With funding from the state dramatically slashed, how will Orlando arts groups keep going? 

Don't stop the music

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Why are these funding cuts a big deal for these groups, some of whom raise almost all of their funds from private donors and ticket sales?

The vast majority of grant-based funding in the nonprofit world is "restricted," meaning project-based. That type of grant will fund a specific program, but it's more difficult to find someone to underwrite an organization's operating or administrative expenses, says Vicki Landon, the development director at the Orlando Repertory Theatre.

"The state of Florida is one of just a handful of funders that actually offers general operating support for unrestricted funding, where these dollars granted can be used on our utility bill, they can be used on staff salaries, computers or administrative work, insurance," Landon says. "There's a lot of funders out there who like to fund our programs, but we need to have that base-level administrative operational person in place or else those programs don't exist."

And these cuts could erode Central Florida's rise as a cultural crossroads in the long-term. This region sees roughly 72 million individuals pass through annually, according to Visit Orlando, and not just for the theme parks, says Terry Olson, who heads Orange County's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. It's for cultural tourism, too.

"We're in a place to be a world cultural capital, to have things that people from all over the world will want to come see," Olson says. "[Funding cuts] make it harder to do that. If we want to keep up with the status of, you know, a world cultural capital, we can't put on little ditties. We have to be excellent in what we do."

Olson adds: "I mean $2 million – it's 13 cents per citizen, I think, for the state of Florida."

Olson points out that the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra booked Yo-Yo Ma – arguably the greatest living classical musician – for its 25th anniversary concert in early May, and says a city like Orlando needs such culturally significant performances to bolster its reputation within the creative world.

For the most part, it'll be the larger groups within the local arts and culture sector that take the hardest hit. The Orlando Museum of Art, for example, requested $150,000, but will only receive $9,582; last year, OMA received $48,692. That's a big gap to fill with donor contributions.

For smaller groups, that gulf in funding might be a bit easier to handle, especially for those that concentrate on grass-roots funding in the first place.

The Winter Park Playhouse is a good example: It will receive $6,483 less in 2018-2019 than it did this year. But as Playhouse co-founder and executive director Heather Alexander explains, that's manageable.

"The Playhouse was not reliant on that," she says. "We're not going to fire anyone or cut our programming. Everything's going to continue as planned."

Alexander says that if anything must go, it'll be some of Playhouse's outreach programming for senior citizens and children.

"And that's not something we're selling tickets to, right? Unfortunately, if I can't find any extra money to make up for the cuts, we would just have to take some of those performances away," Alexander says. "Which is sad."

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