of them were  recommended to have their requests fully funded and split more than $40 million.

But lawmakers then cut the entire pot to $2.6 million, close to the same amount recommended for Duval County organizations alone. Organizations are getting about 6 percent of what they’d been recommended for.

Jacksonville arts community leader and activist  Hope McMath chairs the Florida Council for Arts and Culture — a group appointed by the governor and legislature leadership. The Council is responsible for approving a different pot of money: cultural facilities grants. Those are the largest arts and culture grants available, running up to $500,000 each for buildings like museums and symphony halls. None of those are getting funded.

“It is unfortunately one of the worst funding years we’ve experienced for arts and culture in the state of Florida,” McMath said.

Which she finds surprising.

“Because the general coffers for the state were more robust than some years past,” she said. “Obviously there were many, many competing priorities, as there always are in Tallahassee.”

Including hurricanes and reacting to last month’s school shooting.

This Session Was Different

Organizations don’t typically expect to receive the full amount of their asks, but this year’s is the lowest funding anyone can recall McMath said. Compared to this session’s $2.6 million for arts grants, last year the legislature  approved nearly $25 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The year before  it was $32 million.

“For smaller organizations, it’ll mean less access to their programs and it will mean fewer programs,” McMath said.

Like the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus, with half the budget of Cathedral Arts. Its president Darren Dailey said the chorus may have to consider increasing ticket prices.

“They’re shooting themselves in the foot over a teaspoon of money,” he said.

He said he doesn’t believe the cuts are a good economic decision as  studies have shown cities with vibrant arts and culture, have tourists staying longer. This past summer the Florida Department of State highlighted the  $4.68 billion economic impact of arts and culture in the state.

Rolling The Dice

At the same time, other groups rolled the dice on securing funding another way, by asking lawmakers for project line items in the budget. That way, they risk the governor’s veto, but they can ask for more than the largest grants available.

“That certainly siphons money off from the collective whole and those grants don’t go through the vetting process,” McMath said.

So while nearly 500 organizations are splitting $2.6 million, the legislature approved more than $4 million in arts and culture projects for  just nine organizations.

But Governor Scott  vetoed six of them on Friday, including the largest arts and culture award:  $1.6 million toward expanding and renovating the military museum at Camp Blanding.

Post Commander Colonel Matt Johnson said in an interview before Scott’s veto the project is critical as the museum is losing artifacts because the building isn’t climitized and, he sees a bigger role for the institution as potentially becoming the state’s military history museum.

“To be clear, the Florida National Guard did not seek an appropriation for this, the historical associates were seeking ways to get the word out about this museum,” Johnson said.

Meaning, the volunteer group that runs the museum is leading the fundraising.  And he said WJCT partially helped with that, with a Camp Blanding documentary.

“Probably through the  video that WJCT helped produce, the word got out to a lot of people in the area, people began to take interest and a House representative put in an appropriation,” he said.

Some other Florida arts and culture projects Scott vetoed include $500,000 for the American Craftsman Museum and $30,000 for Florida Symphony Youth Orchestras.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

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