Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent line-item veto of arts and culture funding from next

year’s budget is a devastating blow to our community. This decision, while not

surprising, is yet another example of the headwinds we continue to face as a sector.

This veto eradicates essential support for organizations like mine, Orlando Family

Stage, and further reveals a gross misunderstanding of the value arts institutions

bring to a healthy society.


Orlando Family Stage ranked eighth out of 630 applicants through a rigorous grant

process and was poised to receive the full $150,000 allocation from the state. More

than 600 organizations around the state spent weeks’ worth of time and effort to

prepare, write, submit, read and review applications that support general and

programmatic operating dollars. This allocation was first halved earlier this spring,

and then zeroed out entirely by the governor in June. For organizations that already

have limited resources, this elimination strikes a fatal blow. Such a move dismisses

the critical role of the arts in fostering healthy and vibrant communities.


For context, the state’s budget for next year is $116.5 billion — that’s billion with a

B. How can we not find dollars to support arts and culture in our state when there is

a reported $17 billion in reserves? Our sector represents 3.15% of Florida’s GDP and

generates over 268,000 jobs. Every dollar we receive from the state has a 9:1 return.

Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) says the nation’s arts and

culture sector was a $1.1 trillion industry in 2022. This represents 4.3% of the

nation’s economy — a larger share of GDP than sectors such as Transportation,

Construction, Education and Agriculture. We drive billions of dollars in tourism each

year and create cities that people want to live in, yet apparently this isn’t important



Beyond important economic contributions, the arts serve indispensable human

needs, especially in times of volatility. Humans around the world are suffering from

isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression at dramatically increasing rates. Some

of the most startling statistics are amongst children. A recent book, “The Anxious

Generation” by Jonathan Haidt, provides endless examples of how new technologies

and our devices have dramatically altered the childhood experience; how teenagers

all over the world are struggling to find their place as their developing minds are

continuously manipulated by the devices in their pockets.


We work every single day at Orlando Family Stage to combat this. Every child is

welcome and belongs at the theater. Our work and our sector not only entertains

you, but helps you build meaningful connections. We foster confidence and

empathy, and most importantly provide a platform for all of us to experience

diverse voices and stories. The impact of arts organizations extend well beyond their

immediate economic footprint, we enrich the very fabric of our society.


In Central Florida, we have over 82 arts and culture organizations that receive

funding from the state of Florida arts and culture grants. The recommendation was

a measly $6.9 million dollars to support the 82 organizations — 82 organizations

whose missions directly serve our community in incredible ways. Our organization

alone supports 40,000 student field trips each year. The Florida Agricultural

Promotional Campaign Trust Fund is receiving $27.5 million dollars in a

“permanent distribution” to promote thoroughbred breeding and racing. I can’t

imagine that allocation is impacting 40,000 children each year.


Orlando Family Stage works with service providers and nonprofits to infuse theater

strategies into their daily work and afterschool programs. We served over 100

teachers this year with professional development to enrich their classrooms and

make learning more engaging for students. For the last two decades we have worked

with graduate students at UCF and lead our field nationally with innovative work.

Defunding the arts is a short-sighted decision with long-term repercussions. Arts

and culture are not fringe activities, but central to our humanity. I understand there

are important needs everywhere you turn, but does the Casey DeSantis Cancer

Research Program really need $127.5 million allocation in the state budget? Are they

serving 40,000 children annually? The governor’s veto not only undermines the

sector’s contributions and ignores the economic values, but it will also remove

access to the social and cultural benefits that our institutions provide, especially for

those who need it the most.


It is time for our leaders to recognize that the arts are essential and take action.

Funding for arts and culture is an investment in the state’s future, promoting a

thriving, dynamic, and inclusive community and should be a priority. The governor

should reconsider his priorities and restore this crucial funding.


Chris Brown
Executive Director | Orlando Family Stage


The above letter was originally published in Orlando Sentinel on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Read the original piece here.

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