An Inside Look at the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finals

by Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Each year State Champions from throughout the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are awarded the opportunity to compete in the Poetry Out Loud National Semi-Finals and Finals in Washington, DC.  This exciting opportunity includes an all-expense paid trip to Washington for each state finalists and a chaperone. I attended the Finals at the end of April as Florida’s State Coordinator to watch our champion, Emily Rodriguez, compete and to learn more about the Poetry Out Loud program.  While there I enjoyed touching base with other program directors from each state, and it was a pleasure to meet the many devoted folks from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation who make Poetry Out Loud a huge success.

This year’s 53 Poetry Out Loud State Champions in Washington, DC. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

This year’s 53 Poetry Out Loud State Champions in Washington, DC. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emily Rodriguez, a 12th grade student at Academy of the Holy Names in Hillsborough County, traveled to Washington with her mom to compete in the National competition. During the first two rounds of Region 2’s semi-finals, Emily recited “The Empty Dance Shoes”by Cornelius Eady and “Memory as a Hearing Aid” by Tony Hoagland.  Not surprisingly, Emily’s excellent recitation skills led to the judges’ selecting her as one of the top 10 students to move onto the third round. During this final round, Emily recited “Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God” by John Donne. All of us at the Division of Cultural Affairs are very proud of Emily’s performance and recognize how prestigious it is for her to have been selected to compete in the final round of the Semi-Finals.

Emily Rodriguez reciting Cornelius Eady’s “The Empty Dance Shoes.” Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emily Rodriguez reciting Cornelius Eady’s “The Empty Dance Shoes.” Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Given the vast amount of talent that showed up in Washington for the 2014 National Finals, the judges understandably had a very difficult time making their final decisions.  In the end, three students from each of the three regional Semi-Finals were selected to compete in the Finals. The following evening these nine student each recited poems during the first two rounds. Ultimately, the top three students were selected to perform a third poem to determine their standings as the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finalists. This year, these finalists included Natasha Simone Vargas (New Jersey), Lake Wilburn (Ohio), and Anita Norman (Tennessee) who were surely thrilled!

Once Natasha, Lake, and Anita recited their third poem, the judges determined that Anita Norman would be this year’s National Champion.  In addition to all of the national recognition that accompanies this honor, Anita Norman was presented with a prize of $20,000!  Lake Wilburn came in 2nd place with a $10,000 prize and Natasha Vargas received $5,000. It was wonderful to see such talent acknowledged. The amount of positive energy flowing among all of the students, regardless of their final standings, was evidence of this. The experience was truly gratifying for all involved.

National Champion Anita Norman interviewed by Neda Ulaby from National Public Radio. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

National Champion Anita Norman interviewed by Neda Ulaby from National Public Radio. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Clearly, the fifty-three Poetry Out Loud National Finalists had the time of their life! Besides making connections with like-minded teens from across the United States, their Washington experience included opportunities to meet significant published authors and public figures from stage, screen, radio, and government. Plus, the folks at the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts made certain that the students’ time in Washington was filled with exciting events like meet and greet receptions, an opening banquet with last year’s National Champion Langston Ward, a Congressional breakfast, time on Capitol Hill, and a great National Finals after party.  Having seen how fulfilling the experience was and how wholly the students embraced their love of poetry, I have higher praise for Poetry Out Loud than ever before.

Participation in a Poetry Out Loud program begins at the classroom level. It’s easy to incorporate the program into the curriculum because Poetry Out Loud correlates with English Language Arts Standards set by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Not only does the program seek to encourage our nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through performance and recitation, it is an inclusive program.  It creates an entry point for students to appreciate poetry, it reaches out to students who might not have otherwise taken to poetry or the stage, and it impacts the lives of students both academically and socially. I strongly encourage high school teachers to incorporate the program into their language arts curriculum. Schools interested in finding out more can visit the official Poetry Out Loud website, visit the Florida Division of Cultural Affair’s POL webpage, or contact me for more information. It might just be a student from your community who goes to Washington next year!

