BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Fine Arts Council has endured a bumpy ride in recent years as it deals with friction at board meetings, loss of members and declining revenue.
Now a new obstacle has surfaced: a $2,400-a-year lease. Council Vice Chairman Sonny Vergara said he will ask the board at its Oct. 9 meeting to ask County Administrator Len Sossamon if he can find the nonprofit organization a rent-free office.
MICHAEL D. BATES/STAFF The Hernando County Fine Arts Council rents space at Nicholson Engineering Associates, off Horse Lake Road in Brooksville.
“We have a really, really lean budget and we cannot afford (it),” said Vergara, a local artist who specializes in digital photography.
It has reached the point where the council is spending most of its budget on its own needs rather than supporting local artists, he said.
“We’ve really got to get away from paying for ourselves and make it available to the community,” he said.
For two years, members have paid $200 a month to maintain an office and gallery inside one of the rooms at Nicholson Engineering Associates off Horse Lake Road in Brooksville. That expenditure is eating up the council’s budget and makes it difficult to pursue state grants to help artists, said Vergara.
The troublesome situation became particularly apparent last year, he said, when the state handed out $40 million in grants to all 67 counties. Citrus County received $50,000 to restore the historic Valerie Theater in downtown Inverness. Hernando County got $2,000, and that is unacceptable, Vergara said.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We should be looking at getting as much money as possible.”
Vergara said the council needs an office, perhaps at the library, a park or some other county-owned facility, so a volunteer can work the phones.
The county created the council in 1987 and appoints its members.
“We’re a child of the county so it is not unreasonable to think they can provide us with an office to save us rent money if they want us to be successful,” Vergara said.
Vergara noted past frictions among council board members and a lack of cohesion at meetings. Three years ago the council lost so much money it almost had to shut down.
“We still have a long way to go in understanding our mission” and avoiding internal bickering, Vergara said, but the council now functions better. Members follow Robert’s Rules of Order at meetings and the “personalities and politics” are starting to disappear, he said.
The Hernando County Fine Arts Council’s stated purpose is to encourage, promote, support and showcase creative arts in the county. Through grants, the organization supports local groups including the Hernando Youth Orchestra, the Hernando Jazz Society, the Spring Hill Art League and the West Hernando Middle School Sculpture Garden.
County Commissioner Dave Russell said precedent already has been established: The fine arts council about four years ago had a small office at the Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville.
“I’m certain there’s space where we can accommodate their needs,” Russell said.
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said though the council’s lease at his building expires in February, he would accommodate members if they were to leave early.
“They can do what they want to do,” he said. “It’s up to them.”