Wealthy ‘playground’ is a myth

9/17/2019 Rodgers: Wealthy ‘playground’ is a myth – Opinion – Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Sarasota, FL

By Bruce Rodgers
Recently we have read several articles, columns and letters to the editor related to major cultural infrastructure projects planned for our community. Questions have been raised about funding these projects; the roles that private philanthropy, foundation support and taxpayer support will play; and who will be the ultimate beneficiaries of these wonderful assets.

To be clear, the only local, public, operating cash going to arts and culture is $2 million (10%) of the $22 million collected through the Tourist Development Tax. And the focus of those grants is to impact the tourism that funds them.

Yet arts and culture generate $12 million in local taxes annually that return to all county taxpayers. The not-for-profit and commercial arts-and-culture segment of our local economy is responsible for over 7,500 full-time jobs — collectively among the top employers in our community.

A column by Carrie Seidman asks if the planned investment in major cultural infrastructure would create a “playground for the powerful and privileged” at the expense of investments in social equity.

To be sure, wealthy people contribute to arts and culture in Sarasota County in above-average proportion relative to the rest of America. This is one reason so little county taxpayer funds go to those areas.

The robust cultural environment here is one reason why people of means move here, and make generous gifts not only to the cultural infrastructure but to our many human service agencies.

Our local foundations invest a small percentage of their giving in arts and
culture; most of those gifts help assure that citizens of all economic status have opportunities to benefit and participate.

Carrie Seidman’s column and the article that inspired it paint the wealthy with a broad brush, and ignore the full impact of philanthropy in our community.

We who work in not-for-profit arts and culture know our donors come from all socioeconomic corners — from $5 donors to $5 million.

We know the millions of people buying our tickets and filling our galleries are not just the powerful and privileged. People donate their hard-earned cash and buy our tickets because they find value in what we add to their lives, and to the community at large.

And all that money, the many millions generated in philanthropy and ticket
sales, flows back into the community in the form of salaries, taxes, goods and services.

Philanthropy funds student programs serving preschool through college. In
2017-18 over 62,000 county students from all economic levels experienced arts and cultural programs. Philanthropy funds programs serving seniors and people facing physical and social challenges.

The social issues we face are complex national issues, not unique to this
community. Arts and culture convene us as citizens not only to entertain but to present issues, inform research, and inspire thought, discussion and

Visit the websites of the The Patterson Foundation, William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast
Community Foundation and the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation to
understand the breadth of their impressive social investment.

Those of us who work in these fields know that arts and culture as a “playground” for the wealthy is a myth.

We see who walks through our doors every day and night. We know our
audiences, and we know our donors. We know we produce programs speaking to the whole community. Access and equity is part of all our planning and programming.

And we’re sorry to see this myth perpetuated. We do not have to choose between world class institutions and social equity; this community should and can work toward both.

Bruce Rodgers, executive director of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, submitted this column on behalf of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County Inc.