Poetry, like camaraderie, is stirring and fun.Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Poetry, like camaraderie, is stirring and fun. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Postcard From: The Florida Poetry Out Loud 2014 State Finals

by Tim Storhoff

Forty-two students from across Florida competed in Tallahassee on Saturday, March 1 for the Florida Poetry Out Loud State Finals. This year, the Poetry Out Loud program in 28 of Florida’s counties assisted more than 15,000 secondary-level students in learning about poetry in their classrooms. The Florida Division of Cultural Affairs oversaw outreach to schools and communities around the state spanned many of Florida’s school districts and regions.

The Poetry Out Loud competition begins at the classroom level. Winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to the state competition in Tallahassee. Each state winner ultimately competes in the National Finals in Washington, D.C. Teachers at more than fifty Florida high schools completed this program through to the end, and forty-two schools were represented in the State Finals competition.

The photos below depict the exciting and poetry-filled day these students had.

Forty-two students from across the state who won the individual competitions at their own schools came to Tallahassee and competed on March 1.

Forty-two students from across the state who won the individual competitions at their own schools came to Tallahassee and competed on March 1.

The competition was held at the R.A. Gray Building in downtown Tallahassee.

The competition was held at the R.A. Gray Building in downtown Tallahassee.

As this schedule of events shows, students had a full day.

As this schedule of events shows, students had a full day.

All students recited a poem in the first and second round. Cassidy Camp of Coral Shores High School in Monroe County presented "Baudelaire" By Delmore Schwartz in the first round.

All students recited a poem in the first and second round. Cassidy Camp of Coral Shores High School in Monroe County presented “Baudelaire” By Delmore Schwartz in the first round.

Judges included faculty from Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College. Judges evaluated the students in six different areas: Physical Presence, Voice and Articulation, Dramatic Appropriateness, Level of Difficulty, Evidence of Understanding, and Overall Performance.

Judges included faculty from Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College. They evaluated the students in six different areas: Physical Presence, Voice and Articulation, Dramatic Appropriateness, Level of Difficulty, Evidence of Understanding, and Overall Performance.

The event was hosted by Sandy Shaughnessy, Director of the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

The event was hosted by Sandy Shaughnessy, Director of the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

Students read poems on multiple themes and from various countries and parts of history. In the first round Kamarr Le’Vere of Wekiva High School recited "April Love" by Ernest Dowson, who lived from 1867 to 1900.

Students read poems on multiple themes and from various countries and parts of history. In the first round, Kamarr Le’Vere of Wekiva High School recited “April Love” by Ernest Dowson, who lived from 1867 to 1900.

While students weren't on stage reciting their poems, they spent much of their time in the green room hanging out and rehearsing for the next round.

While students weren’t on stage reciting their poems, they spent much of their time in the green room hanging out and rehearsing for the next round.

After the first two rounds, ten students were selected to read a third poem in the final round.

After the first two rounds, judges selected ten students to read a third poem in the final round.

In the third round, Savannah McCord from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind presented William Blake's "A Poison Tree" in ASL.

In the third round, Savannah McCord from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind presented William Blake’s “A Poison Tree” in American Sign Language.

This year a new award was added to the state finals, and the Muse Award was given to David Luciemable of North Fort Myers High School. This award was given to the student whose passion and engagement with poetry stood out during their recitation. The decision was made by Division of Cultural Affairs Director Sandy Shaughnessy in consultation with her staff.

This year a new award was added to the state finals, and the Muse Award was given to David Luciemable of North Fort Myers High School. This award was given to the student whose passion and engagement with poetry stood out during his or her recitation.

Honorable mentions were awarded to Desirae Lee (left), a senior at Stanton Prepatory School in Duval County and Baxter Murrell (right), a sophomore at Winter Park High School in Orange County.

Honorable mentions were awarded to Desirae Lee (left), a senior at Stanton Prepatory School in Duval County and Baxter Murrell (right), a sophomore at Winter Park High School in Orange County.

Third place was awarded to Jillian Miley, a sophomore at Spruce Creek High School in Volusia County. Honorable mentions were awarded to Desirae Lee, a senior at Stanton Prepatory School in Duval County and Baxter Murrell, a sophomore at Winter Park High School in Orange County.

