Bradenton arts groups fare well in state budget; Sarasota has mixed results

mclear@bradenton.comMay 4, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Nonprofit arts groups in Florida are generally disappointed in the numbers they see in the state's proposed 2013-14 budget. But two Bradenton organizations are thrilled with the amount of grant money they're slated to receive; reactions are mixed in Sarasota.

The budget allocates $5 million for the arts through its cultural and museum grants program, the largest of three line items in the budget concerning arts funding, That's the same amount as last year. The Florida Cultural Alliance, an arts advocacy group, had requested $14 million. FCA's goal is to get the state to return to the 2006-07 level of $34.1 million in arts funding.

But even though the dollar amount is the same this year as last, it's spread more thinly. A total of 279 arts organizations, about 15 percent more than last year, will get a share of that $5 million.

Only three Manatee County arts groups are among the recipients. Manatee Players is set to receive $26,700 and the South Florida Museum will get $33,844. Southern Atelier will receive $3,357. That's about the same as last year.

"It's terrific," said Brynne Anne Besio, executive director of South Florida Museum. "It goes into our general operating support so we can pay staff and enhance exhibitions and programs."

Arts groups submit grant proposals to the state more than a year in advance with requests for funding. Panels of arts professionals evaluate each proposal and assign a score based on such factors as the organization's programming and financial stability. The amount of money requested always exceeds the amount available, so each organization's score determines what percentage of the requested amount it actually receives.

"If you don't score as highly as you hope, you look at that as a learning opportunity," Besio said. "You ask 'What can we do to improve?' "

Janene Witham, executive director of Manatee Players, said support is welcome, no matter where it comes from and how much it is.

"Just a little over $20,000 may seem insignificant to some, but it's greatly appreciated," she said. "All support, whether it's from our local donors or from the state, is important in our day-to-day programming."

The numbers for Sarasota County were mixed. The Sarasota Film Festival is getting $36,248, the highest amount for any organization in the area.

"We're thrilled," said chairman and president Mark Famiglio. "I don't think we got any last year. We're humbled to be receiving this money. The arts are an important economic generator to the state, but especially to this area. The state's not throwing its money around. It recognizes the importance of the arts."

But Sarasota Opera saw its state funding drop by about 15 percent to $34,576 -- and much less than the $150,000 it had requested.

"We are, of course, grateful for any funding we receive," executive director Richard Russell said. "However, we are disappointed to learn that funding has decreased. It is moments like this that illustrate how much more proactive arts leaders need to be in reminding our legislators of the significant cultural and, more importantly, economic impact the arts have on the community of Sarasota."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411. ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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