Why Did Ron DeSantis Cut All Florida Arts Funding? Because He Feared ‘Sexual Festivals’

The governor cast a serious shadow on the future of the arts in the Sunshine State.

Jedd Novatt, Chaos SAS (2012), outside the Perez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Arts organizations in Florida are facing substantial budget cuts after Republican governor Ron DeSantis vetoed more than $32 million in state arts and culture grants from next year’s budget. The cuts, which came on June 12, were part of nearly $1 billion that he slashed from the budget in various line-item cuts to a $116.5 billion budget.

While at the time he failed to say anything about the culture cuts specifically, he spoke up at a press conference at the time against supporting anything he found to be “inappropriate for state tax dollars.”

Now, DeSantis has revealed that his reasons were, in a typical Republican playbook, over programming of an adult nature. 

“You have your tax dollars being given in grants to things like the Fringe Festival, which is like a sexual festival where they’re doing all this stuff,” said DeSantis at a press conference on Thursday, according to the Miami Herald, which didn’t clarify whether the governor specified what manner of “stuff” he was referring to. Fringe Festivals are held in both Orlando and Tampa. 

“It’s like, how many of you think your tax dollars should go to fund that?” DeSantis said. “Not very many people would do that.” The governor’s press office did not immediately respond to questions about exactly what potentially inappropriate programming was taking place at those particular festivals or whether a blanket cut to arts and culture funding was the correct response. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Miami, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Major institutions receive arts funding, including between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), per the institution’s website. 

“We are deeply grateful for the financial support we have received from the state of Florida over the years,” said the Pérez in a statement. “At PAMM, we believe our role within the state’s tourism industry is multifaceted—not only do we contribute to the economy as an employer as well as an attraction, but we also take pride in participating in governmental support for the arts both locally and nationally. However, with that being said, we are concerned for our peers who rely on state support for a larger proportion of their annual budgets.

“We will take appropriate measures to compensate for any potential shortfall by generating continued revenue from other sources, including individuals, foundations, and various other channels,” said the museum. “Additionally, we will strive to increase our income through admissions, our museum shop, and our new digital sign.”

The Norton Museum of Art, in West Palm Beach, had expected to receive $150,000, and has historically used state funding to support curatorial and educational programs. The museum is revisiting next year’s budget to find ways to minimize the loss.

“The governor’s recent decision to totally eliminate state funding for 2024-2025 is deeply upsetting,” said museum director Ghislain d’Humières. “The cultural community must stand together and voice our concerns as one. This loss will have an impact on each of our organizations in the short run. But in the long run? If this course of action continues, it is the citizens of our communities who will be shortchanged, as access to art and cultural programming will dwindle and maybe even disappear.”

Children in the galleries at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Courtesy Norton Museum of Art.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, told the Herald that the Orlando festival, which she attended this year, was not sexual. “It does feature drag queens and other forms of artistic expression that DeSantis has wanted to censor despite courts telling him otherwise!”

DeSantis has tried to punish businesses that allow children into adult performances, signing the “Protection of Children Act” into law in May 2023. Widely understood to target drag shows, it would have banned children from any “adult live performances” that feature sexual material. The Supreme Court refused to reinstate the law in November while an Orlando business challenged the law in court.

But the funding may never have reached the Fringe festivals in question, according to one source.

Politico reporter Gary Fineout noted on X that such grants are ranked on a list that goes through an evaluation process by a committee appointed by the governor and the legislature, as well as the Secretary of State. 

“This year’s list had 630 projects and a total ask of $54.5 million,” Fineout wrote. “But the legislature only funded $26 million… The spreadsheet on Dept of State website indicates that $ for Fringe festival in Orlando and Tampa were ranked 314 & 473 on list. The spreadsheet indicates that the first 257 projects would have exhausted the $26 million allocated by lawmakers.” DeSantis’s office also did not reply on whether the Fringe festivals would have been likely to receive funding.

“By vetoing arts and culture grants and making such a statement, he is trying to control and censor the content of the arts,” Democratic Senator-elect Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando told the Miami Herald.

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