Third place was awarded to Jillian Miley, a sophomore at Spruce Creek High School in Volusia County.

Second place was awarded to Christell Roach, a senior at Miami Arts Charter School in Miami-Dade County. Roach will receive a $100 cash prize and Miami Arts Charter School receives $200 for their poetry collection.

Second place was awarded to Christell Roach, a senior at Miami Arts Charter School in Miami-Dade County. Roach will receive a $100 cash prize and Miami Arts Charter School receives $200 for their poetry collection.

First place was awarded to Emily Rodriguez, a senior at Academy of the Holy Names in Hillsborough County. Rodriguez will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete for a total of $50,000 in awards, scholarships and school stipends. The National Finals will be held April 28 – 30. In addition, Rodriguez will receive a $200 cash prize, and Academy of the Holy Names will receive $500 for the purchase of poetry books.

First place was awarded to Emily Rodriguez, a senior at Academy of the Holy Names in Hillsborough County. Rodriguez will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete for a total of $50,000 in awards, scholarships and school stipends. The National Finals will be held April 28 – 30. In addition, Rodriguez will receive a $200 cash prize, and Academy of the Holy Names will receive $500 for the purchase of poetry books.

Following the competition, students and their families returned to the green room for a reception with the staff.

Following the competition, students and their families returned to the green room for a reception with staff and attendees.

You can learn more about Poetry Out Loud by visiting the national recitation contest’s website at poetryoutloud.org. Teachers interested in participating in Poetry Out Loud next year should contact the Florida Poetry Out Loud coordinator, Alison Schaeffler-Murphy for more information. Thank you to all of the partners and sponsors who made this event possible, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry FoundationCitizens for Florida Arts, Habana BoardwalkQuality Inn & Suites, the Egg Express, the Apalachee Review, and Anhinga Press. We want to wish Emily the best of luck as she goes on to compete against all the other state champions in Washington, D.C. at the end of April!

Spotlight On: Professional Development for Artists at Convening Culture 2014

by Tim Storhoff

Convening Culture 2014 will take place January 28-29 at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

Convening Culture 2014 will take place January 28-29 at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

On January 29 during the statewide cultural conference, “Convening Culture 2014: Connecting the Arts with Environmental Conservation,” there will be multiple opportunities for Florida artists to present their work, meet other artists and patrons, and gain important career skills. One conference highlight for artists will be the two professional development sessions presented by the Creative Capital Foundation.

Creative Capital is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing integrated financial and advisory support to artists pursuing adventurous projects in multiple disciplines. Through their Professional Development Program, which has been developed by artists for artists, Creative Capital has provided career, community and confidence building tools to help all artists become successful in their fields. In its first ten years, this program has reached more than 5,500 artists in 150 communities. The Florida Division of Cultural Affairs has been partnering with Creative Capital to present professional development workshops in Florida since 2007.

Creative Cap pd-program-logo

The Creative Capital sessions at Convening Culture 2014 will be:

  • Social Media: How to be Everywhere, All the Time
    Includes strategies and practical tips on how to most effectively use social media to communicate about your work and ideas; expand your audience, peer and professional network; and create a deeper connection with the general public.
  • Advocacy & Support Systems
    Provides perspectives on the important role artists can play in advocating for themselves, each other, and the field while explaining ways to develop support systems with other artists and strengthen connections between artists and non-arts partners.

The Creative Capital sessions will be presented by Eve Mosher, an artist and interventionist living and working in New York City. Her works raise issues of involvement in the environment, public/private space use, history of place, cultural and social issues and our own understanding of the urban ecosystem. In addition to being a consultant/leader for Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program, Eve is an Assistant Professor at Parsons the New School for Design. Her public and community-based artworks have received grants from New York State Council on the Arts and New York Department of Cultural Affairs, both through the Brooklyn Arts Council and The City Parks Foundation.

For a taste of the information presented by the Professional Development Program, visit Creative Capital’s The Lab blog. Spaces at Convening Culture are limited, so view the full schedule and register now at florida-arts.org/conveningculture.

