Cultural Groups Vie For $3 Million In Arts Money Ahead Of Key Meetings

Jul 6, 2018

Three Tallahassee-based arts and culture groups are getting closer to securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in local funding. The group doling out the money meets Monday. But there's controversy over whether the organizations that may get the awards are worthy.

At stake is $3 million to be divided among the LeMoyne Center, Riley House Museum and Big Bend Community Development Corporation, or CDC. They’re the three groups whose applications for funding got the highest scores from a panel of community members. The Riley House could get $184,000  and the Big Bend CDC is slated for $821,000. Meanwhile the LeMoyne Center for visual arts, would get the lion’s share: nearly $2 million. But not everyone is pleased about it.

“There’s always sour grapes you know," says Kelly Dozier, LeMoyne’s President. The backlash started shortly after the recommendations were made a few weeks ago.

“This was a very difficult application and I can understand why people would be disappointed. Then some of those folks started screaming and yelling that it just wasn’t right, and there was stuff on facebook, actually very nasty stuff on facebook.”

Adding to the conflict is a letter written by the Tourism Development Council or TDC.

It’s TDC money that’s being used to fund the projects—remaining dollars leftover from a tax meant for a performing arts center that was never built. In a letter, the TDC says its disappointed that none of the money is going to a project that would be a publicly owned performing arts space operated by a non-profit group. The agency had also hoped for there to be one project that got all the money, instead of three. The award process is being overseen by the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency. 

 “It’s not final until all three groups, city, county and CRA, until they all vote on it. They could change their mind and make a different recommendation. I need to confirm that with the attorneys to make sure everyone is on the same page, but that’s my understanding," says CRA director Roxanne Manning

Further muddying the waters are recent comments by Tallahassee Commissioner Gil Ziffer. The Tallahassee Democrat reports the Big Bend CDC owes the city half-a-million dollars in loans for area redevelopment projects, and Ziffer is concerned about giving the group more money. Fellow Commissioners Nancy Miller and Scott Maddox are also on the tourism development council. So is County Commissioner Brian Desloge. If the CRA approves the projects at its Monday meeting, they next go to the City Commission, where there could be blowback. The final stop is the County Commission.