The musicians begin signing in at the stage door as early as one hour before the final pops rehearsal of the 2007 Florida Orchestra season. Some are toting light violin cases, others heavy double basses; all are carrying a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
Nobody gets rich playing in this orchestra, and most hold at least one other job -- teaching in school or tutoring at home -- to make ends meet. Like so many other creatives in the Tampa Bay region, they do it for the love of their art.
On this Friday afternoon, only a few hours before their evening performance in the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, they are working with Marvin Hamlisch, the Tony-, Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer of such hits as A Chorus Line and "The Way We Were." Hamlisch shows up 20 minutes before rehearsal starts, dressed unassumingly in khakis, a pink shirt and a blue sports coat. He heads center stage to the piano and talks on his cell phone while orchestra members find their seats and begin the cacophony of tuning and warming up.
He leads them through a program of instantly recognizable movie and Broadway hits, at times stopping abruptly to fine-tune the score or, in one case, to question whether a certain violinist is playing two A sharps or not. When told yes, he responds, "I don't hear that."
In the woodwinds section, however, assistant principal Erika Shrauger is worried about more than just pleasing Hamlisch.
Hanging over the heads of every musician in the hall is Florida's property tax revolt. She and her colleagues have been caught in the crossfire between state legislators bent on tax relief and local governments facing the loss of tens of millions of dollars annually. Municipalities throughout Florida are already bracing for the financial hit and warning arts organizations of the worst-case scenario: No local money for the arts.
"If these cuts come into being, [it is] the actual existence of a full-time professional orchestra that may be in question," Shrauger said. "I'm very concerned."
This year's property tax drama is the worst threat to arts and cultural funding in recent memory. Consider the examples in Tampa Bay: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker has threatened to cut all city arts grants in his search to find as much as $23 million he could lose in property tax reform. Mayor Pam Iorio last month sent a letter to local arts groups giving them the same message: Their grants are not safe, not by a long shot.
Then consider this from Tallahassee: The legislature received proposals for $21 million in cultural facility grants -- and didn't provide a single dime.
Those facilities affected locally include the planned Children's Museum in downtown Tampa, the Florida Folk Culture and Visitors Center in Largo and an expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg that would allow it to exhibit more of the paintings it owns (90 percent of its collection sits in storage for lack of display space).
Arts and cultural institutions pump $2.9 billion into the Florida economy, account for more than 28,000 jobs and enrich the character of our cities and towns. So why are they always the unloved stepchild of government funding? Why has arts funding per capita, according to a Florida Atlantic University economist, decreased by 40 percent over the past decade? Why does Florida talk about bolstering its creative class and yet do little to invest in making that happen?
It's a weekday morning at Creative Clay's colorful studio on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, and 10 member artists sit in deep concentration at a long table, doodling with large black markers on white sheets of paper that may become T-shirt designs for the Devil Rays baseball team. When asked to show their designs, the men and women smile and proudly present their work. Stephanie Hedeen holds up her design featuring a smiling devil and the beginnings of a house.
"I like painting," she says, putting the paper down and continuing to draw.
On the other side of the table, Chris Coyle opens two sketchbooks filled with hundreds of drawings completed since coming to Creative Clay 11 years ago.
"Drawing makes me happy," he says, opening to a red and orange picture of a Florida State University football player. The sketch is an early version of a large canvas painting that hangs in the front studio.
Between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. every day, Creative Clay offers Hedeen, Coyle and 45 other men and women diagnosed with developmental disabilities or health challenges a safe place to develop their creative talents. When not painting or sculpting in the studio, specially trained workers take the budding artists to various cultural institutions in the community. Today, this group will split up and visit the YMCA, work on a dance routine for an upcoming show and hang some of their paintings at the downtown Bank of America.
Letter to an author whose article I didn't read all the way through: Because it…
When you see panhandlers this young, just remind yourself that foster kids age out of…
Don't go to gaspars cigar shop unless you know sign language or have an interpreter…
Scott u tickle the shit out if me and i thank you...when u gonna start…