REPRESENTING VOLUSIA — Members of the Volusia County Council listen to commentary from the public about the county’s annual grants to arts groups and programs. From left are County Council Members Jake Johansson, Danny Robins, Matt Reinhart, County Chair Jeff Brower and County Council Members Troy Kent and Don Dempsey. Missing from the meeting was County Council Member David Santiago.

More than three hours of calls from supporters of the arts and Volusia County’s official support of them secured continued funding for a variety of cultural organizations.

In a house packed with patrons of cultural groups, the County Council June 6 listened to a chorus of pleas to not cut off annual grants for the groups.

“It’s great to see this room filled,” County Chair Jeff Brower said, as he looked over the crowd, most of whom were there to speak or cheer for the county’s cultural-grants program.

Brower added the reports of possible reductions or elimination of the grant program had spurred a conversation — indeed, a groundswell — within the county. The prospect of cutting or shelving the cultural-arts spending emerged as a cost-saving proposal amid economic uncertainty.

“How do we improve the arts and culture in Volusia County?” Brower asked. “It’s a program that has to be looked at. … Everyone on this council has received emails. … This meeting so far has been about people working together.”

The term “cultural” spans a range of activities, including music, dance, local live theater, painting, drawing, crafts, sculpture, and historic preservation. 

The cultural-grants program, which began in 1989, is not to be confused with the Volusia ECHO program. ECHO is an acronym for Environmental/Cultural/Historical/Outdoor Recreation, which provides for the acquisition or development of assets that meet any one or more of those categories. The ECHO program is funded by a special voter-approved property tax of 1/5 mill, or 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. The ECHO grants may be used only for capital expenses, however, not for overhead or recurring costs.
“ECHO cannot be used for operating [expenses],” Community Services Director Dona Butler said.

Audience participation in the live drama

The turnout and the impassioned arguments turned the tide and preserved the $600,000-plus of grants for the operating expenses of qualifying groups for the foreseeable future.

“Once you cut something, it’s very hard to get it back,” Jennifer Coolidge, of the Florida Cultural Alliance, told the council.

The annual cultural-arts funding now goes to 32 nonprofit organizations, as recommendations by the Cultural Council. The Cultural Council is a nine-member advisory board appointed by the County Council to review and screen funding requests. The actual total, $611,758, was set in 2010, based on a per capita rate of $1.50 for each person then living in Volusia County.

“This has not increased for the past 13 years,” Community Services Director Dona Butler said.

More than 40 people spoke during the public-comment period, and all but one of them defended the grants program or urged the County Council to appropriate more cash for it.

“I have not found anything more powerful than the arts,” Traci Flumer, of the Volusia Community Arts, said, adding the cultural groups provide “an outlet of hope, strength and commitment and a sense of belonging. … My colleagues and I work on fundraising. … Please don’t be quick to do away with a program that brings so much into the county … and the quality of life.”

David Axelrod, a poet who said he is “a mentor for young poets,” likewise urged that the county’s spending on culture continue.

“I think you know of another David who was a poet, King David and the 23rd Psalm,” Axelrod said, reading the well-known passage from the Bible before calling upon the council. “In fact, you are our shepherds. … Thank you for listening, and support the arts.”

Jacqueline Lewis, who formerly worked for AdventHealth as a recruiter of physicians for the corporation’s hospitals in Volusia County, said the local cultural offerings and activities have attracted professionals.

“They chose Volusia for the quality of life,” she added. “We need physicians that are going to come and stay. … They chose to live here because of the arts.”

“When I heard there was $600,000, I thought, ‘Why aren’t there more?’” Georgia Turner, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority, said, adding the program accounts for only 0.038 percent of the county’s annual operating budget of almost $1.06 billion. “It’s an investment, not a detriment.”

Erick Nielsen, who heads the Barberville Pioneer Settlement, said his attraction and others provide a local economic boost.

“When they come to the Settlement, they spend money,” he said.

The Pioneer Settlement, a living-history exhibit that focuses on life on the Florida frontier, has been in operation since 1976, Nielsen added. 

DeLand’s first family in the spotlight

DeLand Mayor Chris Cloudman likewise added his voice of support for cultural funding.

“I think it’s a worthwhile investment, under $1.50 per year,” he told the County Council.

BEACON PHOTO/AL EVERSON FROM THE HEART — Among the many speakers urging the Volusia County Council to continue to fund the cultural arts grants June 6 was DeLand Mayor Chris Cloudman’s daughter Isobel Cloudman. “I have had the distinct pleasure of being born and growing up in DeLand,” she told the County Council. Isobel Cloudman specifically cited the arts as what shaped her into the person she is today. Her father also spoke in favor of the arts funding.

A short time later, Cloudman’s daughter Isobel stepped up to speak.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of being born and growing up in DeLand. I stand before you to ask you to continue the cultural-arts grants,” she said. “It has made me the young lady that I am today, and I feel it plays a crucial role in the quality of life in Volusia County.”

Speaking for the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand, Reginald Williams appealed for the continuation of the cultural grants.

“Without this funding this program has provided, the museum probably would have closed its doors,” he said. 

The only one in the audience who spoke out against the cultural-arts funding was Keith Chester, who said he speaks for “the working class” and those paying high taxes.

“We are pricing the working class out of working here,” he said. “We’re really suffering. … Where is our workforce going to come from if we price them out?”

If you can’t beat them, join them

Seeing the size of the audience and its overwhelming position on arts funding, the County Council joined in the show of support. Brower, however, told fellow county officials to seek state funding for the cultural arts.

