Proposed budget would eliminate $11 million in cultural grants
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The head of Miami-Dade's Cultural Affairs Council says he doubts county commissioners will carry out Mayor Carlos Alvarez' proposal to eliminate $11 million in cultural grant money.
Arts and cultural groups inject too many dollars into the local economy to fall victim to Mayor Alvarez's cuts, said Adolfo Henriques, Cultural Affairs Council chair.
The groups have escaped steep reductions the last two years of budget cutting. Mr. Henriques said he expects the same outcome this year despite the wide scope of targets Mayor Alvarez has included in his proposal to cut $427 million from the county budget.
If carried out, the cuts would spell trouble for nearly 1,000 cultural groups of all shapes and sizes.
"We're very hopeful that the commission will reinstate all of the budget," Mr. Henriques said. "The money that we invest in cultural organizations around the community is leveraged to a very, very high degree and it would be tremendous economic loss."
Mr. Henriques, a longtime banker and real estate executive who recently joined the Related Group as vice chairman, said a study by the county's department of cultural affairs found that each dollar invested in the arts returns 27.
The economic impact in the long and short term, he argued, is reason enough to maintain the grants funding.
"While capital investments are things that may not be felt for a number of years, [this] money is being deployed" and felt immediately, Mr. Henriques said. "The negative impact is immediate; if an organization can't survive because it doesn't have the funds [its disappearance] is not something that's going to happen over a number of years."
On top of the 10 grants programs to be cancelled, the county's Department of Cultural Affairs will lose another nine employees in an effort to trim $922,000.
The mayor's cost-cutting measures also remove general-fund subsidies to Miami Art Museum, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and Miami Science Museum.
County libraries would be closed an additional day each week, park maintenance cut 25% and all park programs that aren't self-supporting would end.
And as a Monday morning quarterback, Miami-Dade Commissioner Sen. Javier Souto, who chairs the county commission's Recreation, Culture and Tourism Committee, said the county should have put money away in preparation for a day when it couldn't fund South Florida cultural organizations.
But as commissioners this week discuss how to close the multimillion-dollar budget gap, the future of the grant money vital to South Florida's cultural scene is uncertain.
In fiscal 2008-09, the department budgeted $14.8 million for grants. In the mayor's proposed budget, that number comes in at about $4.4 million.
"The fact of the matter is that it's going to be very difficult," Mr. Souto said. "I don't know how we're going to smell when we come out of this.
"Maybe very bad."
Without county support, many young arts organizations could disappear through attrition, creating a speed bump in Miami's road to becoming a world-class cultural city, supporters say.
Miami remains a "first generation" cultural community with cultural organizations in their first generation of life, said Michael Spring, director of the county's cultural affairs department, in a 2007 arts and culture roundtable sponsored by Miami Today.
Given the lengthy process of educating board members and civic leaders, he added, it could take as long as 25 years to mature a cultural community with stabilized patronage and finances.
If, however, cuts are made, it's going to be a long, complex process to figure out which organizations will best use the limited funds.
"You want to provide support to those organizations that will be able to survive those cuts," Mr. Henriques argued. But "it would be inappropriate for us to try and make those cuts without some serious in-depth analysis of what the implications will be."
The county's cultural department, on the other hand, was less willing to predict the shape of its grant programs in the coming year.
"I don't really see a benefit to speculating," said Deborah Margol, deputy director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. "Once we have an actual figure to work with, we'll have some serious discussions but were both hopeful and striving for that figure to be flat at worst."
According to the mayor's proposed budget, the department's revenues will come in at $15.9 million while its expenditures total about $13.2 million.
Those are significantly down from prior years," Ms. Margol added.
Like Mr. Henriques, she was confident that county won't completely abandon the nearly 1,000 organization that are partially funded by the public purse.
"What we're hoping, given all of the past history, is that they'll continue to show strong support and invest in the county's cultural industry," Mr. Margol said.
But without those grant programs, many of South Florida's cultural beacons have a hard path ahead of them, including Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre.
"It's one grant that would make it difficult for us to continue to be who we are today," said Barbara Stein, executive producing director of the Actors' Playhouse.
In fiscal 2007-08, nearly 38% of the theater's operating budget came from $200,000 in multiple county grants.
Combined with drops in state funding and slimmed-down operations, the absence of county grants could drastically alter the theater's future.
"It would make it impossible to operate at the level we've planned [for] and have been operating at," Ms. Stein said. "We've kept our infrastructure very lean and there's not a lot of room to cancel out a lot of expenditures."
In the coming year, she said, the theater will only put on one 30-character-plus performance when it used to do two.
Sets and musical accompaniments will also be scaled down to accommodate a new economic reality.
All the while, single-ticket sales have been rising.
"We hope our programming will continue to attract the community," Ms. Stein added. If not, "we'll have to sit down and chat about it among staff and board members about how to generate the revenue.
"I think there are a lot of organizations that won't make it through this bad time without funding but I know we will."