Listen to the audio version of this story here
Jacqueline St. Pierre’s group did everything right, she said, but they still lost funding.
St. Pierre and the other theater club leaders set alarms for 8:30 a.m., skipped class and refreshed SG’s website over and over to access the club funding request form the moment it opened. They drafted requests ahead of time and quickly pasted them into the application. They did everything right to bolster their chance of respectable funding.
It didn’t work.
UF’s Florida Players club typically receives $18,000 from SG per semester. This Fall, it will receive $500.
But St. Pierre, this year’s Artistic Director and club leader, refuses to cancel the season, no matter what it takes.
“We’re going to make theater — if it’s on top of the parking garage, if it’s in someone’s house, if it’s outside in a grassy knoll, if it has to be filmed instead,” she said
St. Pierre asked SG in a July 11 email to explain the club’s low funding and said she was met with a vague response: there is no money left.
There was about $800,000 to allocate among more than 300 SG-funded clubs for the Fall semester. The total funding for student clubs decreased about $200,000 from the last fiscal year and did not increase for the 2023-2024 budget.
According to SG’s financial guidelines, available funds are set based on the average amount spent between all SG-funded organizations over the last five fiscal years. Club activities and events ground to a halt during campus’ pandemic-induced closure two years ago.
This semester’s funding ran out before all but one of Florida Players’ requests were processed; the one request that got through was denied, but St. Pierre said she didn’t know why.
In 2018, the Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative club, filed a lawsuit against UF’s Board of Trustees because SG did not provide funding to invite conservative speakers to UF; YAF said it was a breach of the university’s commitment to the marketplace of ideas. They agreed upon a $66,000 settlement in 2019 and SG rewrote its budget procedures to ensure every club had equal access to funding.
The cost of fulfilling this semester’s 1,600 funding requests for Fall would have been $2.9 million, according to an email from Budget & Appropriations Chairwoman Catherine Giordano and Student Body Treasurer Sierra Kantamneni.
Florida Players must pay for actors’ scripts and the rights to put on its shows, which exceeds $500. The club is scrambling to come together and find solutions, she said.
“Art has always had a difficult relationship with money, because as creative people, we dream really big,” St. Pierre said. “And sometimes, budgets just don’t allow for that.”
The club has used the Squitieri Studio Theatre for the last two years to practice and perform their upcoming plays, which will cost them $3,500 for one week at a reduced price due to their financial situation. Florida Players opened a GoFundMe, which has raised more than $7,000 to support the club for the upcoming semester.
For now, the members must consider reserving a room in the Reitz Union or holding its plays outside, like the Cypress and Grove Brewing Company. Florida Players planned its Fall season in the Spring to show its stage renditions of “Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons” and “Push Up.”
Show essentials, such as costumes, props and practice spaces, will suffer significantly due to the low funding, St. Pierre said.
“That is nothing short of devastating for us,” St. Pierre said.
The total SG budget for the next fiscal year is more than $23 million and awards $7.5 million to Rec Sports, $6.5 million to the Reitz Union, $6.5 million to SG, $1.9 million to Student Activities and Involvement and $720,000 to Sorority and Fraternity Life.
The Activities and Service Fees pending budget for the next fiscal year, approved by SG Senate Tuesday, asks for a 3% increase in total funding, but there is no planned increase in the budget for club finances.
“I think this just reflects poorly on our culture as a university because I know how much student involvement is essential to what we do as Gators,” St. Pierre said.
The last Senate meeting of the Summer will be held in the Reitz Union Senate Chambers Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Contact Sandra McDonald at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald.
Sandra McDonald is a third-year journalism major and the Student Government reporter for the University Desk. This is her first semester at the Alligator. When she's not reporting, she's probably reading fantasy novels and listening to Taylor Swift.