Local Arts Orgs Respond to Shocking Budget Cuts

Photo via Pexels, then manipulated with AI generating software.

Local arts and cultural organizations are reeling after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis zeroed out more than $32 million in state grants approved by the Republican-controlled legislature in the state’s $116.5 billion fiscal year 2025 budget.

While DeSantis and his allies pointed out that the cuts were a small part of $950 million in line-item vetoes, including many pet projects championed by Republican lawmakers, arts organizations charged the governor with again fomenting conservative culture wars against “woke” causes.

For decades, arts advocates have documented the business case for funding, with some organizations calculating up to a 9:1 return on investment, including audience spending, production expenses, staff salaries and other related economic activity.

Broward Cultural Division, the county’s arts agency, noted that less than 10 years ago, Florida ranked third in the nation in arts funding and had been trending “in the middle of the pack.” The 2025 budget puts Florida “squarely at the bottom.”

In an open letter, Director Phillip Dunlap said 54 local grant requests totaling $3.3 million would go unfunded next year. 

“This funding supports jobs, programming, tourism and contributes to a $386 million economic impact in Broward County,” Dunlap wrote.

Among the Broward County organizations affected are Bonnet House, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, Master Chorale of South Florida, Museum of Discovery and Science, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, South Florida Symphony, Stranahan House and Symphony of the Americas, as well as museums and arts venues in Coral Springs, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Hollywood, Miramar, Oakland Park, Pembroke Pines and Pompano Beach.

Eight LGBTQ-specific organizations were also affected: ArtsUnited, Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida, Island City Stage, Plays of Wilton (POW!), South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, Stonewall National Museum, Archives & Library, Thinking Cap Theatre and World AIDS Museum.

For most of the organizations, programming for the upcoming season has already been finalized and budgets set. The Symphony of the Americas is now facing a $100,000 shortfall, said Executive Director Steven Haines.

“It is very difficult to ‘make up’ this level of funding from one source. Period. Arts organization have few options to substitute this level of funding loss … Symphony of the Americas has been driving a three-year growth trend, with significant increases in concert attendance and fundraising. The state just forced us into a position of deficit fundraising,” Haines added.

Among the LGBTQ groups, the Gay Men’s Chorus was dealt the largest blow, given the scope of its budget, along with the Stonewall National Museum. Each nonprofit will now have to fill a $40,000 void created by the loss of state funding. 

“It is extremely difficult to run a non-profit organization when your income streams are volatile. Our programming for the year is in place. Halls are rented. Artists are contracted … now, we now have to identify new funding sources or begin to make cuts that will impact the artistry that we put on stage,” said Mark Kent, executive director of the chorus.

Many of the organizations responded quickly to the news and took to email and social media to rally their donors and supporters.

Ronnie Larsen, executive producer of Plays of Wilton (POW!) at The Foundry in Wilton Manors, pointed out his next production is titled, “A Shonda.” In an email, he wrote, “It’s a reminder of the work we are doing and the work our governor is trying to stop by pulling our funding. A ‘shonda’ means ‘a shame’ and this news from DeSantis is a shonda!”

The Foundry’s patrons have already made up the small grant Larsen was expecting from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, he reported. In his email, he also encouraged readers to support other nonprofits who may also be in need.

The Our Fund Foundation, a South Florida LGBTQ philanthropic fund that also assisted many local arts groups through the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to step up and help the local LGBTQ organizations bridge the funding gaps.

“This is where working at the intersection of people who care and causes that matter can make the difference,” said Our Fund CEO David Jobin. “We are calling on our network of LGBTQ and allied philanthropists at this critical juncture to step up and donate to Our Fund’s Arts & Culture Fund. All gifts received before July 31 will be distributed to the eight agencies in accordance with the size of gifts that were cut by the state. If Our Fund is successful in raising $170,500, each agency will be made whole.” 

In an email to OutSFL, Jobin pulled no punches about the governor’s vetoes, saying, “…all of this is happening while tens of millions of dollars are spent defending DeSantis’ flailing anti-woke agenda in the courts — without a single win in their column. This is an ill-considered policy decision made by a governor who certainly embodies bad fiscal decision-making, as evidenced by the $168 million spent on his failed presidential run.”

Symphony of the Americas’ Haines summed up the feelings of many, “While I am shocked, unfortunately, I am not surprised. Cultural arts are the clearest representations of diversity, equity and inclusion … Yet, over the last few years, there has been a trend in this state to eliminate those diverse voices. It makes no economic sense to eliminate funding for an entire sector of Florida’s significant economy.”

But Broward Cultural Division’s Dunlap offered the most practical advice, urging concerned citizens, “Our collective voice still has power … Let’s do our part to be involved in advocating for what our sector needs and what our community values. Convey this to elected officials at the state level. At the local level, be consistent in your engagement with city and county commissioners. Let them know that funding arts and culture is important to you…”


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Corrections: editorial@outsfl.com

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