“These are sources that we should go after,” he told his colleagues and the crowd before them.

Council Member Jake Johansson, who had suggested the County Council end support for cultural-arts groups, agreed.

“Go sit in [state Rep.] Chase Tramont’s office — all of you,” he urged the crowd.

Tramont, R-Port Orange, was elected to represent Florida House District 30 last fall.

Brower acknowledged calls to cut the county’s budget and taxes are, for him, more common than demands to increase spending.

“We’ve got people every single day who complain about the money that is being spent, and ask, ‘Why are you handing money to a nonprofit?’” he noted.

In what seemed ironic to some, Council Member Don Dempsey declared himself a patron of the arts, by recalling his own erstwhile investment in a cultural enterprise in Downtown DeLand.

“It cost a lot of money,” he said, referring to a comedy club that he had started. “Unfortunately, I had to shut down.”

Dempsey had also questioned the need for the county’s funding of cultural groups.

“I appreciate the arts,” he added.

Before the County Council voted unanimously to retain the cultural-arts grants from the budget’s general fund, Brower suggested anew that the grant program be revamped.

“I still want to change the program,” he said. “There are so many needs in this county. … I want to talk about basing the [grant] awards more heavily on merit.”

In the end, the council voted 6-0 to keep the cultural-arts funding at its current level, $611,758, for the coming fiscal year, and to keep the Cultural Arts Council. Council Member David Santiago was absent.

The Cultural Council, however, is defunct because the County Council has not appointed any of the new members to replace the nine whose terms expired earlier this year. The council agreed to make appointments at a later date.

“If we pulled this $611,000, the cultural arts would not go away,” Johansson observed.

For the 2022-23 fiscal year, 32 organizations received money through Volusia County’s cultural art grant program. 

The African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand — $4,716

The Art League of Daytona Beach — $8,740

ArtHaus in Port Orange — $12,778

Artists’ Workshop of New Smyrna Beach — $9,794

Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach — $74,303

Bel Canto Singers of Daytona Beach — $1,672

Cinematique of Daytona — $11,394

Daytona Beach Choral Society — $663

Daytona Beach Symphony Society — $13,597

Daytona Playhouse — $9,221

DeLand Naval Air Station — $4,226

Enterprise Preservation Society — $6,298

Fall Festival of the Arts DeLand — $15,065

Florida Surf Film Festival held in New Smyrna Beach — $7,811

Florida Wing, Commemorative Air Force in DeLand — $6,501

Gateway Center for the Arts in DeBary — $17,298

Halifax Historical Society — $10,559

Heritage Preservation Trust — $9,997

HUB on Canal in New Smyrna Beach — $39,553

IMAGES: A Festival of the Arts held in New Smyrna Beach — $13,454

Little Theatre of New Smyrna Beach — $16,082

Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum in New Smyrna Beach — $4,199

Museum of Art – DeLand — $74,919

Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach — $74,457

Ormond Beach Historical Society — $16,180

Ormond Memorial Art Museum — $25,734

Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts in Barberville — $21,436

Sands Theatre Center in DeLand — $72,611

Shoestring Theatre in Lake Helen — $8,115

Southeast Volusia Historical Society — $9,427

USA Dance Greater Daytona Chapter #6026 — $3,660

West Volusia Historical Society — $7,298


  1. End the County tax dollar giveaways…..

    Our County Council needs to stop making our charitable giving decisions for us. ALL of the County tax dollar giveaways need to be ended. Every group begging for our money has a cause and a story, however, none of those causes or stories justifies the forcible taking of someone else’s money in order to give it away to a so-called nonprofit. Let the free market work, if a nonprofit is not valued by the community it should be allowed to no longer exist. We need our County Government doing a better job at taking care of its core responsibilities and that does not include giving our money away to nonprofits. We have over crowded and crumbling roads, infrastructure improvement needs, comp plan mandates to be met, inadequate public transportation options, littered right of ways and waterways, and other environmental issues that need to be addressed. And I must add, we can not keep adding more burdens on our young people who are just starting out here. A young person starting out here, in many cases, will be paying as much as 5 to 10 times more for property taxes compared to what some of us older established folks are paying. There are some who are pushing for more giveaways and higher property tax burdens who literally pay NO property taxes at all because of their special property tax exemptions. Young hard working people here are already facing an affordable housing crisis, taking more from them for giveaways will only harm them worse. And property taxes are just part of the problem, if a young person wishes to build or buy a new home in Volusia County they will also be hit with a government mandated impact fee of over $9,200. And let us not forget young renters pay property taxes through their monthly rental payments and their landlords do not receive property tax deductions like many of us established homeowners who have the benefit of Save Our Homes (limits the annual increase in the assessed value of homesteaded properties to 3% or the change in the National Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less.), homestead exemption, and the other property tax breaks offered.

    The best way to help our hard working young people thrive here is to pay them a livable wage, provide quality core governmental services, and keep their tax burdens low, and as they start to thrive allow them to make their own charitable giving decisions. Our future depends on them and they depend on us to do what is right.

    All of us should all be allowed to give as we can and as we wish to the charities of our choosing and we should not have our money forced from our pockets and given to the charities of another’s choosing for any reason. I call on the members of the Volusia County Council to end all of the County tax dollar giveaways.

    There is nothing noble or kind about going before your government representatives and asking them to take more from your neighbors for what you want especially when you do not know the struggles your neighbor may be facing and it is certainly wrong for someone who pays so little, and in some cases nothing, in property taxes to try and force those who are paying at a much greater rate to pay even more. Give as you can and let others do the same.


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