The original version of this article appeared in the November 2012 Cultural Connection, the newsletter of the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. We encourage you to sign up for our mailing list to receive future updates.

Art Talk: Alison Schaeffler-Murphy and Poetry Out Loud

by Tim Storhoff

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy is the new Poetry Out Loud coordinator for state of Florida. Alison previously worked as an intern here at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs before joining the staff full-time this September. In addition to coordinating Poetry Out Loud, Alison is a program manager for our Individual Artist Fellowships, works with Citizens for Florida Arts, and helps coordinate many of our art exhibitions. Alison recently completed two graduate degrees at Florida State University in art history and arts administration. Prior to this, Alison owned Tints and Reflections Studios where she designed and fabricated one-of-a-kind fused and leaded art glass creations, which have been exhibited at regional and national glass expos, indoor and outdoor art shows, and in a variety of galleries and museums. She has also spent time directing art festivals, judging art shows, and serving as a board member for various arts associations.

Right now Alison is busy reaching out to language arts teachers across the state and distributing Poetry Out Loud information packets to schools, but she was able to take some time to answer a few of my questions about her background in the arts and how programs like Poetry Out Loud contribute to our state.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember? 

Alison: Looking back I can see that creative expression has always been important to me.  During my elementary school years, I enjoyed being in school plays and lived for those extraordinary visits to art and music classes. I fondly remember tinkering at my grandparents’ piano, and I eventually became a flute player. Although I was sure in high school that I was destined to be a writer, my primary creative focus has since been with the visual arts. Correspondingly, while earning my MA in Art History I revisited my early interest in being a writer and now relish researching and writing about artists and their work.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Alison: I credit my sister with bringing me back around to studying the arts. For a very short time I seriously considered being a nutritional doctor, but one day my sister noted how perplexed she was that I wasn’t studying art. Kim noted that she only knew me to be completely at peace when I was involved in creative self-expression. Her statement gave me a sudden illumination of self-knowledge, and that’s when I decided to become an art teacher. While earning my bachelor’s degree in art education at Florida State, I took a class in stained glass and I’ve been creating glass art ever since.

EventImg-PoetryOutLoudDCA: You are the new Poetry Out Loud coordinator. Are you a fan of poetry? Do you have any favorite poems or poets?

Alison: In addition to writing poetry in high school, I read quite a bit and favored Robert Frost’s poems. Over the years I’ve continued to write poems. In fact, I’ve created a glass art series I call my “Haiku Series,” that incorporates self-authored haiku poems that evolve alongside the glass art piece itself.

Although I haven’t seriously studied poetry in a very long time, as the Poetry Out Loud State Program Coordinator, I’m falling in love with poetry all over again. I’m enjoying revisiting some past beloved poets like Basho, Frost, Hesse, Thoreau, and Whitman as well as discovering new contemporary favorites like Lisa Zaran.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? How do you think programs like Poetry Out Loud contribute to our state?

Alison: I love the DCA’s “Culture Builds Florida” slogan because it highlights how importantly the arts influence not only Florida’s economic growth but also their power to build a sense of community between people. In addition to the positive effects that the arts have on individuals’ intellectual, spiritual, and physical well-being, the arts foster cultural, environmental, and global awareness.

The Poetry Out Loud program is important to this end because poetry has the expressive ability to paint images with words that can bring awareness to individual and collective concerns. Students who participate learn important public speaking skills while increasing their self confidence, creativity, and empathy. It’s also valuable to see our Florida teachers and students working together toward the common goal of sending one of our many talented high school students to Washington, DC to compete in the National Finals.

Alison while in France studying Parisian arts and culture as an International Exchange Student. Photo submitted and used by permission of Alison Schaeffler-Murphy.

Alison while in France studying Parisian arts and culture as an International Exchange Student. Photo submitted by and used with permission of Alison Schaeffler-Murphy.

