State Politics

Budget includes $2M for the arts

MANATEE — Money for the arts had been “zeroed” out of the budget that is slated for passage Friday in the Florida Legislature, but a last-minute rescue in the form of federal stimulus dollars resulted in a $2 million statewide appropriation, a local legislator said Wednesday.

“It’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s better than nothing,” said state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, whose district boasts a wealth of cultural facilities, including the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

With legislators scratching for money this year after the recession decimated their usual sources of revenue, the $66.5 billion budget that’s up for a final vote in both chambers Friday was so lean, the arts had been completely left out.

“We found $1 million in stimulus money, and if you had a million match, you could get stimulus dollars,” said Fitzgerald. “Two million was added back in at the last minute. It’s a given; it’s a big issue for our area.”

“Stimulus money really saved the State of Florida a huge amount on this budget,” said Fitzgerald.

The money will be divided among arts groups across the state, but Fitzgerald did not know exactly which ones would be eligible, he said.

“It’s all sort of coming into focus now,” he added. “The budget just gives you broad categories.”

Janene Witham, development director for The Manatee Players Inc., a community theater group based in Bradenton, said it was too early to say whether her organization might be able to apply for some of the money.

“I don’t know where it is in the budget, there’s so many niches within,” she said. “I can’t answer your question.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908.