Miami Billionaire Slams Gov. DeSantis and His “Horrible Message” to the Arts

By: Georgia | Last updated: Jul 11, 2024

Real estate mogul Jorge Pérez is not holding back his thoughts on Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent decision to slash arts and culture grants. 

“A horrible message to send,” Pérez stated about the cuts, emphasizing the negative impact on Florida’s cultural landscape.

Miami's Real Estate King Defends the Arts

Jorge Pérez, Miami’s real estate titan and a renowned art collector, has voiced his displeasure. Having donated massively to the arts, including $80 million to a Miami museum, he understands the stakes. 

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Close-up portrait of Jorge Pérez, a mature man with a dark suit and striped tie, standing outdoors

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“We want to be a serious city,” he argued, linking culture directly to a city’s stature.

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New Yorkers Bringing Art to Miami

Pérez pointed out the influx of New Yorkers involved in Miami’s arts scene.

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A vibrant sunset view of the New York City skyline featuring prominent skyscrapers including the Empire State Building

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“A lot of the people who are coming from New York are involved in the arts,” he noted, underlining the importance of cultural investments for a city aiming to elevate its profile.

Miami’s Cultural Investments Pay Off

Just last summer, Miami Beach took a major step, issuing $97.6 million in municipal debt to fund cultural venues. 

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A sunny view of a beach in Miami showing palm trees, sandy shores, and high-rise buildings in the background

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This move aimed to shift the city’s image from just a spring break hotspot to a cultural hub.

DeSantis Cuts Deep into the Arts

This month, DeSantis made a controversial move by vetoing over $32 million in arts funding. 

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Ron DeSantis speaking into a microphone at a public event, wearing a dark suit and red tie

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This decision has sparked outcry across Florida, with many fearing significant setbacks for cultural institutions.

Governor’s Justification Amidst Backlash

DeSantis defended his decision, citing the inappropriateness of some programs for state funding, like the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, which he labeled overly “sexual.” 

Governor Ron DeSantis smiling and speaking at a podium, with an American flag backdrop at a press conference

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“I have to be the one to stand up for taxpayers,” he declared.

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A Changing Miami

Gov. DeSantis’ justification for the cut to arts funding seems especially weak when you consider that it’s through arts investment that Miami is looking to distance itself from its perhaps more debaucherous past.

People walking on the beach amid palm trees with tall buildings in the back in Miami, Florida.

Source: aurora.kreativ/Unsplash

Pérez summed this up nicely: “we were long a society of fun and sun, but we’re no longer that—we don’t want that”.

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Miami Beach Hard at Work

Miami Beach has been doing all it can to move away from its spring-break reputation, diverting its economy instead to attract cultural tourism.

Screenshot from the city of Miami’s video “breaking up” with Spring Break

Source: @City of Miami Beach/YouTube

It’s through the support of arts programming around the city that Miami Beach looked to achieve this economic shift.

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Funding Cultural Projects

Last year, Miami Beach began selling almost $100 million in municipal bonds to fund cultural projects around the city.

A view of a pile of one hundred dollar bills.

Source: Mackenzie Marco/Unsplash

This included projects like local museums and the Miami City Ballet, a cultural institution highlighted in particular as losing its state funding.

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Weak Justification

Gov. DeSantis’ claims that he’s “standing up for taxpayers” seem especially paper-thin when you see the projects and institutions his funding cuts impact.

Ron DeSantis speaking at a podium with a "DESANTIS" banner and American flag backdrop

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to see how he is shielding the public from “sexual festivals” or “inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars” by cutting the funding of the Miami City Ballet.

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A Tale of Two Cities’ Cultural Budgets

Comparing Florida’s cultural budget with New York’s, Pérez highlighted the disparity. 

Night view of Times Square, New York, illuminated with neon cyan lights and digital billboards advertising various products and events

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Recently, New York announced $82 million for arts organizations, contrasting sharply with Florida’s cuts.

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Why Arts Funding is Important

Criticism for these funding cuts isn’t simply about concerns over local institutions struggling to stay afloat, it speaks to something on a wider, more cultural level.

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The arts can unify communities, being something shared across boundaries of age, race, and gender. Sharing art also lets us better understand other cultures and societies.

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An Economic Driver

Beyond the social and cultural ramifications, not properly funding the arts is also economically shortsighted.

