$3 million awarded to 35 arts and cultural organizations for 2024 fiscal year programs

With more ‘bed tax’ revenue available, applicants’ awards bumped up

With Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue having climbed back from the depressed levels recorded during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sarasota County Commission had $3 million to award this summer to arts and cultural organizations for programs in the 2024 fiscal year.

During a July 12 presentation to the commissioners, Julie Leach, chair of the board of directors of the Sarasota County Arts and Cultural Alliance, noted that the original total of all 36 grants her board was proposing was $2,238,449. Given the higher revenue allocated to those grants out of the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) funds, she continued, county staff and the county’s Tourist Development Council had recommended that an ”adjustment ratio” of 1.376240822 be used to bring the amount up to $3 million.

“The most an organization can request right now,” she explained, is $96,000. In the past, prior to the pandemic, the cap was $150,000, Leach added. “(We) are kind of watching [the figures] for the next three years” to determine whether to revert to the $150,000 cap, she said.

The funds available for the 2024 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, do allow some of the grants to rise to $130,000, Leach noted. However, the guidelines for the funding distribution does link the final amount each organization receives to its revenues, she explained.

Altogether, Leach said, 35 organizations submitted applications for 36 programs for FY 2024. The Ringling College of Art + Design was the entity that applied for two grants, she noted. One of those entails a program at the Englewood Art Center.

“South County gets about 12% of the allocations” for the next fiscal year, Leach added.

In years past, allegations arose that the Alliance did not offer sufficient outreach or support to South County arts and cultural organizations, to help them successfully apply for and win some of the grants. As a result, the County Commission directed Alliance leaders to enhance that outreach. Subsequently, more grants have gone to South County applicants.

Leach did remind the commissioners that the county’s goal in providing the grants is to draw more tourists to the area. She pointed out that a 2017 report of the Americans for the Arts, titled Arts and Economic Prosperity, showed that average out-of-county attendance at arts events in the United States was 34%. In connection with the county’s annual grant program, she said, the projection is that 52% of the audience members at the programs supported by the $3 million will be from outside Sarasota County.

The formal resolution that the commissioners adopted on July 12 says that the board “has determined that the projects will enable the grantees to provide activities which will enhance Sarasota County as a

visitor destination by providing appropriately high-quality culture and fine arts entertainment, festivals, exhibitions, programs or activities that directly promote Sarasota County tourism …”

During her remarks, Leach also showed the commissioners several slides about specific arts organizations in the community. For example, she noted that the Circus Arts Conservatory is “a unique Sarasota feature.” Further, she talked about the fact that the Sarasota Ballet will be heading to London for performances in 2024, thanks to the ties that company Director Iain Webb and his wife, Margaret Barbieri, the assistant director and repetiteur, have to the ballet community in that city.

Additionally, Leach noted the excitement already being generated by the expected fall 2024 opening of the $132-million Mote Science Education Aquarium (SEA) between the Mall at University Town Center and Nathan Benderson Park. (In a July 25 news release, Mote staff announced that the nonprofit had achieved a milestone in the construction of the aquarium: “Mote staff and a wave of Mote SEA corporate sponsors witnessed a large piece of an acrylic window as it was installed into the new aquarium’s largest exhibit, the Gulf of Mexico habitat.” The announcement added that “Mote SEA will be a regional hub bridging the gap between complex marine research, accessible science and technology education for all, and environmental awareness to promote science-based change for a healthier ocean.”)

During her July 12 remarks to the commissioners, Leach also pointed out that the Westcoast Black Theatre Troup, which she serves as executive director, will be headed back to Winston-Salem, N.C., for the biennial National Black Theatre Festival in the summer of 2024.

Further, she remarked on the fact that, in spite of Hurricane Ian’s devastation of the home of Venice Theatre, the company has been presenting performances in a variety of locations.

Leach expressed appreciation to all of the commissioners, on behalf of the arts organizations, “for the wonderful TDT program and the county staff that administers it … It’s been very supportive for us over the years.”

Following her presentation, Commissioner Joe Neunder made the motion to approve the grants, and Commissioner Neil Rainford seconded it.

The winners are …

The following are the grants for the 2024 fiscal year:

  • Art Center Sarasota —Exhibition Season 2023- 2024, $72,855.
  • Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota — Season 28, $64,872.
  • Asolo Repertory Theatre — 2023-2024 Season, $130,807.
  • Avenida de Colores (the Chalk Festival) — Avenue of Art, $60,210.
  • Choral Artists of Sarasota — Transformed by Words and Music, $59,468.
  • Embracing Our Differences — $71,909.
  • ensemblenewSRQ — The World Premiere of Scott Lee’s Karst, $10,786.
  • Florida Studio Theatre — 2023-2024 Season, $132,463.
  • Sarasota Orchestra —2023-2024 Season Programming, $129,152.
  • Jazz Club of Sarasota — 44th Sarasota Jazz Festival $32,256.
  • Key Chorale — 39th Season, $67,092.
  • La Musica di Asolo — 2024 Season, $27,250.
  • Mote Marine Laboratory — Life in the Watershed, $132,463.
  • New College Foundation — New Music New College 2023–2024 Season, $72,855.
  • Ringling College of Art + Design Sarasota Art Museum — Exhibition Season 2023-2024, $118,701.
  • Ringling College of Art + Design Englewood Art Center — Bullets and Bandaids: Selections from Volumes 3 & 4, $13,418.
  • Sarasota Ballet of Florida — 2023-2024 Season, $127,496.
  • Sarasota Concert Association, Inc. 2024 Great Performers Series $63,307.
  • Sarasota Contemporary Dance — 18th Main Stage Season: Exhale, $55,507.
  • Sarasota Film Festival — The 26th Annual Sarasota Film Festival $61,071.
  • Sarasota Opera Association — 2024 Winter Festival Season, $132,463.
  • Sarasota Performing Arts Center Foundation — World Class Entertainment Program, $132,463.
  • Sarasota Pops Orchestra — 2023-24 Concert Season, $26,088.
  • The Circus Arts Conservatory — Circus Sarasota 2024, $132,463.
  • The Hermitage Artist Retreat — Expanding Sarasota’s Artistic and Cultural Horizons, $75,693.
  • The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Foundation — The Ringling’s 2023-2024 Seasonal Programming, $132,463.
  • The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens —Season 2024, $132,463.
  • The Perlman Music Program/Suncoast — Perlman Suncoast 2023-2024 Classical String Performances, $67,952.
  • The Players — 94th Season, $73,801.
  • The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School — Performances 2023-24, $67,952.
  • The Venice Symphony — 50th Anniversary Season, $71,909.
  • Urbanite Theatre — 2023-2024 Main Stage Series, $75,693.
  • Venice Art Center — 2023-2024 Exhibits, $70,016.
  • Venice Theatre — Resilience-Venice Theatre’s 74th Year, $132,463.
  • Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida — Simply The Best, $129,152.
  • WSLR — 2023-2024 Fogartyville Season, $43,028.