For more information on Poetry Out Loud, take a look at the blog entry from last year’s state finals and visit the Division of Cultural Affairs Poetry Out Loud page. If you are a teacher who would like to participate in Poetry Out Loud, contact Alison Schaeffler-Murphy for more information.

Spotlight On: Youth Orchestras and the Annual FSYO Concerto Competition

FSYO Concerto comp

by Tim Storhoff

On Sunday November 10, the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra will hold a recital showcasing the 2013-2014 Annual Concerto Competition Finalists. A highlight of the FSYO Concert Season, the Concerto Competition encourages students to step out of their roles within the orchestra, and into a soloist’s seat. The FSYO, which aims to educate and inspire Florida’s top young musicians through programs committed to strengthening musical talents and developing appreciation of the arts through classical music, comprises three full orchestras and one string training orchestra made up of 237 students from around Central Florida. 

In mid-October over 30 FSYO members came from all over the region to audition. Out of these, nine very talented performers were chosen as finalists. These nine talented young musicians will compete to win the honor of performing their concerto in a regular season concert accompanied by the FSYO’s Symphonic Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Andrew Lane.

Youth orchestras have played an important role in music education and fostering music appreciation in the United States throughout the twentieth century. The Portland Youth Philharmonic, which started in 1924, was the first independent youth orchestra established in the country. In the post-war years, young people’s concerts and youth orchestras gained prominence as a way of preserving and promoting the art of classical music when rock and roll emerged to dominate youth culture. The Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra was founded during this time when in 1957, Alphonse Carlo, concertmaster emeritus of the Florida Symphony Orchestra, recognized a need for a youth orchestra in Central Florida in which young musicians could develop their talents.

The League of American Orchestras currently counts nearly 500 youth orchestras in the country, which involve more than 50,000 young musicians in the joy of music making and all the benefits that come with it. New orchestras are created each year to help meet the growing demand for music education and positive activities for young people. These orchestras encourage young people to develop their talents and to experience teamwork, self-discipline, and individual expression while refining musical skills they can use throughout their lives.

Heidi Evans Waldron, the Executive Director of the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra explains the benefit of participating in their concerto competition: “Each student is encouraged to demonstrate leadership by participating in the annual FSYO concerto competition. The ability to memorize music and play a leadership role within an orchestra prepares our students to easily transition into professional musicians. I enjoy watching these young musicians grow within the audition process and rise to the occasion on concert day.” Winners from previous seasons of the concerto competition have gone on to study at Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, The Boston Conservatory, and many other prestigious institutions in Florida and around the country. Between scientific studies and success stories, there is plenty of evidence for the positive impact that studying music can have on young people and all of their future pursuits, whether or not they choose a career path in music.

In addition to the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs is a proud sponsor of some of our state’s other great independent youth orchestras, including the Tallahassee Youth Orchestra, the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, American Children’s Orchestras for Peace, and the All Florida Youth Orchestra along with a number of youth choirs and bands. While most youth orchestras operate at the local level, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States had their inaugural season in 2013, and they are currently inviting young musicians (ages 16-19) to audition for the 2014 season.

Florida’s artistic and cultural heritage has greatly benefited from youth orchestras like the FSYO, which provide valuable life skills to the participating musicians and attract families to their surrounding communities. The FSYO Concerto Competition recital will feature works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Edward Elgar and Camille Saint-Saëns to name a few. The recital begins at 6:30 pm, Sunday, November 10, 2013, at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, 4917 Eli St., Orlando, FL 32804. For more information, visit fsyo.org.

Art Talk: Division Intern Katherine Laursen

by Tim Storhoff

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Katherine Laursen joined the team at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs at the end of August as an intern for the 2013-2014 school year. Born and raised in Dunedin, Florida, Katherine graduated with honors from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Music Education in 2005 and a Masters of Music Education in 2011. She taught in the Pinellas County Schools for six years: first as the Assistant Director of Band and Chorus at Largo High School for three years and then as the Director of Chorus and Strings at Dunedin Highland Middle School. Katherine has been a member of the Festival Singers of Florida since its formation in 2008 and has previously been a member of groups including the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the Zielinski Singers, Opera Tampa, and Tapped In, a professional tap company. In addition to all of that, she is also actively involved in the Scottish dance community, is a staff singer and Chorister Assistant at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and has another internship at the Tallahassee Ballet. Currently, she is working on her MA in Arts Administration at the Florida State University. I recently asked Katherine about her artistic background and her thoughts on the importance of the arts in Florida.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?

