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'Fund the A List' Seeks to Inform and Persuade Florida Legislators to Fund the Arts

Tania Ortega-Cowan

The Florida Legislature has just started back up, and four women on the Treasure Coast are making sure the Arts are at the top of everyone’s minds!

PW: So the Governor’s budget right now – the line item for Arts & Culture is 5 million dollars… for the entire state.

That’s Pat Williams. She’s a member of Florida’s Council on Arts & Culture. We meet in downtown Stuart, along with other Council members, Katherine Dickenson, Janeen Mason, and Nancy Turrell.

They combined efforts once they saw a trend of diminishing funding for the arts each year.

Here’s Katherine Dickenson – she’s the current chair and has served the Florida’s Council on Arts & Culture for 18 years.

KD: In the very beginning we were well-funded. Since 2011 it has been a fight every year in the Legislature to get them realize the importance of arts and culture and how much it means for the Florida economy.

PW: But this year at the end of the last session, it had become so obvious, and the cuts were so deep, that really anybody who was involved in the Council I think or was an arts advocate really saw that something had to turn around. This was a dire situation.

So last summer, they took action. They formed a group. Here’s Janeen Mason:

JM: ‘Fund the A List’ which is this little group that we’ve started that has turned into a state-wide icon for support of the arts.

Here is Nancy Turrell…

NT: The four of us are all located in the Treasure Coast region and I think a lot of people expect the strongest arts advocates to come out of the big cities – Miami Orlando Tampa – but here we are and in a smaller more suburban part of Florida saying the arts really matter here too.

They hit the ground running and began speaking to other arts organizations across the state and to members of the Florida legislature in the House and Senate using all the available options and platforms including face to face meetings, legislative delegations, committee hearings, email campaigns, and by rallying arts advocates to ask their legislators to find the arts.

PW: We are seeing the sleeping giant of the arts community wake up.

Inspired by Fund the A List, they are, in fact, waking up and taking action all across Florida.

JM: What we need are people in the Legislature who not only understand the importance of the arts but who are willing to fight for us. And I think we have some champions on both sides of the aisle and in the House and Senate.

Their view is because Arts & Culture earns money for the state, it shouldn’t be the first cut when funds are needed in other areas, even hurricane recovery, which is where some of the funding has been diverted. Here’s Janeen Mason.

JM: So, we have 58,162 arts related businesses that employ over 227,000 people in the state of Florida.

And Pat Williams …

PW: So not only are there jobs at stake, and that we know that it’s an economic driver to communities who have vibrant, creative, arts communities, but also you know this is a beacon for tourism. So, the arts really are a quality of life issue that contributes to the economy so that’s our story that we are bringing for the legislature – and they are going to hear it this year from us.

So, we wonder, since 600 organizations were vetted by the Council and recommended for $61 million in grants, but there is only $5 million in the budget, what happens?

PW: So as a result of these cuts, we are hearing this from our colleagues around the state, some organizations actually close because they are that close to the bone. Performances are canceled. Educational programs are canceled for children and seniors.

Funding recommendations will come out of two committees that will meet during the legislative session that just started this week.