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Support for arts is low, study shows

For Bill Lelbach, there is little mystery in a new study of the arts in Hillsborough County. The study contains things the Tampa Players' director and others involved in the arts have been saying for some time: Governmental support for the arts is unpredictable and should be improved, and public support is so low it has all the elements of a tragedy.

"We are at a crossroads that could lead to improvement," Lelbach, the group's artistic and managing director, said Tuesday. "Part of the reason for the lack of growth in the arts is the reluctance among certain segments of the community to embrace the arts."

The study contains 40 pages that assess the cultural atmosphere of the arts in Hillsborough and offers 28 suggestions for improvement. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County, a group financed by county government, commissioned the study.

The study's release and its confirmation of community leaders' suspicions couldn't come at a better time, officials said Tuesday. A recently formed Hillsborough-Tampa Arts Development Task Force will use the study as part of its program to invigorate the arts.

The study notes how strong and diverse the Hillsborough arts community is, but says the public has failed to adequately support the arts. That lack of support, and low levels of governmental financing for programs, has hurt some arts groups. One group is the Tampa Players, which cut one of its productions this year and laid off staff.

The Tampa Ballet also has halted new productions, and the financial problems of the Florida Orchestra and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center are well known.

"One of the surprising things we found was the significant number of agencies that have involvement with the arts," said Marc Goldring of the Wolf Organization, the Cambridge, Mass., arts planning consulting company that conducted the study.

Goldring said the consultants were concerned about duplication of efforts among those agencies, like the Arts Council and a committee within the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Lelbach, who also is a member of the city-county arts task force, agrees that is a problem.

He supports using the money that goes to those various private and public arts development groups and "creating a pot to fund the arts groups themselves."

Although the study praises community and governmental support for constructing performance centers, it sees a need for a smaller, more affordable venue for local arts groups, as well as more classrooms and exhibition space. And it suggests the governments spend more money.

Goldring, however, said people should remember that money is tight everywhere, in business as well as the arts.

"People don't seem to have the same degree of panic (in business) as they do in the arts" when the money pool gets dry, Goldring said.

Among the study's other recommendations:

A public emphasis on how the arts improve the "quality of life," similar to how the community promotes sports. Officials should realize that cultural amenities, as well as major league sports, are important to businesses that might consider Tampa for expansion or relocation, the study says.

More city and county money to subsidize the use of the Performing Arts Center by local arts groups, like the Tampa Players, who have moved from the center to Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City for its current production of the play, A ShaynaMaidel ("A pretty girl" in Yiddish).