Sarasota County awards $2 million in arts grants

Posted on June 22, 2018

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Tourist tax revenues provide a slight boost over 2017 totals

After suffering major funding cuts from the state, Sarasota County’s arts and cultural non-profits are getting a modest boost in grants from local tourist tax collections.

The Sarasota County Commission has approved $2.05 million that will be divided among 37 different institutions (one more than last year), a slight increase from the nearly $2 million allocated in 2017.

While most organizations will receive about the same amounts as last year, a few will see significant gains. Urbanite Theatre will get a 73 percent boost ($36,291), Key Chorale will enjoy a 71 percent increase ($43,650), the Hermitage Artist Retreat will receive 40 percent more ($33,711) and the Sarasota Concert Association will see a 27 percent bonus ($46,116).

The funds come from a portion of the tax tourists pay for hotel stays. Arts and culture organizations get a small percentage of each $1 of these revenues. The grants have traditionally been awarded for programming that might increase the number of visitors to the area.

There was a major boost in tax revenues in 2017 when commissioners voted to keep $665,000 in reserve in case of potential downturns in the future.

While this year’s allocations are generally in line with what has been awarded in the last few years, the money will not make up for the drastic cuts in the new state budget that affected 11 of the county’s non-profit arts and culture groups.

The budget provided just $2.65 million in the Cultural and Museum Grants category, which is shared by about 480 organizations. That compares with $11.1 million in 2017 and $19 million in 2016. This year, organizations received about 7 percent of what would qualify for in a year with full funding for the programs.

Bruce Rodgers, executive director of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, said that because his organization has a relatively small budget the tourist tax funding “has a significant impact. It lets us reach a larger audience for our artists and our artist programs.” Writers, painters, musicians and others from different disciplines work on new projects during residencies at the Hermitage campus on Manasota Key and are required to take part in two public programs during their time here.

Rodgers said that the Hermitage had not applied for tourist tax funds until last year because the organization wasn’t sure it would be competitive in terms of the impact it has on tourism.

“But tourism is growing in the south part of the county and people are coming here to see our programs and experience the incredible artists we have when they do their programs on the beach,” he said.

Venice Chorale, the lone entry not on last year’s list, received the smallest grant of $4,095. The organization was formed in 2002 as the concert choir known as Exsultate!. It has since expanded to include chamber and youth choirs, as well as an apprentice program.

Other grants range from $9,700 for the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, to more than $90,000 each to the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Mote Marine Laboratory, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Ballet. Florida Studio Theatre and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe each will receive more than $85,000.

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