County arts grants awarded as recommended

County Commission chairwoman voices more frustrations

Circus Sarasota, whose Wallenda family aerialists are known around the world, is among the arts organizations receiving county grant support for the 2013 fiscal year. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Jim Shirley still didn’t have all the documentation July 11 that the Sarasota County Commission chairwoman had requested.

Nonetheless, the executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County came away from the County Commission’s regular meeting with all the $1.3 million in grant awards a panel had approved for Fiscal Year 2013.

Chairwoman Christine Robinson cast the lone “No” vote on the awards.

Robinson, who represents South County interests on the commission, had queried Alliance Executive Director Jim Shirley at length during the commission’s June 26 meeting about his efforts to encourage more South County organizations to apply for funding.

Because Shirley didn’t have all the information she asked for during that session, the board had agreed to call Shirley back for a follow-up presentation.

During his opening remarks on July 11, Shirley pointed out that he and his staff had contacted 38 individuals representing 25 South County organizations during the current grant process, “and most of these were contacted on multiple occasions.”

In 2011, only one South County organization won a grant; this year, three organizations were recommended for funding, he pointed out.

Those three were among six in South County that began the application process; five of those completed it, Shirley said.

“At the last meeting,” Robinson began, “I had asked for the documentation as to the outreach” to arts and cultural organizations in South County.

“I can supply some of the dates,” Shirley told her, because those were on his calendar. However, he said, some of his contacts involved telephone conversations and social events.

“I was hoping to get it before today,” Robinson said, adding, “I emailed this [request] to you, so you had a lot of opportunity to address that before today.

Referencing Shirley’s earlier comment about the orientation session he and his staff held for South County arts organizations, to enable them to learn more about how to apply for the grants, Robinson pointed out that such a session was part of the contractual obligation with the county as part of the grant cycle for the 2013 fiscal year.

Shirley conceded that that was true.

Robinson said she was pleased to see more South County organizations had applied for the grants this year. However, she pointed out that a grant of $91,444 went to the lone successful South County applicant for the 2012 fiscal year. This year, she said, the total funding for the three South County organizations recommended to receive grants was $87,000.

In fact, she said, the grant to Venice Theatre this year was less than the amount of the 2012 grant.

Yet, the pool of money for the grants was bigger this year, Robinson said.

“We had a lot more organizations applying for the money this year,” Shirley said, “so you would see a decrease, because we had more pieces of the pie.”

“Not necessarily,” Robinson said, pointing out that some North County applicants were recommended for larger grants this year.

Shirley also pointed out that adjustments had been made in the application process to make certain organizations with private funding no longer were penalized by the grant process. That also had affected the final figures for 2013.

Then Commissioner Nora Patterson pointed out, “The theory behind the award of these grants is not to subsidize these arts organizations at all. … It’s to evaluate very specific programs and their costs,” along with their ability to draw tourists.

The grant funding comes from the county’s tourist development tax revenue.

Shirley noted at the outset of his remarks that the purpose of the grants, by statute, is to “support cultural and fine art entertainment, festivals, programs and activity that directly promote Sarasota County for tourism.”

Commissioner Joe Barbetta added, “Each year you have to re-justify that you have an impact on tourism.”

TDC confusion

Robinson said she had watched the June 7 Sarasota County Tourist Development Council meeting, when Shirley had discussed the scoring methodology for awarding the grants. At the conclusion of that presentation, she said, all the council members had agreed with the sentiment, “We don’t get it.”

“That’s a problem when they don’t get it,” she added, as those council members should have enough expertise to understand the scoring rubrics.

“It is complicated,” Barbetta said of the scoring process.

Shirley said he and his staff go through the scoring mechanism with applicants to help them understand how it works.

Frustration over grant writing

Robinson also pointed out that she had heard complaints about the application process from representatives of the Venice Arts Center.

“They did not have a professional grant writer. It was a board member,” she said, and that person had written only one other grant application in the past.

When representatives of the center asked the Alliance for help, they were told to contact other arts organizations that were familiar with the application process, Robinson said.

It would have been better to show them examples of applications that had qualified for funding in the past, she added.

“We do not take it as our role to help them write a grant,” Shirley said. That was beyond the scope of the Alliance’s responsibilities, he said.

“I understand that,” Robinson said, adding, “these smaller arts organizations don’t have the track record. They need help … and I think we’re missing the boat by not allowing them to flourish like some of these other organizations.”

