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Hundreds of Florida arts groups scramble for funding after DeSantis vetoes grants


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has vetoed more than $30 million in state budget grants that fund arts and culture organizations. From member station WLRN in Miami, Wilkine Brutus reports that many of those groups are now worried about layoffs.

WILKINE BRUTUS, BYLINE: It's the first time anyone can remember that there was no money for arts organizations in Florida's state budget. Jennifer Sullivan is with the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County.

JENNIFER SULLIVAN: It was definitely a surprise for us in the industry.

BRUTUS: An industry that often uses these state dollars to match individual contributions from private donors. It helps pay for everything from salaries and rent to free tickets for kids. The $32 million cut was among nearly $1 billion DeSantis struck from the budget approved by the legislature. He justified the cut to all arts by talking about two Fringe Festivals in Orlando and Tampa, festivals that often feature drag shows and other artistic performances.


RON DESANTIS: You have your tax dollars being given in grants to things like the Fringe Festival, which is like a sexual festival where they're doing all this stuff, and it's like, how many of you think your tax dollars should go to fund that?

BRUTUS: A spokesman for the governor said the arts cuts were in the state's best interest to reduce overall government spending. Arts organizations are trying to adjust to the sudden cuts.


BRUTUS: That's a Latin jazz jam session at the arts garage in Delray Beach. It's a small venue with music, theater and comedy shows. It was expecting more than $70,000 in state funding.

MARJORIE WALDO: It's going to potentially impact the quality of our programming. It's going to impact the quantity of our programming.

BRUTUS: Marjorie Waldo is president and CEO.

WALDO: We gave out over a thousand free tickets in the last year. We'll have to look at every dollar differently as a result of this.

CHARLENE FARRINGTON: So yeah, this was very shocking. I never in my wildest dreams anticipated this.

BRUTUS: That's Charlene Farrington. She runs the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach, a nonprofit museum preserving Black history. They were hoping for around $30,000 in state grants.

FARRINGTON: But the removal of funding indicates a removal of support.

BRUTUS: She said the museum is still trying to figure out how to make up the difference. Before these cuts, Florida ranked 11th in a nation per capita in funding for the arts. That's according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. The Florida Cultural Alliance surveyed more than a hundred arts organizations across the state about the impact of the governor's decision. About 70% said they will have to make adjustments and likely cut programming and reduce staff. Jennifer Jones is president of the Alliance.

JENNIFER JONES: Five percent of the respondents are going to have to cease operations. That's important. It means they're going to go away.

BRUTUS: According to analysis by the state of Florida, arts and culture organizations generate nearly $6 billion a year in economic activity. It attracts tourist activity and employs a lot of people. And that's a message arts leaders say they will take to state lawmakers next year, says Jones.

JONES: We're going to have to engage, become friends with the person who thought it was the best interest of the state to totally wipe us out and come to some good understanding and appreciation for each other's position in hopes that it doesn't happen again and demonstrate that we're good partners.

BRUTUS: Arts leaders say those conversations will start immediately.

For NPR News, I'm Wilkine Brutus in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Wilkine Brutus
Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.