Gov. DeSantis’ vetoes anger the arts community as state funding gets wiped out

Bobby Callender – Photo Jim Leatherman
The state's art funding cuts are unprecedented and devastating, advocates warn.

Advocates say a Shakespearean tragedy is unfolding in Florida’s arts community after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $32 million line-item vetoes left nothing for the arts.

“The veto of all cultural and museum grants from the budget is unprecedented,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former Orlando Representative who was just elected to the Senate. “I’m not aware of any Governor who has ever vetoed that line item because of how devastating it would be to the hundreds of organizations who rely on that funding. It’s never happened.”

Florida Politics reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment to understand DeSantis’ rationale for stripping out $26 million for cultural and museum grants and $6 million for cultural facilities. The art funding cuts are part of nearly $900 million in vetoes for the nearly $117 billion budget.

“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,” DeSantis’ Deputy Press Secretary Julia Friedland said, reissuing a statement given to media previously.

Normally, arts funding cuts happen during bad economic times, which makes it unusual in this relatively good year, said University of Central Florida political science associate professor Aubrey Jewett.

DeSantis, who is term-limited as Governor and has national political ambitions, “raised the bar a little bit in terms of how much he’s vetoed,” Jewett said. “I think he really had a goal in mind of how much he wanted to cut rather than saying, ‘Well, let me just look at what I think are wasteful programs or programs that didn’t go through the normal vetting process.’”

The state’s Division of Arts and Culture evaluated the art groups’ grants on merit and economic impact and initially recommended spending $77 million. After the Legislature budgeting process and then the Governor’s vetoes, that amount ended up at $0.

Orange County alone lost $1.95 million for arts groups, including $70,500 state grants for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Enzian Theater, the Orlando International Fringe Festival, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Orlando Science Center, the United Arts of Central Florida and the Orlando Philharmonic.

“Each of these grantees went through an extensive and onerous vetting process,” said Smith, a Democrat. “Those 577 grants, frankly, were more vetted than individual member projects and appropriations in the budget will ever be. … Member projects that are funded in the budget are about who you know. It’s about flexing political power.”

Smith said for the arts funding to then “only to be vetoed, it’s a slap in the face to the entire industry.”

The slash in state funding comes abruptly, and two weeks before the new fiscal year begins for many of those groups, leaving them little time to prepare for the impact. The loss of state money is a double whammy because many organizations use the state funding for matching grants elsewhere.

“We’ve been through ups and downs, and of course, we had COVID then we had to shut down, so it’s not as though we’re not unfamiliar with crisis and having to regroup and restart,” said Roger Blauvelt, the Board Chair of the Winter Park Playhouse.

“This isn’t like that. … it just kind of smacks of, I don’t know, underhandedness coming at the last minute. Everybody was blindsided. … Where do you cut back your expenses? Employees? May you cut a show out?”

In Orlando, the arts community runs deep even after many organizations weathered the devastating pandemic shutdowns that darkened entertainment. The actors shine a little brighter than you might see at most local theaters. After all, these performers work day jobs entertaining at Disney World, where guests pay top dollar. Central Florida is home to dozens of arts venues, big and small, entertaining children and adults alike.

Here in Orlando, it’s not just the theme parks that drive economic impact. Tour buses park at the Winter Park Playhouse, a 123-seat theater with sold-out shows, and theater patrons eat at restaurants along Park and Orange avenues. One study estimated the economic impact of the arts at $5.7 billion across the state.

“The decision to veto this critical funding was reckless and it was stupid,” Smith said. “It was reckless and stupid because these grantees are economic engines in our communities.”

For one small musical venue, the state cuts are particularly devastating.

The Timucua Arts Foundation employs only three full-time staff members. The $40,000 in state funding this year helped pay for the artistic director’s and the marketing director’s salaries at the foundation. Here in what feels like a living room, musicians play in almost perfect acoustics for $30 tickets. The concept was created by a then-Cirque du Soleil Music Director.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Leah Nash, the foundation’s Executive Director, when discussing the art funding cuts. “What does that mean for arts in general? Is it a goal for the arts to be absent? I hope not. That’s terrifying to me. Arts bring so much to life, to people, to culture.”

In the past, fiscally-minded Republicans have argued the government should not fund the arts. The rationale: Fill your theaters by selling tickets. Don’t rely on the government to subsidize those shows.

Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Orlando Family Stage, takes offense to that line of thinking.