Katherine: My earliest memory has to be from when I was around 4 years old. I remember dancing around in my bathing suit and Sunday school tights to Kiss Me, Kate, my favorite musical at the time. I grew up in a house filled with music. My great-uncle worked for MGM, so we would watch every movie musical he worked on. My parents realized they couldn’t wait any longer, so they enrolled me in ballet at Patricia Ann Dance Studio in Dunedin, FL. They couldn’t have known then what a great home it would become for me.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Katherine: Growing up whenever I was dancing, singing, playing, writing or making something, I knew who I was. I would spend hours at the dance studio only to come home to practice my flute. I wrote poem after poem in my journals. In the summers, my parents sent me to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center for classes, Writer’s Camp or the Florida Dance Festival multi-week intensives. When I got older, I added theater and voice to my experience. It was only in my senior year of high school that I chose voice as my main area of study. I continued to study dance and flute and my teaching experiences led me to add guitar, color-guard and viola to my arsenal. With the arts, you are never done learning and growing. I can’t imagine my life without the arts, so it makes perfect sense that my goal is to provide access to the arts to everyone who wants it.

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Katherine dancing with other members of Tapped In, Inc. during an event in Tampa in 2011. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

DCA: While your arts background is largely in music, you’ll be working with arts more broadly here at the Division of Cultural Affairs.  What are some of your artistic interests outside of musical performance?

Katherine: My connections to the arts originally came from dance. I always make my way back to ballet because I feel the most connected to who I am there. Ballet has been in my life since my first memories, so I believe it’s connected to every part of who I am now. When I go back to dance class, even as an adult, the world disappears and everything is focused on the beauty of the art. Because of this connection, I am able to carry that passion and focus into all other aspects of art in my life. I discovered my love for music in dance class. I discovered my love of design and color through costumes and lighting. Dance is beautiful, but it is enhanced and complimented by all of the arts and that relationship goes both ways.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.”  What do you think when you hear that phrase?  Why do you believe arts and culture matter to our state?

Katherine: I know that I cannot separate the arts from their impact on my life. In that same way, I don’t think that you can separate the culture of Florida from its impact on building our state economically and otherwise. There is so much to be said for loving where you live. As a Florida native, I have grown up watching my state find its identity. When people feel a part of the place they live, they are more likely to contribute to making it better. Incorporating the diverse culture of our state is a challenge, but how lucky are we as Floridians to have such a plethora of arts and culture to embrace?

Spotlight On: Grant Season at the Division of Cultural Affairs

by Tim Storhoff

sizedcbf-dca-colorSummer is an extremely busy time here at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, particularly with all the activities related to our grant programs. We have grant periods beginning and ending with the state’s fiscal year, which starts on July 1. This means that between June and September of every year we are actively working with three years of grants: the year that just ended, the year that is just getting started, and the next year (currently in the application review stage). These grants are an extremely important part of what we do, and we know that many arts and culture organizations from across the state depend on them to keep their programs up and running. Therefore I wanted to give you some insight into what’s going on and how we keep these grants moving and on track.

2012-2013: Finishing Up and Closing Out

The official period for 2012-2013 grants ended on June 30. There were 314 total grants given to organizations in 45 Florida counties for a total of $8,868,534. This amount included a $5 million appropriation by the state legislature for General Program Support and approximately $3.9 million for Cultural Facilities (no money was appropriated in 2012-2013 for Specific Cultural Projects). For a full record of awards by county, take a look at this list.

