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First it was childcare. Now Moran aims his crusade at arts funding

Written by on Saturday, February 3, 2024

Sarasota County commissioner wants tourism tax dollars to go to arts marketing, not arts organizations.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Feb. 2, 2024

Host: Commissioner Mike Moran is termed out and in his last year. But, after his complete makeover of how the county manages the funding process of social services, he continues his crusade to end what he calls Sarasota socialism. WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez was at a Sarasota County Commission meeting this week that discussed defunding arts organizations.

Ramon Lopez: There’s no question that the City of Sarasota, and the county beyond city limits, provide a wealth of arts and cultural activities that are attended by county residents — whether full-time or snowbirds — and visitors to the area who stay in the multitude of hotels and rental properties.

And it literally costs those visitors pennies to support those arts and cultural activities. The county provides several million dollars annually to fund 35 arts and cultural organizations through a half-cent bed tax. The cash also funds area beaches, sporting events and marketing and promotion of the region for tourism.

Last year, the Sarasota County Commissioners paused renewing the contract with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. The Alliance oversees the grant application process for cultural organizations.

The commissioners did this to gather more information about the grant process and how the money might otherwise be spent.

Sarasota County Commission Chair Mike Moran.

At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, the commissioners voted on how the penny tax money should be allocated in 2025 and beyond. The vote showed how the spending is shifting.

The commissioners approved a one-year extension of the contract with the Arts & Cultural Alliance. But they voted to shift half what previously went to the arts organizations to Visit Sarasota, the official tourism marketing entity of the county. And the county commission could end up completely defunding arts organizations in the following fiscal year.

Commission Chairman Mike Moran said he’d like to change how things work immediately and see all the tax money given to Visit Sarasota County, the official tourism marketing entity, to promote the arts programs. He wants arts organizations to be funded solely through philanthropy.

Mike Moran: The intent is that you take a tourist development tax with a very specific governmental public purpose in this case, is you take that tax, you push it back into the system to make more people come and put heads in beds. Anything that deviates from that is self-inflicted, in my opinion. That is the government’s purpose in this. Some of these programs are getting very specific, and [that’s] program development that, in my opinion, can be left to the philanthropic, private sector to maybe build those programs. This is specifically designed and specifically tasked with the mission of taking one head in the bed, tax, and put another head in the bed. Which I don’t think it’s a stretch whatsoever for Visit Sarasota to take on those responsibilities. They’ve been incredibly good at what they do. They are much broader than promoting Sarasota. They’ve promoted very specific things for us, including sports tourism for fiscal year 2025.

Visit Sarasota announcement of the “Embracing Our Differences” exhibition.

RL: For Fiscal Year 2025, the group voted unanimously to require that 50 percent of grant funds be used for marketing of programs and events, with the rest spent on the programs themselves.

Moran prefers that Visit Sarasota be brought in to handle all the grant funding. But the other commissioners went for the 50-50 split at least for Fiscal Year 2025. The spending ratio might change beyond that.

The Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center is one of the 35 recipients of tourism tax grant money. WSLR News is connected to the Fogartyville.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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