County arts grants put on hold until July

The Flying Wallendas perform during a Cirque des Voix program of Circus Sarasota and Key Chorale in January. Circus Sarasota is among the organizations recommended for arts grant support for Fiscal Year 2013. Photo by Norman Schimmel

With Chairwoman Christine Robinson voicing displeasure about the paucity of recommended arts grants going to South County in fiscal year 2013, the Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously June 26 to ask the executive director of the Sarasota County’s Arts and Cultural Alliance to come back with more information before the commission take its annual vote on all the grants.

Out of the $1.3 million in recommended Tourist Development Cultural/Arts Grant Awards for FY 2013, less than $90,000 was to be awarded to South County organizations, Robinson pointed out during the board’s regular meeting in Sarasota.

That was less than 7% of the total, she said.

Commissioner Nora Patterson made the motion to ask Jim Shirley to come before the board again on July 11.

“I’ve never been totally sure that a new arts organization or an arts organization that feels like it can field something [new] that can produce tourism” receives adequate assistance to apply for funding support, Patterson said.

She added that the purpose of the grants was to spur tourism.

Robinson expressed frustration because Shirley could not provide detailed documentation about his discussions with South County applicants for the 2013 fiscal year grants.

The list the alliance had prepared for the commission’s consideration this week recommended only three South County grant recipients: the North Port Art Guild, with an award of $4,903 for a program titled, Mandalas for World Peace; Venice Theatre, $78,516 for its 2012-13 tourist season; and the Venice Symphony, $3,614 for a program titled Evening in Vienna.

Last year, during an appearance Shirley made before the commission regarding tweaks to the application process, Robinson had requested he put more emphasis on helping South County organizations apply for the grants.

Robinson lives in South County and has represented its interests since she has been on the commission.

Robinson told Shirley on June 26 that she could find only one line in his report for the June 26 meeting relating to her 2011 request, and that line just referenced his having increased his number of visits to South County to encourage participation in the grant process.

“I’m routinely down there once or twice a month,” Shirley said. However, he added, he had tried to increase the number of those visits to three or four a month.

Additionally, Shirley said the alliance staff had made sure advertising about the arts grants had been spread evenly throughout the county.

“Did you document who you met with [in South County]?” Robinson asked him.

“Oh, yes,” Shirley replied.

When she told him she wanted that information, he said he could provide it to her at a later time.

Shirley added that South County had about nine groups that potentially could be eligible for the arts grants under the guidelines the county had established.

“I actually believe there are more than nine,” Robinson replied.

When Shirley said 26 organizations were represented at the South County orientation session he had hosted regarding the grant application process, Robinson asked how many of those were based in South County.

Sixteen were from Sorth County, he indicated. Combining figures from the meetings in both parts of the county, Shirley said he estimated 30 to 32 organizations altogether had represented South County.

“We did receive five applications [from South County groups this year] that qualified,” for the grants, he told Robinson. Two dropped out after beginning the process, he said.

“Why did those folks withdraw?” Robinson asked.

“I do not know,” Shirley told her, though he said he felt they had pulled out because they would have had difficulty “meeting the criteria for the grant.”

When Robinson then asked him about new organizations seeking grants, Shirley explained that the criteria for the Cultural/Arts Grant Awards require an organization to have been registered with the state for at least one year and to meet the requirements for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status as stipulated in the Internal Revenue Code.

However, Shirley reminded the commissioners that the county had a pool of $20,000 that could be used for arts grants for new organizations through the Opportunity Grant Program. Orientation meetings for groups interested in those one-time grants were scheduled in both North and South County later this week, Shirley said, with the application process opening July 7.

Robinson asked him to be sure to contact any of the South County organizations that had attended the earlier sessions but had not applied for the other grants.

“Last year, I voted for the [grant recommendation list],” Robinson said, “but I had a deep concern about it. This year, I continue to have a deep concern. Nothing’s changed, other than one [extra] award to South County. There’s a problem here, and it needs to be fixed.”

Shirley pointed out that two additional South County organizations, not one, had been recommended for grants in FY 2013.

“It still amounts to 7%,” Robinson said, whereas last year, the amount going to the single South County organization was a bit more than 7%.

Then Patterson asked Shirley whether he knew what percentage of the tourist development tax revenue was collected in South County. She thought it was about 8%, she said.

That figure represented revenue just from the City of Venice and the City of North Port, Robinson told Patterson. It did not include Casey Key or hotels in Englewood, for example, she added.

“I think that probably it is time that we ask Mr. Shirley to come in for a more leisurely discussion item and talk with the board about what he actually does to encourage new organizations that haven’t been recipients of grants before,” Patterson said.

“In a way,” Patterson continued, “the deck is a little bit stacked against South County just because your existing arts organizations tend to be in North County,” and the majority of hotels that collect the tourist development tax are in North County.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta agreed with Patterson, saying, “This is a function [of] where [the assets] are located.” He pointed to organizations on the list, including Selby Gardens, Sarasota Opera and Sarasota Ballet, as examples.

Still, Patterson said she agreed with Robinson that more of an effort needed to be made to recruit South County organizations for the arts grants.

“These organizations need to come forward,” Barbetta said.

When Patterson asked how soon the grants needed to be awarded, Shirley said July would be “our timeline to keep things on schedule.”

Recommended grants

The following is the complete list of arts grants the Cultural/Arts Grant Panel, operating under the aegis of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, recommended for funding in the new fiscal year. Forty applications were submitted; 38 of them won approval, according to a memo provided to the County Commission:

• 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.