Funding designed to boost tourism
With plaudits for the fairness in the process that leads to the recommendations, the Sarasota County Commission this week approved grants totaling $2,057,500 — out of Tourist Development Tax revenue — for 39 arts and cultural programs in the 2019 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1.
Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, told the four commissioners present on June 13 that the panel of volunteers that reviews all the grant applications found each of the 39 proposals to meet the necessary criteria for the awards. The panel’s deliberations include a review of each applicant organization’s finances, he noted.
Thirty-seven organizations submitted applications, Shirley reported.
And while the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies counts arts and cultural programs successful if about 30% of the audience members are tourists, Shirley pointed out, the projected tourist attendance for the Sarasota County programs getting the grants for FY19 is 57%.
The reality, he continued, is “every year, about 2.5 million people [in Sarasota County] attend performances or exhibits,” though a person may be counted more than once, depending on the number of events to which the individual goes.
“Our groups are very, very successful in helping to drive tourism for Sarasota County,” he said. “To me, the big effect is the spillover effect.”
From June 18-23, he noted, Venice Theatre in Venice is hosting the AACTWorldFest, an international theater festival that will bring to Sarasota County performers from 15 countries. It is the third time since 2010 that Venice Theatre has hosted the event.
Additionally, Shirley said, the Sarasota Music Festival is taking place, with “top musicians from all over the world,” who have been accompanied by family members.
“This is what used to be called the ‘off season,’” he pointed out.
The 37 organizations that applied for grants for the 2019 fiscal year, Shirley told the board, sought $2,180,711. Therefore, the panel had to apportion to them the amount of Tourist Development Tax revenue available for the programs.
He also reminded the commissioners that in 2012, “we were asked to really work hard at being able to increase the amount [of grant awards] in the southern part of the county,” as well as to enable more South County organizations — and others — to win grants. For FY19, he continued, the amount going to South County entities will be $288,170, which is about 14% of the total.
The only new grant recipient in the latest group, he pointed out, is based in South County: Venice Chorale.
The scores the grants panel awarded the applications for the next fiscal year ranged from 86% to 100%, he added.
“Even here in the ‘happy’ category, people can see how complex this could be,” Chair Nancy Detert pointed out. “In the old days, when Sarasota was just a small town, we had a lot of political influence on these grants,” she said, with people lobbying for their “pet thing.”
She told Shirley, “You have cleaned all that up and have a fair, open process to everyone.”
Commissioner Charles Hines, who chairs the county’s Tourist Development Council, then talked about that board’s being able to hear a presentation in May by Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of Florida Studio Theatre (FST) in Sarasota, “about how this [grant] money makes a difference.”
FST has been applying for grants since the county began the program, Shirley noted.
“It’s really interesting to see how it’s evolved,” Hines continued. FST has grown to encompass five stages, he said, illustrating “the difference that this money’s made in the growth of that organization” and in the community as a whole.
Shirley responded that the organizations that apply for the grants “are well managed by professionals.”
He also noted that within a 3-mile radius of the county’s Administration Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota, 13 theater groups put on programming with cast members who are part of the Actors Equity Association. Among them are the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe and Urbanite Theatre, he added. “There’s almost no place else in the country,” he said, that can match that statistic.
“That’s a remarkable statistic,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo responded.
“I would say they also help students,” Detert pointed out. When her grandson was in fourth grade, she continued, he participated in an FST play-writing program that culminated in the production of his work. All the young playwrights who were part of that program were recognized in the audience, she added.
“He’ll never forget that,” Shirley said.
“No, no,” she replied.
“The educational component [of the arts] is so important,” Caragiulo pointed out, “because there has been quite a successful effort to remove these types of programs out of the schools for some period of time. … I think that penny for penny, dollar for dollar, the arts community probably provides the most explosive impact when it comes to [results]. … We see them every day, and we hear about them every day.”
“Thank you for all you do,” Caragiulo told Shirley.
Caragiulo made the motion to approve the grants for FY19, noting his “pleasure to do so.” Hines seconded it, and it passed unanimously.
Because of a death in the family, Commissioner Michael Moran was absent from the June 13 meeting.