MidPoint: Why Can’t We Have Nice Things? Hillsborough Arts Funding In Danger

Mariella Smith, Jenny Carey, Theron Butler

Update 9/7: Hillsborough County Commissioners rejected the proposal to defund the Arts Council

At the request of new Republican County Commissioner Donna Cepeda, the Hillsborough County Commission will consider de-funding all of “the County’s various arts programs,” including the Arts Council, its many grant recipients, and the Cultural Assets Commission and putting those funds toward “roads.” She makes this request here.

The Board of County Commissioners will take this up at their next meeting, Thurs., Sept. 7. On MidPoint today, former County Commissioner Mariella Smith, a Democrat who is running for re-election to the Commission in 2024, Hillsborough County Arts Council Board Chair Theron Butler, and former Hillsborough Arts Council Program Director Jenny Carey explained why the arts are a driver of economic benefits and civic and cultural richness for Hillsborough County. They noted that the arts budget is the absolute smallest line item in the county’s operating budget with $1 million going to the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and $2 million going to the Cultural Assets Fund in the $8.5 Billion dollar county budget. Mariella Smith pointed out the arts budget doesn’t go very far when it costs $80 million for one mile of new roads. She also suggested that Commissioner Cepeda is not proposing this because of any public outcry for it. No groups of citizens have come forward to demand it. “This is more of a political play to score political points in a certain conservative faction,” she said.

Theron Butler noted that most grants to individual artists or programs were $2500 or less, which Mariella Smith claimed would buy us “about a half inch of new roads.” Mr. Butler also emphasized that a new study was recently completed to assess the economic impact of the arts on Hillsborough County. It will be reported out in October. He asked Hillsborough residents to urge the county commission to defer this proposal at least until this report is made public and the economic impact of the arts can be considered on the question of public funding.

Jenny Carey discussed the impact of these Arts Council grants on areas of the county outside the city center, where art and cultural assets are not readily available to residents. Hillsborough County is larger than 11 states and many areas are underserved with cultural amenities. She also pointed to the example of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts which has a program working with boys in juvenile detention centers as another example of the county funding making arts and culture available to remote or distant communities in the county.

All of our guests urged community members who support the arts funding to make their voices heard at the Commission meeting tomorrow, Sept. 7 at 9 a.m., and at the first public hearing on the budget on Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at the County Center.

You can speak about this to the Board at the meeting, Thursday, Sept. 7, at 9:00 a.m., in person or virtually by zoom. Sign up at this link (by 9 a.m. for tomorrow’s meeting) to speak regarding agenda items G-2 & B-1.  You can also write to the commissioners about this issue at this email link.
And, as always, you can listen to the entire show from the MidPoint archive here, or on the app, or as a WMNF MidPoint podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

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