During discussion set for Jan. 11, 2012, the Sarasota County Commission is expected to decide whether it will partner with Denise Kowal and the Sarasota Chalk Festival on an application for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Kowal emailed commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson Dec. 2 to explain details of the grant and to ask for the assistance.
“As you remember, I wanted to pursue the grant last year, but Jim Shirley (executive director of the Sarasota County Arts and Cultural Alliance) pursued it on behalf of the Festival of Firsts and did not get invited to apply,” Kowal wrote. “Can you let please let me know if and what I need to do, (because) only one grant can be pursued by each governing agency each year?”
The Our Town grants offered by the National Endowment for the Arts support “creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core,” according to the material Kowal sent Patterson.
The NEA information added, “Pending availability of funding, grants will range from $25,000 to $150,000.”
The application deadline is March 1, 2012. Projects funded would be held between Sept. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2014.
As she promised Kowal in her response, Patterson brought up the matter during the Dec. 6 County Commission meeting. Referring to Kowal, Patterson told her fellow commissioners, “She would like our blessing, (but) I don’t know if that is possible by our policies.”
Nonetheless, Patterson pointed out that the Chalk Festival “has continued to grow and attract a lot of folks.
Patterson added that the county would not be obligated to contribute funds by partnering with Kowal on the application.
“You’re saying that other arts organizations could apply for this (grant)?” Commissioner Joe Barbetta asked.
“We can’t prevent that,” Patterson said, adding that she could check with Shirley to learn his view of Kowal’s request.
“I don’t want to be part of that (application) without seeing more input,” Barbetta said.
Patterson suggested Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis and County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh research the matter and report back to the commission. In an email to Kowal, Lewis said the County Commission also wanted budget staff to look into the application process.
Kowal clarified in an email response to Lewis that, according to the NEA guidelines, the county could partner with only one arts entity to seek funding.
Kowal said when the County Commission last year chose to apply for a grant on behalf of the Festival of Firsts, she tried to convince the commissioners that the application probably would not be successful.
“It’s a very competitive grant,” she said, adding that an entity seeking NEA funding has to be invited to proceed with a formal application.
Of 400 initial applicants, Kowal said, only 35 or 40 typically receive funding.
The County Commission more than two years ago had taken a pool of about $1 million in tourist development tax revenue and created a Festival Steering Committee, charging it with the creation of a new festival that could draw people to Sarasota County. The goal was to complement the Ringling International Arts Festival.
After bouncing ideas to local arts organizations and hiring a Canadian consultant to assist with the process, the steering committee decided to pursue a “festival of firsts.” However, the committee never was able to gain backing from the arts groups for that initiative, and the consultant found insufficient planning to indicate the festival could succeed. The County Commission abandoned the concept in June.
“I was upset last year (that) I was kicked out (of the NEA application process),” Kowal said.
After failing to meet the requirements for a Tourist Development Council grant, then encountering a last-minute funding snafu with the city of Sarasota this year, Kowal won backing from the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau to make the 2011 festival possible.
Referring to the NEA grant process, Kowal said, “I’m hoping this year (the County Commission) will let us go forward.”
Our Town grants guidelines
The Our Town grants provided by the National Endowment for the Arts are in their second year of funding. According to the guidelines, they are investments in creative and innovative projects in which communities, together with their arts and design organizations and artists, seek to:
• Improve the quality of life;
• Encourarge creative activity;
• Create community identity and a sense of place;
• Revitalize local economies.
The guidelines state, “A partnership between a local government entity and a nonprofit cultural institution is required; additional partners are encouraged.”
To view the 51 “Our Town” grants awarded in 2011, visit www.arts.gov/national/ourtown/index.php.