An image of a man whos holding a small red arrow above a graph of figures

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The arts strengthen the economy. How could it not when you consider that the nation’s arts and culture sector is a $919.7 billion industry, supporting 5.2 million jobs and accounting for 4.5% of the nation’s economy.

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Driving Tourism Revenue

On a local level, arts and culture are also key economic drivers for Miami, somewhere that definitely looks to tourism as a major source of revenue.

Vacationers relaxing on South Beach in Miami, Florida

Source: Wikipedia

Arts and culture drive tourism and generate revenue for local businesses. Just the nonprofit arts industry alone generates over $160 billion in economic activity every year.

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Local Voices Echo Pérez’s Concerns

Richard Milstein of the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center echoed Pérez’s sentiment.

Clear, sunny view down a street in Miami Beach lined with palm trees, cars, and Art Deco architecture under a blue sky

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He questioned whether Florida will maintain a robust cultural scene like New York or Chicago, given the recent budget cuts.

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Criticism of Pérez

There are some who find the criticism from Pérez regarding state funding cuts to be somewhat hollow, considering his own lofty financial position.

A phone open to a white screen with a black X/Twitter logo on it.

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Taking to X (formerly Twitter), DeSantis’ senior analyst Christina Pushaw had this to say: “A literal BILLIONAIRE complaining that Governor DeSantis vetoed $32m in state (taxpayer) funding for arts”.

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Fund it Himself

Continuing on, Pushaw wrote: “If it’s so important to Mr. Pérez, he has every right to open his wallet and provide that $32m himself. Reminder: HE IS A BILLIONAIRE.”

A person sitting with two piles of money in their hands.

Alexander Grey/Unsplash

While it doesn’t address the underlying issue that the state is literally devaluing the arts in Miami with the funding cuts, there is some credence to what Pushaw writes.

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Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

Or rather, there would be were it not for the fact that Pérez is somewhat prolific in his own personal contributions to local arts funding.

Miami Beach seen in the distance behind a body of water and boats.

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It’s quite easy to shoot down Pushaw’s criticism when you realise Pérez has donated literally hundreds of millions of dollars to arts organizations around Miami.

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Pérez’s Museum

Notably, Pérez has donated $80 million to the PAMM (the Pérez Art Museum Miami), an institution that couldn’t better encapsulate Pérez’s commitment to the arts in Miami.

Covered entranceway looking out to the city skyline, with a park and palm trees in the foreground.

Source: osseous/Wikimedia Commons

The PAMM seeks to “be a leader in the presentation, study, interpretation, and care of international modern and contemporary art, while representing and cherishing the unique diversity of Miami-Dade”.

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Other Donations

Beyond funding the PAMM, Pérez has made other significant contributions to the arts ecosystem in Miami.

A small sculpture of a house with a set of keys next to it.

Source: Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash

He recently gave a $10 million condo to the Miami Foundation, a non-profit working in the arts, culture, and economic development. He had previously donated the proceeds from the sale of his $33 million mansion to the same foundation.

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Some Institutions Still Fortunate

Despite the budget slashes, some institutions like the Adrienne Arsht Center are relatively fortunate, maintaining support from wealthy patrons. 

A female singer performing on stage at a nightclub, engaging with an enthusiastic audience recording with their phones

Source: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts/Facebook

But not everyone is so lucky.

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The Hard Hit on Orchestra Miami

Orchestra Miami felt the brunt of the cuts, losing a grant critical for its operations. 

A classical music concert taking place at night in an urban park setting with a large audience seated and a lit-up cityscape in the background

Source: Orchestra Miami/Facebook

Founder Elaine Rinaldi explained that the grant was enough to keep the organization going for two months, outlining the dire consequences.

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Potential Cuts and Cancellations Ahead

Rinaldi warns of severe measures if the lost funds aren’t recovered.

A classical orchestra performing outdoors in a lush tropical garden setting, with musicians dressed in black and audience seated around

Source: Orchestra Miami/Facebook

From cutting her own salary to potentially canceling free programs, the choices are stark.

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A Cultural Crossroads for Florida

As Miami and Florida face these cultural funding cuts, the state stands at a crossroads. 

View of a Miami Metromover train passing on an elevated track above a street, with palm trees and modern buildings in the vicinity

Source: Juan Pablo Mascanfroni/Unsplash

Will it maintain its commitment to a rich cultural life, or will financial constraints narrow the scope of its artistic ambitions?

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