Hillsborough Commission rejects a call to defund the Arts Council

Cepeda speaks at a Hillsborough County Commissioners meeting // Credit: Chris Young, Sep. 7 2023


The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners rejected a proposal to defund the Arts Council during a meeting Thursday. The ruling is a win for local arts and culture groups that benefit from the county’s funding.

The Arts Council was formed in 1989. It gives thousands in grants to arts and cultural initiatives in Hillsborough County. This year some grantees include a photography workshop for veterans and a community theater company. WMNF received some funding from the council.

County Commissioner Donna Cepeda recommended getting rid of the Arts Council.

“Yes, the arts is awesome. But, as you can see here, we have many things – that we’re behind – that we need to take care of in this county.”

The arts department has the lowest operating budget of all county departments.

Most members of the public spoke out against the proposal during public comment.

Karla Hartley represents Stageworks, a Tampa theater company.

“It’s so important that we’re rearing children to have critical thought process – to engage in arts and culture because if the children of our communities are not engaging in arts and culture, when they grow up there’s no reason for them to seek it out in the first place.”

However, Commissioner Joshua Wostal wanted the Arts Council abolished.

“We are now finding endless excuses to utilize funds for personal wants.”

But Commissioner Harry Cohen called it an investment in the county.

“This is money that is really well spent. Its money that helps us attracts corporations, and attract jobs, and attract tourists.”

The commissioners voted 4-3 on an alternative proposal, leaving in place funding for the Arts Council.

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