Arts organizations brace for impact of budget cuts

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed about $900 million in state projects, including $32 million in cultural and museum grants and related funding, as he signed the 2024-25 $116.5 billion state budget.

Garden Theatre's recent Broadway on Plant production of "All Shook Up."
Garden Theatre's recent Broadway on Plant production of "All Shook Up."
Bagwell Photography
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 12 vetoed about $900 million in state projects as he signed the 2024-25 $116.5 billion state budget.

The budget covers the fiscal year starting July 1.

“This budget delivers historic support for education, infrastructure and conservation, yet spends less than the year before and includes major tax relief,” DeSantis said. “We have paid down 36% of the state’s entire tax-supported debt over the course of my term, and the state maintains a AAA credit rating, one of the lowest tax burdens in America, and more than $17 billion in reserve.”

The veto also consists of $32 million in cultural and museum grants and related funding. Some critics believe the move damages an almost $3 billion engine of the state’s tourist-powered economy.

The decision has left some of the 577 arts programs and 33 facilities around the state scrambling to plug holes from the loss of the anticipated financial help. Locally, organizations such as HAPCO, Garden Theatre, Theatre South Playhouse and Horizon West Theatre Company are feeling the impact.


Theatre South Playhouse management staff said this was the first time the organization had sought out and was approved for state funding. The veto came as a shock.

The playhouse had applied, a process staff said was extensive and exhaustive, and had been recommended for $25,000 in General Programming Support from the Florida Department of Arts & Culture. 

The funding was to be split evenly over staffing, the theater’s new paid internship program — which now will have to be re-evaluated — and two of the planned professional productions, “Puffs” and “Annie.”

“We were recommended for funding in July 2023 and have been waiting for, and counting on, this funding for a year,” management staff said. “Two weeks before the start of the 2025 Fiscal Year, the funding was completely canceled out. This was a complete and total shock to the entire arts community. Nothing like this has ever happened before. This is totally unprecedented and absolutely devastating.”

Theatre South Playhouse's production of "Ride the Cyclone."
Photo courtesy of Theatre South Playhouse

This also was the first time HAPCO had applied for state funding, so the music and arts organization did not know what to expect.

“I am involved in politics, as well, so I know anything can happen,” HAPCO Chairman Joseph McMullen said. “State Rep. Bruce Antone sponsored our application, and Sen. Geraldine Thompson was a companion sponsor — the support of the application itself was amazing. It generated an interest from other politicians in what we are doing to help our next generations succeed, which was even more amazing. We had applied for the grant maximum of $200,000. That full funding was approved by both the House and the Senate. We would have been extremely grateful for any amount granted. That it was vetoed by the governor was not a shock but was disheartening.”

As an effect, several educational program offerings planned for the area will be impacted, including master class clinicians, digital music production, ghost kitchen and supplies, and class supplies.

HAPCO's winter jazz clinic students.
Photo courtesy of HAPCO

In the 2025 Fiscal Year, the Garden Theatre was approved for $150,000, the largest amount that can be awarded to an arts organization in the theater’s category.

Despite approval, organizations must await the legislative process and final budget approval before receiving the funds. 

Earlier this year, Garden Theatre leaders said the arts community was alerted that the arts funding line item in the state’s budget was targeted for reduction. In response, the theater engaged with representatives at both local and state levels to advocate for arts funding. 

Despite the theater’s efforts, leadership learned in April the funding for the conditional grants had been significantly reduced, with about half of the intended award amount to be included in the budget. 

“This news was disheartening, but we were still grateful for the partial funding,” Garden Theatre leaders said. “However, we were unprepared for the shock of discovering last week that the entire arts budget had been vetoed. 

“Faced with the loss of a major revenue source, Garden Theatre will have to conduct an internal review and make difficult decisions, potentially including programming alterations, hiring freezes and reduced support to community partners who receive arts education programming at no or reduced cost,” they said. “Despite these challenges, we remain hopeful that we can identify additional supporters to help close this financial gap, minimizing the impact on our community, patrons, staff and talent so that we can continue to provide high-quality art and arts education in West Orange County.”

