BROOKSVILLE — Organizers of the annual Art in the Park show got some good news last week when Hernando County commissioners granted the group $2,500 from the county Tourist Development Council's reserves to help with promoting the event. In return, the county will be designated as the official sponsor of the event.
Paul Shaskan, the coordinator for the art show, which is scheduled to take place March 15 and 16 at Tom Varn Park, said that after his request was turned down by tourism development coordinator Tammy Heon, he felt the commission was his best hope.
"The show has proven itself to be a good draw for the area for many years," Shaskan said. "It brings in artists and people who love art from outside of the county. Obviously, every commissioner agreed with me."
Heon said that while bed tax revenue is up 11.9 percent over the past year, tourist development board members do not feel revenue has recovered to a level to comfortably reinstate grant funding. She said that she would be happy to sit down with Art in the Park and other event organizers to explore other marketing strategies that are more cost-effective.
"It is a wonderful event, and the people who put it together every year work hard to make it a success," Heon said. "But people have to remember that my job is to market the entire county 365 days a year. Doing that involves using my resources wisely."
The TDC's event promotion grant program ended in 2010. That year, it divvied up $15,750 among promoters of such events as the Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest, the Brooksville Raid, the Art N' Market Walk and Reggae Sunfest.
But a sharp decline in bed tax revenue forced the TDC to curtail the program, which Heon said brought only marginal benefit. Since then, the Florida Blueberry Festival is the only event to garner any kind of county help. Last year, commissioners voted to give the festival $14,000 to help cover the cost of road closures.
Shaskan said that while he agrees the blueberry festival deserves county support, he believes other events shouldn't be overlooked. In fact, he said, attendance figures from the TDC show that the art show — which began in 1983 as the Masaryktown Arts, Crafts and Music Festival — attracted an average of 3,550 people in 2008 and 2009. The only other countywide event that drew larger crowds was the Swamp Fest, which drew an average of 8,000 visitors.
Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said that the art show's track record of drawing visitors from outside the area made it a worthwhile event for him to support.
"These kinds of requests are always done on a case-by-case basis," Dukes said. "And to me, this is a good thing to have in our community every year. It has solid track record for bringing visitors into the county."
Heon said that she would consider reinstating some form of promotional grants during this year's budget planning sessions. "We need to sit down and figure out what works and what doesn't," she said. "But the most important thing is that we come up with a grant plan that we can afford to administer."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.