“The arts sort of get painted as these struggling artists, or they’re always whining, they’re always needing money,” said Brown, whose organization was formerly called the Orlando Repertory Theatre. “At the core of it … people have no concept of how much it costs to do what we do.”

Aside from the 10 actors on stage, are 30 others who made it all possible behind the scenes, he said.

The Orlando Family Stage isn’t in danger of closing after losing $70,500 in state funding, Brown stressed, but the venue will likely have to cancel an upcoming show or make adjustments that hurt its mission of making the arts accessible to children.

“These arts groups that do such an amazing thing for our community and our Central Florida lives, and yet we’re not ever really taken seriously when it comes down to it,” Brown said. “We’re sort of given scraps and given peanuts.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


  • PeterH

    June 20, 2024 at 7:25 am

    With each passing day ….Florida looks more and more like the intellectually stimulating States like Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alabama. You have to give credit to regressive Republican legislators.

  • Jojo

    June 20, 2024 at 7:36 am

    If the republicans had their way the world would have no arts, no culture and everyone would live in Brutalist buildings

    • Paul Passarelli

      June 20, 2024 at 8:38 am

      If Democrats had their way Flower Children would wander the streets, we’d have no economy, and we’d all live in squalor.

      Sorry Jojo. If people *WANT* the arts, then they should support the arts. You don’t get to pass off your responsibilities onto the taxpayers.

      • Flower Child

        June 20, 2024 at 8:41 am

        You are absolutely correct sir.

      • PeterH

        June 20, 2024 at 5:17 pm

        There is a reason why college educated Americans are not flocking to forever whining, forever Republican governed, intellectually deficient miserable red States like Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alabama!

        Keep in mind that without blue State subsidies (think California) propping up your miserable red state governors …… red states would be in far worse condition than they are today!

        • Spooder

          June 22, 2024 at 9:05 am

          Peter, you put that correctly, but unfortunately, they don’t have the brain cells to realize that other states are propping up their economies because they live in their own little bubble so yes it seems like he’s trying to make Florida like all these other southern states and guess what there’s more northerners down there than there are native Floridians and when they go there for the winter, such as I do or move permanently they want culture not big truck rallys

          • Paul Passarelli

            June 22, 2024 at 3:21 pm

            If you’re not a Florida resident, the stay the hell out of Florida’s politics. Keep your poisonous ideas in a Blue State.

      • rick whitaker

        June 21, 2024 at 9:45 pm

        PAUL PASSARELLI, did desantis check with the taxpayers before he spent their money on what he wants to spend or not spend it on? people do want the arts, desantis doesn’t. as for your description of democrats goes, you couldn’t be more wrong. it is typical of a maga cultist to criticize others without good reason . it’s called being a bully.

        • Spooder

          June 22, 2024 at 9:06 am


        • Paul Passarelli

          June 22, 2024 at 3:09 pm

          Actually Rick, it’s called being responsible.
          I’m a patron of the arts. Are you?

          My criticism of Democrats is based on a lifetime of *EXPERIENCE*. I’ve watched the Left spend other people’s money at every opportunity.

          There’s a bromide about Leftist & Progressive-Socialist policies:
          “Ideas so good that they need to be made mandatory.”

          If that’s your idea of good governance, then I actually feel sorry for you. It tells me that you were indoctrinated as a child and never had the exposure to an education which might have allowed you to apply ‘Critical Thinking’ to the issue.

          The only reason the State funds the Arts is to control the lesser educated population. This has been proven going back to Roman times the “Bread & Circuses” doctrine of the empire. But it always ends in tragedy.

          “The Republic will endure until the populace learns how to vote themselves largess from the Public Treasury.” Well, we’ve been travelling down that road since the 1960s.

          I’m sorry you were indoctrinated not to notice.

          • rick whitaker

            June 23, 2024 at 1:52 pm

            PAUL, you are a full of your own ignorant biases and i can’t crack that. the right wants to cram jesus down the throats of people that see it for the greedy power play that it is. good luck with that . my criticism of the right is based on a lifetime of *EXPERIENCE*. you don’t know anything about my vast experiences in life that has led me around the world. or my more than 30 years as a leading businessman in my field. as i said , you are full of biases that make you laughable.

