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Sustaining the Arts Community

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As an active arts community, Hernando County is a place where one never needs to go far to see the vision of beautiful artwork, to witness the spectacle of a stirring theatrical performance, to listen to the sweet cadence of orchestral works, well performed.

Yet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s arts community has been forced to take a bow as stages have gone dark, richly anticipated theatrical and musical performances have been postponed, the rhythmic notes of orchestral music and the melodic sounds of audience laughter and applause have died.

The Hernando County Fine Arts Council has made a major move toward reviving and revitalizing the arts scene in Hernando County; awarding $1500 emergency grants to four key performing arts nonprofit groups whose revenue has been affected by the pandemic: Hernando Symphony Orchestra, Live Oak Theatre, Stage West Playhouse, and Stir Up the Gift Talent Organization. 

“Across the country and the world, the arts—especially the performing arts—are reeling from the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” read an arts council news release prepared by vice-chair and media contact Beth Putnam. “Hernando County has not been spared. Scheduled spring performances and programs were canceled, drying up revenue that organizations depended on to pay their expenses.”

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The Hernando County Fine Arts Council (HernandoArts.org) was created in 1987 by the Board of County Commissioners. Enacting its mission “to encourage, promote, and support all the creative arts in Hernando County and provide a means to showcase the arts,” the Hernando County Fine Arts Council–overseen by Council Chair W. D. “Bill” Yerrick–took action at its June meeting to unanimously approve awarding these grants, which required no action or application on behalf of beneficiaries. To learn more about the council and how you can help support the arts in Hernando County, visit  or email [email protected].

“Now is the time for these emergency grants,” said Putnam. “It’s one thing to support the arts–we knew it was our duty to do something tangible. We wanted to offer a lifeline.”

The four grant beneficiaries each reflect a different hue and aspect of the artistic spectrum here in Hernando County. 

Hernando Symphony Orchestra (hernandosymphony.com) has proven a musical showcase for some of the area’s finest musicians since 1983, with The Orchestra’s concert series entertaining audiences four times a year with the finest in pops performances.  The Orchestra’s free Pops in the Park concert is featured at the Council’s annual Art in the Park festival.  

“I was both surprised and thrilled to learn we were being awarded this grant from the Arts Council,” said Michele DiLuzio, HSO conductor. “The venue canceled our April concert series and we lost revenue from this cancellation.  This unexpected grant will help us to recoup some of the lost revenue from the cancellations.”   

The HSO has found a new venue in the sanctuary at St. Frances Cabrini in Spring Hill, where they will perform a free concert open to the public, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4. 

“We are so very thankful and grateful for the Arts Council in choosing to award the HSO this grant,” said DiLuzio, “and for everything they do for the Arts in Hernando County.”

Live Oak Theatre (liveoaktheatre.org) provides family-friendly performing arts entertainment, theatre classes for all ages, and hosts Roots & Branch Films from its home at The Carol & Frank Morsani Center for the Arts in Brooksville. Currently, the theatre is hosting an extended Summer Camp Program; the remaining camps will run July 27-August 7, 10am-2pm for the Peter Pan Production Camp, session 2, for students ages 8 to 18; August 10th-17th, 10am-2pm for the Choreography Intensive Ages 13-Adult; and August 17th-21st, 9am-noon, Pre-K Dance Camp for boys and girls ages 3-5.

“What a wonderful surprise!  We were thrilled to receive this grant because it will make our summer programs even more accessible to students in need,” said Randi Olsen, Artistic Director of Live Oak Theatre, “especially those families affected by circumstances related to COVID-19.”

Stage West Community Playhouse (stagewestflorida.com) is Hernando County’s oldest community theatre. For 30 years, Stage West has provided the residents of Hernando, Pasco, and Citrus counties with quality theatrical entertainment and student theatre programs at an affordable price. Stage West theatre is in the process of resuming its 2020 – 2021 season, proceeding with its planned production Run for Your Wife Sept. 8-20.

“Stage West is honored and thrilled to have been chosen by the Hernando County Fine Arts Council to receive one of the four grants to the arts that they have so generously donated. As everyone is aware, the arts have taken it on the chin from the COVID-19 pandemic that the world is now suffering through.  We have been “dark”, that is, we have had to close our doors to our patrons and the public since mid-March of 2020,” said Stage West president Lynda Dilts-Benson. “This has been a painful process for all.  We were not able to hold our 2 youth summer programs or to mount our Junior musical this August.” 

Dilts-Benson sees the grant as a definite boost to her theatre.

“The arts grant will be used to rekindle that youth program with hopes that we will be able to host those programs in this coming season,” she said. “We look forward to continuing our work to bring quality entertainment and education to our community and are looking forward to working with the Fine Arts Council and all of the other venues in the county in our efforts to bring all forms of the arts alive once again as soon as is safely possible.” 

Stir Up The Gift Talent Organization (stirupthegifttalent.com) provides instruction, workshops, and performance opportunities for young singers, dancers, models, actors, artists, and musicians. In addition to their headquarters in Spring Hill, Stir Up the Gift offers afterschool programs at eight Hernando County public schools as well as a Performing Arts Summer Camp July 13-17 at Stir Up the Gift’s newly reopened talent development studio.

“Being offered this grant from the Hernando County Fine Arts Council is a much appreciated blessing and will be used to assist with maintaining our studio space, and some of the hardships we’re encountering as it relates to the general overhead of running the business and keeping the Talent Studio doors open!” said Melinda Crandle, Stir Up The Gift Talent CEO/Director. “We are very grateful and thankful that there is an organization such as this, that is putting forth efforts to help sustain the Hernando County Performing Arts Community.”

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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