Arts groups win state grants, still need our help

Seeing a recent list of arts, entertainment and cultural groups approved for Florida state grants reminds us of how many such organizations we are privileged to have in the Tampa Bay area.

Some are located in Tampa, some in St. Petersburg, but several offer entertainment and cultural experiences right in Clearwater. These include Ruth Eckerd Hall and the historic Capitol Theater, plus the Florida Orchestra which performs frequently in Clearwater and the 35th anniversary Clearwater Jazz Holiday. More on them in a minute.

This year, Tampa Bay area theaters, museums and performing arts centers will receive Florida state grants totaling about $5 million, more than in recent years. But state grants cover only a small percentage of operating budgets and capital expenses for these groups.

Not only that, but dozens of smaller arts and cultural organizations receive no state funding at all, leaving them entirely dependent on local support.

The fact of life today is that virtually no cultural organization can survive on ticket prices and admission fees alone. They all depend on financial contributions, volunteer time, in-kind donations of materials and services, along with the thousands of people who are season subscribers, buy individual tickets and attend their fundraising events.

Many organizations are able to generate only 50 to 75 percent of operating expenses from ticket sales. The rest must be raised locally through contributions. Concerned citizens and corporations donate generously to keep these organizations alive, but more support always is needed.

Looking at the list of state arts grants recipients, Clearwater specifically benefits from several excellent organizations that provide a broad range of dramatic and inspirational experiences. Predominantly, they include musical performances from classical to pop to jazz, Broadway and rock.

These are but a few of the organizations that deserve our support:

Ruth Eckerd Hall, on McMullen Booth Road, presents a year-round schedule of performing arts for adults, families and children, as well as classes, lectures and workshops in performing arts. It offers as many as 1,000 on-site and off-site events a year. Especially popular are touring Broadway shows, sold-out evening concerts, matinee performances and special events.

The Capitol Theater, newly renovated downtown on Cleveland Street and operated by Ruth Eckerd Hall, features big-name performers from around the world. It reopened with an expanded 750-seat capacity last December and has booked legendary singers Don McLean, Arlo Guthrie and Gordon Lightfoot among its coming events.

The Florida Orchestra performs exciting, inspiring classical music in its Masterworks series, along with a Pops concert series, from October through May, appearing locally at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation presents its 35th anniversary four-day jazz festival October 16-19 downtown in Coachman Park with performers including Earth, Wind & Fire, Spyro Gyra, Dr. John, Trombone Shorty and many others yet to be announced.

Organizations like these are vitally important to a community. Surveys repeatedly show that people want to visit and live in an area that has more to offer than beautiful beaches, but also art, culture and historic sites. Many older, educated visitors particularly seek out places that include visual art and performing arts.

With these and other cultural groups, Clearwater residents and visitors have hundreds of opportunities throughout the year to experience high-quality, live performances by acclaimed artists. Thanks to the governor, the state legislature and ultimately the state’s taxpayers who fund these annual cultural grants.

But nonprofit museums, theaters and performing arts organizations cannot exist without individual and business donations and support. They all need our help.

Joseph Santangelo is a former reporter for the Bergen Record newspaper in New Jersey. He has written for magazines in Connecticut and Massachusetts and worked in business, government and community service. He writes from Clearwater.

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