In spite of the economic and health threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic, arts organizations in Lakeland will continue to receive funding from the city in the coming year. And a new city-funded website and marketing campaign could raise their visibility and viability in the weeks and months ahead.

The Mayor’s Council for the Arts recently announced the recipients of grants for 2020-2021, with a total distributed amount of $235,618, most of the $250,000 the city budgeted for support of the arts.

“It’s really important to recognize the City Commission and the mayor put the funding into next year. That was done in September. We’re grateful for their vision,” said Craig Collins, chairman of the Mayor’s Council for the Arts.

Craig Collins

The council oversees a grant process, in which arts groups submit applications and are scored on various criteria, including contributions to the community. The council then distributes money through approved grants from a fund budgeted by the city.

For years, just eight organizations were the recipients of those funds, but recently the council has been expanding in both representation and in the number of groups receiving funds. Collins said 18 groups applied for grants this year, up from 11 last year, and 11 were approved, including three first-time recipients.

He noted that the process is becoming more refined.

“This year, the grant writing was much better, which is what you would hope,” he said. “We heard the concerns of the organizations. We spoke with Commissioner (Sara) McCarley, Mayor (Bill) Mutz and (City Manager) Tony Delgado. We asked how the organizations have continued to engage audiences during COVID-19. The best example is the Imperial Symphony, which has a shortfall of $150,000 but engaged the community with videos, including a Cookie Concert.”

With overall city funding for the arts remaining stable and more groups receiving grants, some organizations have seen their grant amounts drop. The Imperial Symphony, for example, received $48,892 in 2019, but this year’s grant was $23,760; the orchestra applied for $26,400, under new criteria that reduced the amount they were eligible for.

A group that historically had received funding, the Lakeland Concert Band, did not receive a grant this year or last.

One organization receiving a grant for the first time is the Lakeland Choral Society, which was formed in 1967. The group, which normally gives two concerts per year, received a $2,182 grant.

Hayley Stewart

Another first-time grant recipient is Florida Dance Arts, a nonprofit arm of Highland School of Dance in Lakeland. Florida Dance Arts, which was formed in 2008, conducts classes, workshops and productions for students from age 9 through a “preprofessional” level, said Hayley Stewart, the organization’s director. It holds an annual event, Central Florida Dance Celebration, and this year will offer a production of “The Nutcracker” at the Youkey Theater, Stewart said.

She said some of the $915 grant she received would go toward the “Nutcracker,” but more of it would be used for workshops for young dancers.

“It was the first time we applied (for an arts council grant),” she said. “The goal is not just to put on performances. We want to get dance more into the community.”

A performance by Florida Dance Arts

Last week, the Mayor’s Council for the Arts launched a new website,, that is part of what Collins called “a major branding and marketing effort.” The website is intended to be a central site for arts-related activities in the city and includes a calendar listing events across arts-related disciplines.

“It’s a place people can go to find anything going on about the arts,” Collins said.

A screen shot from

In addition, a marketing campaign that includes social media and messages on 10 billboards around the city is being developed and launched.

The website and the marketing campaign were developed under a $23,000 contract with Made Brands, a local marketing company. Funds for the initiative came from money left over from last year’s allocation from the city to the council. The effort is part of what Collins called “phase one” of a long-range plan to expand the arts in Lakeland.

“This has not been done here. A lot of major cities don’t have it,” he said.

As part of a second phase, Collins said a committee is looking at further changes to next year’s grant process, to include even more groups and perhaps consider grants to individual artists as well.

“(It’s examining) how we may be more inclusive of arts-related nonprofits and move beyond organizations that are not in the resolution,” he said. “My number one concern is how we support other nonprofits and create an art-centric vibe in Lakeland.”

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