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    DeSantis vetoes wipe out $806,000 in state arts grant funds for 15 Brevard organizations

    By Dave Berman, Florida Today,

    2024-06-18

    Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to wipe out more than $22 million in proposed state funding for two cultural grants programs will leave 15 Brevard County organizations with a budget gap to fill.

    Among the more than $806,000 in local cuts: A $250,000 grant for lobby and roof renovations at the Henegar Center theater venue in Melbourne, on top of a $71,295 cultural and museum grant.

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    Brevard's wins and losses in budget: DeSantis vetoes $4.23 million out of $10 million proposed for Ellis Road widening

    "This is funding that a lot of organizations rely on," Brevard Cultural Alliance Executive Director Catherine Esrock said. "Certainly, the impact could be massive," negatively affecting the programming and projects the arts community could provide to the public. A $28,615 grant to BCA was among the cuts.

    At the Henegar Center, President Doug Lebo said the loss of the $250,000 likely will push back the timeline of the project.

    Separately, Lebo said the loss of what previously had been an annual cultural and museum grant will result in tightening up the Henegar's budget for next season's productions ― perhaps, for example, scaling back on sets and costumes.

    "It's really disappointing," Lebo said of the budget vetoes, noting that the grant applications were vetted by the Florida Department of State before going to the Florida Legislature for consideration. "I was very surprised."

    A spokesman for the governor, Jeremy Redfern, said about the veto: “The governor reviews every bill and appropriation that comes across his desk and uses his authority under the Florida Constitution to make veto decisions that are in the best interest of the state of Florida.”

    What Brevard organizations were affected?

    According to a Florida Legislature analysis of the state budget, these are the organizations in Brevard that had been in line for state cultural and museum grants before the governor's veto of the funding:

    • Brevard Cultural Alliance: $28,615
    • Brevard Regional Arts Group (Henegar Center): $71,295
    • Brevard Symphony Orchestra: $52,476
    • Central Florida Winds: $3,474
    • East Coast Zoological Society of Florida (Brevard Zoo): $72,443
    • Florida Historical Society: $43,049
    • Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse: $73,888
    • Melbourne Community Orchestra: $3,078
    • Melbourne Municipal Band Association: $17,889
    • Space Coast Art Festival: $3,905
    • Space Coast Ballet Company: $11,839
    • Space Coast Symphony Orchestra: $24,266
    • Titusville Playhouse: $72,591
    • U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum: $55,941
    • Valiant Air Command (Warbird Museum): $22,000

    County funding in question, too

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    For Brevard-based groups, the state budget cut comes at a time when future funding from Brevard County for the 2024-25 budget year also is in question.

    Many local arts and cultural organizations and events have been receiving annual grants funded by Brevard County's 5% tourist development tax on hotel rooms, vacation rentals and other short-term rentals. For example, in the current county budget year that began Oct. 1, 25 organizations and events shared $530,000 in grants, ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 apiece. Additionally, the county renewed its annual contract with Brevard Cultural Alliance, providing the organization with $202,000 for operating revenue for the current budget year.

    The funding came after a series of back-and-forth discussions involving commissioners and the arts community.

    Some members of the arts community believe objections raised by a local state legislator ― Florida Rep. Randy Fine, R-Melbourne Beach — over a proposed $15,000 county cultural grant to the LGBTQ+ organization Space Coast Pride for its Sept. 28 Pridefest triggered a move to eliminate county funding of the arts. Fine was critical of the drag queen story time that had been part of previous Pridefests, but was not part of the 2023 event.

    The grants to Pridefest and the other 24 organizations eventually were approved in a 3-2 vote of the County Commission . Nine of those 25 organizations were hit by the vetoes of state arts funding.

    But there now is uncertainty about the future of county funding for the arts in the 2024-25 budget year, as some commissioners are pushing for the tourist tax money to instead go toward helping fund the county's lifeguard program along Brevard's beaches.

    Lebo said he is hopeful that the County Commission will see the benefits of the cultural grants program, and will fund it for 2024-25.

    As for future renewal of the county's grant with the Brevard Cultural Alliance, Esrock said: "We're planning for the worst and hoping for the best."

    John Kennedy, a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau, contributed to this report.

    Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at dberman@floridatoday.com , on X at @bydaveberman and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dave.berman.54

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    This article originally appeared on Florida Today: DeSantis vetoes wipe out $806,000 in state arts grant funds for 15 Brevard organizations

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