Theater festivals offer to give up their grants if DeSantis restores funding for Florida arts groups


Leaders of two performing arts festivals said Thursday that they would gladly give up their grants if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis restores the $32 million in state funding he nixed for more than 600 Florida arts groups, explaining the reason for his veto as being because the two theatrical events were “a sexual festival.”

Leaders of The Orlando Fringe and Tampa Fringe described the governor’s description as inaccurate on Thursday at a news conference, but they said it was important for the state’s arts groups to be funded because they play critical roles in their communities. The Orlando festival had been slated to get $70,500, and the Tampa festival was in line to receive $7,500 before the veto.

“Like you, we the Orlando and Tampa Fringe festivals care greatly about the citizens of Florida,” they said in an open letter to the governor. “Given that common ground, we hope that you read this letter with an open mind and fully consider the proposal below.”

Asked to respond to the letter, a DeSantis spokeswoman referred to the governor’s June 27 remarks when he cited the Fringe festivals as something to which taxpayers would be reluctant to have their money directed.

“When I see money being spent that way, I have to be the one who stands up for taxpayers and say, ‘You know what? That is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars,’ ” DeSantis said.

Critics decried the veto, saying it was an extension of DeSantis’ culture wars in which he has supported laws limiting what can be said in classrooms about sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibiting the teaching of an academic framework outlining the ways systemic racism is part of American society.

Arts and cultural groups across Florida have been scrambling to fill holes in their budgets ever since DeSantis vetoed the arts funding last month from the state’s $116.5 billion budget.

Arts leaders across the state said it was the first time they recall a Florida governor eliminating all grant funding for arts and culture, and it came as arts organizations that survived COVID-19 pandemic closures were still recovering with smaller attendance and revenues.

Florida’s arts and cultural industry generates $5.7 billion in economic activity a year, including $2.9 billion by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, and supports more than 91,000 full-time jobs, according to a study from Americans for the Arts in collaboration with the state Division of Arts and Culture and Citizens for Florida Arts Inc.

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Follow Mike Schneider on the social platform X: @MikeSchneiderAP.





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