After organizations with General Program Support grants finish up their June events, they have until July 30 to fill out their final reports online. It typically takes Sarah, Maureen, and I (the program managers for these grants) until sometime in the fall to read through everything, but it’s great to be reminded of all the wonderful activities that these grants made possible. These reports allow us to see specifically how all the grant money was used and what overall impact it had in terms of individuals from the the community who participated. In addition to getting overall numbers, we’re interested in the number of youth, elders, and artists that took part in events throughout the year. While we often stress the economic impact of the arts with Culture Builds Florida, these participation numbers help show the significance of the arts in a way that goes beyond dollars and cents. The arts create important social connections between people when they attend performances, visit museums, and perhaps most importantly, collaborate to create art together.

Some of the organizations and events funded with 2012-2013 DCA grants.

Some of the organizations and events funded with 2012-2013 DCA grants.

2013-2014: Getting Started (or at least trying to)

With the previous year’s grants ending on June 30, the current year’s grant period is scheduled to begin right away on July 1. Organizations applied for 2013-2014 grants in spring 2012. After panel meetings, eligible scores were sent to the Florida Legislature via the Department of State’s Legislative Budget Request. The Legislature appropriated $5 million for General Program Support, fully funded Specific Cultural Projects with $830,523 and funded Cultural Facilities for $3,328,000. Along with Fast Track and State Touring grants, the state totals came to 351 grants in 47 counties for $9,350,322. For a full record of awards by county, take a look at this list.

Contracts for this year’s grants typically would have been mailed out in June so payments could be processed on July 1. However, a new bill passed by the 2013 Florida Legislature (HB 5401), requires that all contracts include new elements and go through a new approval process. As one of the first state agencies to deal with these new requirements, we’ve been proactive in collecting all the required information from each grantee for insertion into the contracts. Now we’re just waiting for approval to start sending out payments. In the end this bill will provide a useful resource to Florida’s taxpayers. They’ll be able to log onto a website and see exactly where state dollars are going and what they’re being spent on. After signing the bill, Governor Scott applauded the transparency it will provide, saying, “As taxpayers, we deserve to know if we are getting a return on investment for our money.” We’re confident that through arts and culture, Floridians are getting a positive return on investment as the economic impact of the arts is clear and show that Culture Builds Florida. We just wish it didn’t create a delay in getting funds out to our grantees!

2014-2015: Looking Ahead and Panels, Panels, Panels!

In addition to dealing with grants that have just ended and are just starting, we’re spending a lot of time reviewing applications and preparing panel meetings for 2014-2015 grants. Applications were submitted on June 1 or June 15 depending on the program, and we received a total of 322 applications for General Program Support, 61 for Specific Cultural Projects, 29 for Cultural Facilities, and 169 for Individual Artist Fellowships. We’ve been busy going through and checking each application for eligibility and making sure that everything is in order to send it on to the panels. So far 125 panelists have been officially appointed for the 22 different panels that will take place between late August and early October, and additional panelists have yet to be appointed. Panelists serve on a volunteer basis and must be practicing artists or professionals who specialize in the area of the panels they serve on, and we are extremely grateful for the time they donate to this process. For the full grant panel schedule, check out our calendar.

Our file room is filled with stacks of support materials that were mailed in as part of applications.

Our file room is filled with stacks of support materials that were mailed in as part of applications.

After applications are scored, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture sends panel recommendations to the Secretary of State who then includes them with a request to the Legislature. In spring 2014 the Florida Legislature will make funding decisions and next summer this process will start all over again as organizations start their 2014-2015 grant period.

As you can see, this isn’t just a busy time for the DCA but for current grantees as well. As soon as they finish their application they need to start working on their final report while also filling out the required documentation for the grant that’s just starting. It can be a lot of work keeping everything straight while juggling three years worth of grants, and we’re rarely able to grant as much money as we’d like to Florida’s many deserving organizations. However, the end result is worth every document filed and phone call made because we believe that arts and culture are essential to the quality of life for all Floridians. The events funded through these grants stimulate tourism and enrich our communities. The arts provide jobs, bring people together, and remind us that Florida is a special place to live and work. 

If you have any questions about our grants, please contact a member of our program staff, and remember to let your community leaders and legislators know about the impact these grants have in your community so that we can continue to increase our support for Florida arts and culture.