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What Florida state budget cuts mean for Sarasota arts

Arts and Cultural Alliance CEO Brian Hersh talks about the community's response.

Brian Hersh spent more than 20 years in the field of nonprofit arts administration before becoming president and CEO of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County in June 2023.
Brian Hersh spent more than 20 years in the field of nonprofit arts administration before becoming president and CEO of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County in June 2023.
Photo by Nancy Guth
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Sarasota arts organizations got some unwelcome news last month when they learned that $32 million earmarked for state cultural grants in fiscal 2025 had been rejected by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

When he signed the fiscal 2025 budget into law on June 12, DeSantis vetoed cultural and museum grants as part of $950 million in funding cuts. Of that, the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County estimates $3 million was destined for Sarasota's vibrants arts community.

The Cultural Alliance says the cuts don't make sense economically because of the valuable role the arts play in attracting tourism and generating income and employment in Sarasota, which has been trademarked "Florida's Cultural Coast."

According to the Cultural Alliance, nearly half (47.5%) of all attendees at arts performances and events are from outside the county and 2.3 million attendees participate in cultural events in Sarasota County each year. 

As employers, nonprofit arts groups contribute more than $176 million annually to household income within the county, the alliance says.

A snapshot of Florida Culture Grants in Sarasota County
OrganizationExpected Fiscal 2025Received Fiscal 2024
Arts Center Sarasota$150,000$45,297
Asolo Repertory Theatre$150,000$106,444
Florida Studio Theatre$150,000$106,807
Key Chorale$57,000$57,050
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens$70,500$98,088
Sarasota Ballet$150,000$103,693
Sarasota Opera$70,500$105,445
Sarasota Orchestra$70,500$104,900
The Sarasota Players$72,000$89,187
Venice Theatre$90,000$102,629
Sources: State of Florida, local organizations

Brian Hersh, Arts and Cultural Alliance president and CEO, took time to discuss what the arts grants cuts, which are unprecedented in the history of the state's cultural funding, mean for local cultural groups. 

Were you surprised by Gov. DeSantis’ recent rejection of arts funding grants in the latest budget?

The cuts were unprecedented. It hasn’t happened since the state started the program in the late '70s.

Will Sarasota’s arts and tourism be hurt by these cuts?

All of the organizations that will not receive funding from the state will be negatively impacted.

Sarasota's cultural institutions have bounced back from pandemic disruptions to a greater extent that some of their peers across the country. Do these cuts have the potential to derail that progress?

Any funding cut is a setback. 

How does Sarasota promote itself as an arts destination?

Our friends at Visit Sarasota County have trademarked Sarasota as Florida’s Cultural Coast. When you look at our population size and see how many arts organizations we have (as well as individual artists), you can see Sarasota County has a tremendous breadth of arts and culture. 

In addition to the depth of arts and culture, Sarasota County produces performances and exhibitions of high artistic excellence. These elements are what sets Sarasota apart, especially when paired with our stunning beaches.

What is your view of government’s role in the arts?

Public support of the arts is incredibly important, especially while ensuring arts and culture is accessible to the community. 

Is there any evidence that government funding of the arts helps stimulate economic growth?

Many studies have shown the economic impact and vitality of arts and culture. A recent survey from Americans for the Arts showed the return on investment was 9 to 1. For every dollar invested, the return was $9. That's quite a positive impact.

Does the Arts & Cultural Alliance have any plans to help members offset these cuts?

We can continue to convene and collaborate across the arts and cultural sector among organizations and artists. There are opportunities, but many of these things take time.

What we want to continue to convey in Sarasota, across the state, country and international markets is that Sarasota is a vibrant community— with arts and culture as an important aspect of our identity.

Sarasota has generous individual donors and community foundations that help support the arts. Can they be counted upon to make up the difference in funding?

Support from donors and philanthropic organizations will be incredibly important. Individuals can help, of course, with donations. In addition to making a gift, community members can also help support the arts by buying a ticket or entrance to an exhibition or by becoming a member.

Individuals can also volunteer. Find a way to help fill a need for our many organizations by rolling up your sleeves.

Our organizations have great stories to tell. Be sure to share these stories on social media. These are just a few ways to help out now.

Arts and culture goes beyond economic impact. Arts builds community. Quality of life is important, and arts and culture goes a long way toward stimulating the vibrancy and well-being within Sarasota County.



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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