State allocation gone, Humanities Council issues appeal

ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Humanities Council has been forced to significantly curtail its programs for the coming year and has issued a “Funding Alert,” posted recently on its website, floridahumanities.org.

The Florida Legislature this session cut all financing for the FHC from the state’s budget when House Bill 4401, which would have provided the recurring $500,000 annual appropriation to the council, died May 4 in the full state House Appropriations Committee. It had been approved 7-0 by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on March 7 but was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn.

The appeal, written by Executive Director Steve Seibert, declared, “State support constituted approximately 25% of our revenue, so we must significantly tighten our belts.”

The majority of the group’s financing comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Mr. Seibert’s letter reassured members by noting, “As of now, this funding is secure.”

At the same time, although he wrote that the Florida Humanities Council will not cease in trying to fulfill its mission, “we will need to alter those programs the state funds.”

That means the “Our Speaker Series” will be suspended; no new applications for community walking tours will be accepted; the number of FHC “Forum” publications will be two rather than three annually; and the Museum on Main Street exhibits will have to depend on the FHC finding other financing.

Mr. Seibert’s appeal also said, though, “we believe this is an opportunity to clarify our mission, become more visible and relevant and to rally support for the humanities as essential to a functioning democracy.”

He urges members to sign up for ENews through the floridahumanities.org website so they don’t miss anything; to share inspiring programs, stories or ideas that helped them fall in love with Florida; and to continue contributing to the FHC’s efforts to provide humanities-based programs that are free and open to public participation, by continuing their memberships and encouraging additional gifts to the organization.

Locally, the suspension of the speaker series funding may mean no more free multimedia lectures at cultural institutions in the Lake Okeechobee region.

Butch Wilson, the outgoing director of the Clewiston Museum, issued this statement:
“The Clewiston Museum has been partnering with the Florida Humanities Council for numerous years. Most of the annual grants that I applied for and received were speaker grants. This grant money ($5,000) is used to contact well-known speakers that bring different academic disciplines to Hendry County. Five years ago, the Clewiston Museum partnered with the LaBelle Heritage Museum, so the speakers we selected through the Florida Humanities Council could bring their wonderful programs to eastern and western Hendry County and provide all residents the opportunity to travel only a short distance to enjoy these marvelous presentations.

“The Clewiston and LaBelle Museum also partnered with the Hendry County School District. Rick Smith, the son of Patrick Smith (‘A Land Remembered’) through the Florida Humanities Council Speaker Grant presented at the LaBelle and Clewiston Elementary Schools for four consecutive years. Many of the fourth grade students were reading the students’ version of ‘A Land Remembered’ as part of their fourth grade curriculum. Rick’s presentations greatly enhanced the students’ interest and knowledge of Florida history.

“The Florida Humanities Council Speaker Grant enlightens the lives of approximately 1,000 Hendry County residents each year. This year’s funding cut by the Florida Legislature has dealt the Florida Humanities Council and the many Florida nonprofit organizations that are so dependent upon them for funding a serious blow. The LaBelle and Clewiston museums are both nonprofit organizations, so neither museum can afford to pay for these distinguished speakers that bring so much to our rural county. It’s unfortunate, but there are so many other nonprofit organizations across Florida that will be struggling to fill this void with empty coffers. Some of these nonprofits include public libraries.

“The Florida Humanities Council has done so much for Florida. I personally rank the Florida Humanities Council at the top, a big 10 for the great services they have provided to the people of Florida. Their staff is very people-oriented. They are always so supportive and work hard to make the grants a success for the participating organizations that receive them. They truly have a heart for the many rural counties that can’t afford to bring the disciplines of the humanities to their local residents. Last year, the Clewiston and LaBelle museums had 12 Florida Humanities Council speakers present in Hendry County on one $5,000 grant.

“It’s so sad, but these quality programs will be no more until Florida residents express their concerns and support to their state representatives for the great merits the Florida Humanities Council provides to the people of Florida.”

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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