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Shrinking state budget hurts Tampa Bay arts and entertainment

Some organizations still managed to get state funding, but the governor's veto pen hit arts and culture hard.

Local arts and cultural organizations knew they would be taking a backseat this year in the state’s budget priorities as Florida grapples with a coronavirus pandemic, but what they offer can be part of the cure, they say.

The final $92.2 billion budget approved this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis includes $13.6 million for arts and cultural affairs. That’s down from $21.2 million last year, which was still well below the requests from previous years. The cuts come during a year in which arts organizations have already been decimated by the coronavirus outbreak, which shut down live performances performances across the state.

While unemployment lines grow, Ruth Eckerd Hall sold out its recent series of cabaret shows and Disney World’s opening days next week are sold out. There’s a hunger for a mental health break, advocates say.

A pair of orphaned panther kittens was examined by the staff at ZooTampa in 2019. The zoo had sought $500,000 to expand its panther habit but it was vetoed by the governor. [ Courtesy of ZooTampa ]

“I think we all have experienced being shut down here for quite awhile and we are looking for things we can do for our mental health and physical well being, so the zoo certainly is one of the better options,” said Joe Couceiro, president of ZooTampa at Lowry Park, which reopened last month and has had a steady stream of visitors at 50 percent of its usual capacity.

But the zoo was among the casualties of the $1 billion in vetoes from the state’s budget the governor announced on Monday. The $500,00 the Legislature awarded the zoo to expand its Florida panther habitat was among them. The money would have helped to expand the area where it nurses sick and injured panthers back to health to be released back into the wild.

And the $1 million that the Straz Center for the Performing Arts had secured for its master plan was felled by the veto pen.

The performing arts center will now have to delay its plans to expand and improve the hall in a year when people are going to be most in need of some mood-lifting culture, said Donna McBride, director of grants and corporate relations at the Straz Center, which has been dark since mid-March.

“People want to find a way to feel better,” McBride said. “We are hoping we can all figure out a way to get through this and provide our services to the community.”

Related: Here's what got cut from the governor's budget in the Tampa Bay area

A report to the Florida Secretary of State last year, The Arts and Economic Prosperity, attributed $4.68 billion in economic revenue from the not-for-profit arts and cultural industry. It also supports 132,366 jobs, or it did before COVID-19 shut down much of the live shows across the state.

The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, which remains closed due to coronavirus, lost the $1 million it had sought for final engineering and architecture work for its master plan. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The cuts to the budget DeSantis signed could go deeper. It is based on revenue projections state economists made before the coronavirus hit. In other words, the sharp decline in tax revenue from the pandemic makes it extremely unlikely that the state will have $92.2 billion to spend over the next 12 months.

“With the recent and ongoing coronavirus closures, along with decreased funding from the state of Florida, the community will need to continue supporting our local cultural sector to help keep these important businesses afloat during this difficult time,” said Martine Meredith Collier, executive director of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.

For those that have so far made the cut, there are a variety of programs in this year’s budget of $13.6 million for arts and cultural affairs, though they expect to receive only about 30 percent of their original requests. Among them is FloriMezzo, the community-based youth orchestra in Hillsborough, got $10,540, instead of its original $34,000 request. And Florida CraftArt in St. Petersburg had sought $90,000 but is getting an estimated $27,900.

The Florida Holocaust Museum was one of the lucky few that was spared. It got $600,000 from the state, which it will use to develop better Holocaust education curriculum for schools. Elizabeth Gelman, the museum’s executive director, said she was pleasantly surprised by the governor’s decision to leave her organization’s funding intact.

“My jaw has dropped, but I’m very pleased,” Gelman said.

Organizations that are each expected to each get $46,500 in general funding, a 30 percent drop, include the Tampa Theatre, American Stage Company, the Straz Center, ZooTampa, the Arts Center Association of Pinellas, Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Salvador Dali Museum, the Florida Orchestra,the Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts of St. Petersburg.

A variety of other local arts organizations still in the state budget include:

Heard Em Say Youth Arts Collective, Hillsborough $1,705

Dunedin Museum, $12,400

Jobsite Theater, $13,884

Academy of Ballet Arts, Pinellas, $12,400

The Studio @620, St. Petersburg, $14,136

St. Petersburg Opera Company, $42,160

Tampa Bay Symphony of Pinellas, $3,100

Stage Works, $19,840

Choral Masterworks Festival, Hillsborough, $13,260

New Tampa Players, $5,580

Arts4All Florida, Hillsborough, $44,825

Community Stepping Stones, Hillsborough $8,936

The Tampa Film Institute, $15,182

Tampa Educational Cable Consortium, $12,710

Spanish Lyric Theatre, $4,633

Firehouse Cultural Center, $12,400

Tempus Projects, $7,541

Friends of the Festival, Hillsborough, $12,245

Friends of Carrollwood Cultural Center, $27,280

Sarasota Ballet of Florida $46,500

Hernando County Fine Arts Council $22,300

Plant City Entertainment, $3,747

St. Petersburg Warehouse Art District, $7,750