“I do not think our process is bad,” Shirley replied. “I think it needs to be continuously updated to meet the needs of our constituents.”

Barbetta said he understood Robinson’s passion for helping the South County groups, but the county probably has thousands of arts organizations, and only 42 applied for grants this year.

“This is public money, and you have to go through the hoops to get it,” he said.

Nonetheless, Barbetta said, “I think we all want South County to have more [winning applications].”

“A lot of [South County organizations] have quit because they don’t feel they can get through the door to even get considered,” Robinson said.

Grant winners for FY 2013

The following is the complete list of arts grants winners for the 2013 fiscal year:

• Art Center Sarasota, Season 2012-13: Southern Exposure, in the amount of $37,648;

• Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, Inc., Sarasota — From the Top, in the amount of $9,535;

• Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota Inc., Core Season Seventeen, in the amount of $12,563;

• Asolo Theatre Inc., Celebrating the American Character: From Shoulder to Shoulder, in the amount of $80,222;

• Avenida de Colores Inc., Sarasota Chalk Festival, in the amount of $34,512;

• Banyan Theatre Company Inc., Summer Season 2013, in the amount of $16,293;

• Circus Sarasota Inc., Winter Production, in the amount of $52,157;

• Circus Sarasota Inc., Holiday Spectacular & Spring Show, in the amount of


• Coexistence Inc., Embracing Our Differences 10th Anniversary, in the amount of


• Florida Studio Theatre, Inc., 2013 Sarasota Festival of New Plays, in the amount of $41,392;

• Florida Studio Theatre Inc., Summerfest 2013, in the amount of $40,965;

• Gloria Musicae, Spotlight Gloria Musicae, in the amount of $7,532;

• Gulf Coast Heritage Association Inc., Holly Days & Mangrove Lights, in the amount of $22,007;

• Gulf Coast Heritage Association Inc., Exploraventures! Family Days at Historic

Spanish Point, in the amount of $7,101;

• Key Chorale Inc., Key Chorale: Widening Our Reach, in the amount of $13,460;

• La Musica di Asolo Inc., Celebration, in the amount of $17,752;

• Marie Selby Botanical Garden Inc., Live Performance at the Gardens 2012-13, in the amount of $79,370;

• Mote Marine Laboratory Inc., Sea Lions: The Water’s Edge, in the amount of $64,083;

• New College Foundation Inc., New Music New College season 2012-13, in the amount of $22,677;

• North Port Area Art Guild Inc., Mandalas for World Peace, in the amount of $4,903;

• Ringling School of Art and Design, 2012-2013 Selby Gallery Exhibitions & Visiting Artists Program, in the amount of $23,409;

• Sarasota Ballet of Florida Inc. Twenty-Second Season, in the amount of $81,929;

• Sarasota Dance Festival, Holiday Dance Spectacular, in the amount of $18,286;

• Sarasota Film Festival Inc., 15th Annual Sarasota Film Festival, in the amount of $45,842;

• Sarasota Film Society Inc., Cine-World Film Festival 2012, in the amount of$10,651;

• Sarasota Opera, Fall Production: Rigoletto and Little Nemo in Slumberland, in the amount of $40,965;

• Sarasota Opera, Opera Lovers Weekend 2013, in the amount of $40,538;

• Sarasota Orchestra/Florida West Coast Symphony Inc., Shoulder Season 2012-2013, in the amount of $81,076;

• Sarasota Pops Orchestra Inc., 2012-13 Season The Wedding Season, in the amount of $3,753;

• The Florida State University, on behalf of John and Mabel Ringling Museum of

Art Foundation, Sarasota in the Age of the American Moderns, in the amount of


• The Perlman Music Program/Suncoast Inc., the Emerging Artists Performance Series, in the amount of $4,438;

• The Players Inc., Broadway Theatre Series, in the amount of $30,431;

• The Players Inc., Summer Sizzler Series, in the amount of $16,045;

• Van Wezel Foundation, World Class Entertainment, in the amount of $76,468;

• Van Wezel Foundation, Friday Fest on the Bay 2012, in the amount of $7,023;

• Venice Theatre Inc., 2012-2013 Tourist Season, in the amount of $78,516;

• Venice Symphony Inc., Evening in Vienna, in the amount of $3,614;

• Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, WBTT Shoulder Season 2012-2013, in the amount of $43,403.