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Theatre, Art Museum get boost from state

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of July 24, 2014)

Vero’s two largest cultural organizations are getting a major boost from state tax dollars this year, with both the Vero Beach Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre having their grant requests fully funded for the first time in recent memory.

Directors say Riverside Theatre’s state funding increased from $36,019 last year to $150,000 in 2014-15, a jump of 316 percent. The museum will also receive $150,000, up from $33,752.

Last year, the state’s arts organizations requested grants totaling $25.5 million and received just over $9 million. This year’s budget included $43.3 million statewide for spending on the arts.

That total significantly raises Florida’s standing in per capita spending on the arts nationwide, with some reports putting the state in fifth place, depending on the outcome of other states’ budgets. In the last fiscal year, Florida ranked only 41st.

The grants will go toward the general operating expenses of the museum and the theater, as well as for exhibitions at the museum.

“We’re thrilled, needless to say,” says Lucinda Gedeon, executive director of the art museum. “It’s what we applied for every year but of course we have not been funded to that extent for a number of years.“

”It’s just a blessing,” said Patti Rooney, controller for Riverside Theatre. “Oh, my gosh, we need it badly. Otherwise we have to fund-raise for it.” Riverside runs on a $7.1 million budget, much of it from ticket sales and patron producer donations.

Rooney writes the grant applications for Riverside. “You’re bringing up everything we do in a year and our goals for making things better, having the numbers increase, hitting more targets,” she explained. “In this particular case, this grant was to have more community involvement, to be leaders in the community and just to take the theater to another level, including the children’s theater.”

Negron, a Republican from Palm City whose district extends to Vero, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. He met with cultural arts representatives at the museum in January when a statewide conference was held for an organization known as Citizens for Florida Arts.

Barbara Hoffman, executive director of the Indian River Cultural Council, was among those in attendance. Hoffman said that along with fully funding both the museum and theater’s $150,000 grant requests, Negron was also able to push through a $240,000 state contribution to the museum’s endowment fund.

“Sen. Negron deserves incredible praise for how he so strongly defended the arts, and increased funding even from what we were asking from the Division of Cultural Arts,” she said.

“The arts are a vitally important part of our community,” said Negron. “I will always fight for their fair share of state funding.”

"The arts in Florida are money making," says Allen Cornell, Riverside's executive director. "It's all part of the tax base. I think that was recognized by the current legislature.  Of course we’re thrilled."