      • Woman of a Certain Age

        June 29, 2024 at 5:21 pm

        We ARE the taxpayers. We ARE the ones who want bread and roses for everyone. We ARE the parents who want curious, creative, well-educated children. We ARE the workers who make the economy go. We ARE the business owners, the teachers, the doctors, the retirees, etc. It is our tax money too and we know there is no civilization without art and no community without ideas.

        • jean solomon

          June 30, 2024 at 2:31 pm

          RON wants us to beg him for makes him feel ‘big’… woud someone please him some white boots with really high heels so he can look talller? what a jack ass!!

  • Michael K

    June 20, 2024 at 8:23 am

    The governor demonstrates colossal disrespect and disregard for the tens of thousands of dedicated employees, volunteers, board members, and generous donors – and the millions of Florida residents and visitors who participate in nonprofit cultural activities.

    He gives no reason for decimating decades of bipartisan support for a sector that leverages public investment nine times over in the community.

    What kind of a person would intentionally inflict financial damage and hardship on an important sector of the state’s economy that generates $5.7 billion in direct spending? As a leader, he should understand this: Millions of the people he took an oath to serve, not only like the arts, but find arts and culture essential to their livelihood, quality of life, and their children’s future. We all deserve better.

    • Paul Passarelli

      June 20, 2024 at 8:53 am

      Actually Michael, the governor has made it clear in no uncertain terms that the taxpayers money should remain in the control of the taxpayers, not the lobbyists for an industry of the politicians. He IS serving the people that elected him!

      The vetoes do not stop *YOU* from spending *YOUR* money to support all the ‘worthwhile’ causes & people you mentioned. Or did you just mane those individuals to garner sympathy & provoke an emotional kneejerk (emphasis on ‘JERK’) response?

      If a few ‘subsidized arts’ suffer cuts from government funding were to simply close down and vanish, that $5.7 of direct spending you are so proud of (a number which is highly doubtful BTW), would be spent elsewhere, or (GASP), invested in another segment of the economy!

      But the truth is that the arts will not vanish. Sure a bunch of overpaid ‘arts directors’ from a number of organizations are going to scramble. What will happen is that either their boards of trustees will can a few useless individuals that can’t cut it in the private sector or those same incompetents will cut the programs and effectively steal from their benefactors. And a tint minority will roll up their sleeves, reach out to the local supporters and revitalize their communities.

      Either way the vetoes put $900 MILLION back into taxpayers hands! Gotta celebrate that victory.

      • Flower Child

        June 20, 2024 at 9:06 am

        Definitely on a roll.😀

      • Michael K

        June 20, 2024 at 9:31 am

        You seem to be referring to the hundreds of millions of dollars in direct appropriations secured by lobbyists to big donors to the governor and various elected officials – otherwise known as cronyism. I agree with you, this is not good stewardship, and certainly unaccountable to taxpayers.

        The competitive application and review process for the arts has been in practice for more than half a century. Vetted projects must comply with state eligibility and compliance requirements – including a financial match and a detailed budget.

        These vetted projects reach every corner of the state. And yes, the public sector has always been a partner in cultural development at the local, state, and national levels.

      • Lauren

        June 20, 2024 at 10:32 am

        The arts organization I work at (one of those denied this funding) has salaries for full-time staff that top out around $50,000 – meaning many people work here full time and make less. This is not atypical, so while I am not sure how you would define “overpaid,” by most people’s standards, $50,000 per year doesn’t come close.

        Sit down. You sound like an idiot.

        • Spooder

          June 22, 2024 at 9:10 am

          Lauren perfectly stated I love these people that think everything to do with the arts is overpaid people that can’t make it in other fields such as oh I don’t know working at McDonald’s. I don’t know how their minds work. It’s like it’s frivolous spending to have a concert that people can go to. I guess they would prefer a truck rally.

          • Paul Passarelli

            June 22, 2024 at 3:29 pm

            you wrote:
            “people that think everything to do with the arts is overpaid people that can’t make it in other fields”

            Hmmm, I’m not the one that insultes artists’ capabilities. You did.

            If anything most artists are more skilled at general things than most non-artists with similar backgrounds & experience.

            That said, artists with *outstanding skills* don’t need to have their hobbies subsidized by the government. They find outlets for their creativity, and many even find a way to turn their skills into a money making side-gig.

            And those that can’t pull it off, well, I guess one could conclude that their skills are only second rate (or less).

            But bu all means, please feel free to be a patron to the low-skilled artists with *YOUR* money, just don’t use the government to take mine.

