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FSU budget cuts continue to affect Ringling, Asolo

SARASOTA — A plan to cut $56.6 million from Florida State University’s budget calls for the university-run Ringling Museum of Art and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training program to be financially self-sufficient within three years.

FSU’s Board of Trustees approved the three-year plan Wednesday, leaving Ringling and the graduate acting program to rethink how they function.

“Everyone is concerned,” said Chip Willis, the museum’s chief operating officer. “But we are going to approach it positively. . . . FSU has a sizable investment in Sarasota between the center for performing arts and the acting program. The med school is here in town. (The plan) is probably working together to look at ways that we can earn more of our revenue.”

Ringling already has been hit with $1.7 million in cuts for next year. Its board of directors will meet today to discuss ways to implement the reductions. Possible plans include shifting staffing expenses from the university to the museum and reducing programs.

Admission and membership fees also will rise, but there are no estimates yet for how much, Willis said.

Out of the museum’s $13.5 million annual budget, 46 percent is funded through the state; 41 percent is earned revenue. The remaining money is from endowment earnings, gifts and grants.

The conservatory has an annual operating budget of $2.5 million. It already eliminated a position in the tiny department last year. Artistic director Greg Leaming said there is nothing else left to cut.

“We are bare bones right now,” he said.

Part of the conservatory’s budget is devoted to building maintenance and upkeep along with security.

Leaming said if his department doesn’t have a plan in place soon, it may have to consider canceling recruitment for 2010-11’s 12-member class. That would create a ripple effect at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, which uses conservatory students in the three-year program as understudies and casting for its large-scale productions.

“The Asolo cannot function the way it is right now without the conservatory,” Leaming said.

Yet the conservatory may have fared better than its counterparts in Tallahassee — the Theatre MFA Lighting, the Theatre MFA Scenic Design and the Art Education BS programs, which have been suspended under the three-year plan.

FSU’s Board of Trustees also approved up to 200 faculty and staff layoffs university-wide, the restructuring or suspension of other academic programs and a 15 percent tuition increase for next year.

Browning Brooks, FSU director of news and public affairs, said the plan is subject for reconsideration later if the economy recovers.

Federal stimulus funds of $22.9 million will help the university get by during the first two years of the plan, according to FSU’s budget crisis committee.

Despite economic woes, the Ringling Museum hopes to remain thriving.

“John Ringling went through tough times and he made it happen,” said Willis. “We’re going to continue the Ringling legacy. We’re not going anywhere.”

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