Commission Approves New Members of Arts Council

Amid hints that increased funding for the arts may lie in the future, the Lakeland City Commission today unanimously approved a resolution increasing the number of organizations represented on the Mayor’s Council for the Arts. The resolution added three educational institutions – Harrison School for the Arts, Florida Southern College and Southeastern University – to the list of art and art-related organizations entitled to a seat on the council.

The resolution amends the city’s existing arrangement that designates the Mayor’s Council as the body to make recommendations to the commission about dividing up an annual pot of $250,000 in city funds. During discussion of the measure, Mayor Bill Mutz noted that the three educational institutions added to the council will not be eligible to receive any of those funds but will add valuable input due to their experience with arts programs.

“It’s our goal to have a little more focus and muscle with respect to what can be produced and recommended for the city’s sake on art than we may have done historically,” he said.

In addition to adding Harrison, Florida Southern and Southeastern, the amended resolution also specified that the council – which is an advisory body – is limited to organizations within the city of Lakeland. Polk State College lies outside the city limits.

The revised list of organizations on the council does not include the Education and Enlightenment Group, which helps organize the annual Martin Luther King Day parade. Commissioner Phillip Walker asked about the deletion, and City Manager Tony Delgado said the group is not an arts organization and was moved to a different line item in the city budget.

The changes were proposed by the chairman of the Mayor’s Council for the Arts, Craig Collins, who is dean of the College of Arts and Media at Southeastern. In an interview prior to the commission meeting, Collins said the changes were intended to diversify the composition of the council, which could pave the way for more funding in the future.

“There has to be more funding. We’re starting to plan for the future, but to increase the funding, we have to diversify,” he said. “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is pennies compared to the needs of these organizations.”

Mutz also suggested in a commission agenda meeting on Friday that the current funding level is low.

“We have to ask ourselves as a city how much money we want to allocate for public arts and the wise use of that,” he said. “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a city our size is pretty small.”

In 2016, the arts council initiated a procedure to distribute city funds as grants, requiring arts groups to submit applications which would be reviewed and scored. The council also persuaded the city commission to appropriate $250,000 per year for the arts, which became a line item in the city budget the following year.

The process was supposed to encourage more collaboration between the local arts organizations and create an impartial process for allocating funds. However, the council voted to restrict the applications to eight arts organizations represented on the council – the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, the Polk Theatre, Explorations V Children’s Museum, Lakeland Community Theatre, Platform Art, Florida Dance Theatre and the Lakeland Concert Band.

The Polk Museum receives the lion’s share of the funding, and in the most recent grant cycle, there were complaints that while the museum’s funding was boosted, the Polk Theatre and the Lakeland Concert Band saw their funding decrease. Collins said he wants to restore some harmony to the council by expanding its membership.

“We’re trying to take the controversy out of the grant process and serve the Lakeland community as a whole,” he said.

The resolution allows for at-large members of the arts council to be designated by the mayor, and Collins said he has organizations in mind not currently represented that he would like to add. He declined to say which organizations.

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