        • Paul Passarelli

          June 22, 2024 at 3:15 pm

          OK Lauren, I’ll bite. What yo you do for that $50k salary?

          Does your job *generate* a minimum of $75k annually for the organization? Be careful before you answer:

          a) If you do then your organization is *profitable* and your salary does not need to be subsidized by the taxpayers.

          b) If you don’t then clearly the organization is bleeding money, and the arguments for defunding are valid.

          I’ll wait…

      • Cheesy Floridian

        June 21, 2024 at 8:47 pm

        I thought DeSantis likes to use tax payer money for his lawsuits

      • rick whitaker

        June 21, 2024 at 9:51 pm

        PAUL, yeah, 900 million in desantis’ control, not the taxpayers. your comment is full of misinformation and cynicism. typical of maga cultist.

  • stacey063

    June 20, 2024 at 9:12 am

    Desantis continues to show that he has zero respect for any industry that brings joy and real personal freedom to communities. He’s just a big loser who deserves to fall into the crevice he crawled out of.

    • Flower Child

      June 20, 2024 at 9:21 am

      Let’s raise stacey063 taxes and let her pay for it. You go girl.

    • Spooder

      June 22, 2024 at 9:14 am

      I’m a snowbird to Fl I live in Buffalo NY and I am flabbergasted as to how this man got in office. My only hope is that many did not know he was a wannabe Trump. I think the majority of people in Florida whether snowbirds or permanent residents will be holding a champagne celebration when he’s no longer in office. He is beyond words and now I will bite my tongue.

  • Dr Phil

    June 20, 2024 at 1:21 pm

    Whatever Desantis and his followers think about supporting the arts, it’s a well know fact that for every dollar spent on the arts, approximately 8 times that amount comes back to the state and the taxpayers.
    It’s simply short sided and foolish to cut off the support even if he thinks the arts are “Too woke.”

    • Paul Passarelli

      June 22, 2024 at 3:38 pm

      Show us the math. I’d say don’t even bother to try, because the claim is dreadfully overblown, inflated, exaggerated, nonsense.

      If the grants were able to reach the *breakeven* point, then you might be able to garner some actual support. But the sad truth is that breakeven isn’t within sight for most of these organizations.

      Again, if the arts were that profitable, then there would be thriving businesses built around delivering them *EVERYWHERE*. Kinda like the sports franchises…

      And no I’m even more opposed to government handouts for stadiums et. al. than I am for the arts!!!

      • jean solomon

        June 30, 2024 at 2:42 pm

        apparently you are opposed to anything people may enjoy//tell us, are you also opposed to RON ‘appointing’ people to jobs that they are not required to qualify for, like any other employee./ a good example is the friend of his RON ZIEGLER and his wife… he ‘appointed to Reedy Creek board? or the one RON appointed to Orange county eclection office???

  • Dear Pu$$y Paul

    June 20, 2024 at 11:39 pm

    You ma’am are seriously incorrect. Rhonda is nothing more than a walking puppet for lobbyist and private interests in the state of Florida. Look at what gets funded and where these vetoed dollars will be redistributed….. you need to woke up!

    • Paul Passarelli

      June 22, 2024 at 3:32 pm

      Since I’m the only poster in this thread named Paul, I’ll assume that you’re trying to insult me.

      Sorry to tell you that you *FAILED*. Why? Because you’re a gutless coward that has to hide behind an alias.

      • rick whitaker

        June 23, 2024 at 2:06 pm

        PAUL PASSARELLI, i agree with dear pu$$y paul. i think you are a maga cultist that is out to condemn anything not maga. i’m not gutless by the way. i wouldn’t hesitate to challange you in any way. i have little or no fear, and i often stand up against pussys like you. rick whitaker is my real name and i welcome anything you got. florida deserves you. desantis has created a world for your type.

  • KeevenLex

    June 23, 2024 at 11:54 am

    “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

    John Adams, 2nd President of the United States of America

  • University of North Florida

    June 28, 2024 at 8:16 am

    It’s cute that he’s still pretending he’s relevant

  • jean solomon

    June 30, 2024 at 2:44 pm

    apparently you are opposed to anything people may enjoy//tell us, are you also opposed to RON ‘appointing’ people to jobs that they are not required to qualify for, like any other employee./ a good example is the friend of his RON ZIEGLER and his wife… he ‘appointed to Reedy Creek board? or the one RON appointed to Orange county eclection office???

Comments are closed.


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