Some newer organizations, such as Horizon West Theatre Company, were eagerly awaiting a fifth anniversary to be eligible to apply. Unfortunately, the timing of the cuts coincided with the organization’s milestone anniversary, and the company never was able to be a recipient.

“With that being said, the cuts in funding will not change our current operation, but it does prohibit our goals for growth,” Raja Jalernpan, board president for Horizon West Theatre Company, said. “We were counting on grant money to assist with finally securing our own space. Space is highly sought after in our area. At present, we rely on renting local high schools and partnering with businesses for our performances, classes and rehearsals. Unfortunately, renting from Orange County Public Schools is prohibitively expensive, limiting the number of shows, classes and events we can offer. Without these grants being available to us, we will continue to fundraise through other channels to eventually reach our goals.”


Although the impact on local arts cuts deep, organization leaders’ concerns stretch across the state as a whole. 

“The state of Florida budget cut will cause financial strain and impact arts and cultural organizations in various ways,” Garden Theatre leadership said. “Some organizations may have to cancel events, reduce the frequency of performances, or limit educational programs and workshops. Others may need to implement hiring freezes, conduct layoffs or reduce hours for staff. Many arts organizations, like the Garden Theatre, collaborate with schools (Maxey Elementary), community groups (West Orange Chamber of Commerce) and other nonprofits (Eight Waves). Budget cuts will reduce the support and resources these organizations can provide to their partners, diminishing community outreach and engagement efforts.

“Arts and cultural organizations contribute significantly to local economies by attracting tourism, creating jobs and stimulating spending in related sectors (such as) hospitality and retail,” they said. “For instance, the Garden Theatre draws thousands of visitors annually to our historic town who enjoy the shops and restaurants before and after shows. Budget cuts will have a ripple effect on the broader economy in which these organizations reside. The arts play a vital role in community building and cultural expression. Reduced funding can limit an organization’s ability to engage with the community, reducing cultural vibrancy and community cohesion.”

Theatre South leaders also predict the same massive impact throughout Florida.

“The local arts and culture community provides more than half-billion dollars in economic impact and more than 9,400 jobs to the Central Florida area, as shown in the recent Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study by Americans for the Arts,” management staff said. “That same study put the economic impact for the entire state of Florida at $5.7 billion, with 91,000 jobs in arts and culture. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, ‘The arts’ impacts on health and well-being can be seen at all stages of life. From early childhood through adolescence and youth, arts education can support the social and emotional needs of students, helping them better to cope with their feelings, to bounce back from adversity, and to show tolerance and compassion for others. For older adults, greater frequency of arts participation has been linked to positive health outcomes. … In cities, towns and neighborhoods, arts-based strategies can contribute to greater social cohesion, health equity and community well-being.’”

“So many of our young people face uncertain futures because of their socioeconomic level,” McMullen said. “They can’t afford the tools they need to improve their talents — musical instruments, painting supplies or private lessons — much less college. HAPCO’s programs help kids use their musical, culinary and artistic talents to fund their college education or to pursue professional careers.”

Despite the impacts, McMullen and his team at HAPCO plan to continue to be committed to paying it forward with the area’s young people.

“We’re a volunteer-driven group of people who faced similar challenges when we were young,” he said. “With that funding, we were going to do more of what we’ve been doing … This funding veto will not impact the quality of the education our clinicians provide or the experiences we bring to the community. It impacts student economic self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and community contributions. It limits how many kids we reach. The arts are often seen as optional when it comes to funding, but they are at the roots of who we are as people.”

Theatre South management staff also plan to push forward despite the challenges.

“We have made it 15 years without any state funding, and we will continue on,” the staff said. “We are looking to the community, however, to help with this shortfall. We need the community to come together and support local live theater and theater education. We will be hosting community events and fundraisers but are very much in need of corporate and business sponsorships and community investment.”

The Garden Theatre and its board plan to find other funding sources to mitigate the impact of budget cuts and encourage the community to be part of the solution.

“By continuing to diversify our funding stream, we will be able to support our mission and maintain programming, community partnerships and our contribution to the local economy, even in the face of reduced state funding,” Garden leaders said.  “However, this reduction in funding is truly a call to arts supporters everywhere to embrace arts venues either directly with cash support or indirectly through in-kind gifts and volunteer efforts.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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