New World, Old Woes

The battle to restore funding for the New World School of the Arts is under way

Within the college there are 319 students, and competition to enroll them is intense. Sumner is fearful the proposed budget cuts will hurt New World's chances of attracting the most gifted, the majority of whom come from within the state. "This hits us at a time when we are doing our major recruiting," he points out. "Students in the visual and the performing arts are highly recruited, almost like athletes. Oboe players are hard to find. If you want good high school oboe players, you have to go find them; you have to recruit them. And when high school students read in the newspaper that there are questions about whether programs are going to exist, it doesn't really help our recruiting process.

"This school offers very, very talented students in the State of Florida a chance for an exceptional education in the arts without having to leave the state. Everybody talks about brain drain. Well how about talent drain? We don't want these young people leaving the state. If they go to New York, if they go to Chicago, if they go to Los Angeles to study, chances are we've lost them."

"We really do change the lives of these kids who otherwise I don't know where they would go," says Celeste Pierson, who teaches printmaking at New World. "They don't have the money to go to a more expensive art school, and yet they really deserve an education in the arts. I really believe a lot of these kids would slip through the cracks if it weren't for this school."

Over the years the New World School of the Arts has offered students a chance to learn from luminaries such as Edward Albee
Steve Satterwhite
Over the years the New World School of the Arts has offered students a chance to learn from luminaries such as Edward Albee

"It means everything to me," says Angela Arias, a 24-year-old college sophomore studying painting. "It means a life for me. I'm the only one in my family going to college, and I'm really trying to make something of myself. It's not like we are asking for a freebie. We're asking to better ourselves, to make something of ourselves to help our community."

"This school gives us a wide berth for our creative freedom," adds Rob Worst, another college arts major. "Without this school we'd be regimented into traditionalism and go the same route of obscurity. We're trying not to be hacks."

Last year the overall budget for New World was slightly less than $7 million. Nearly $1 million came from the state; $3.3 million from Miami-Dade County Public Schools; $2.1 million from MDCC; and $500,000 from the University of Florida. Losing $500,000 would be devastating, Sumner says. "There is no excess in this program; the loss of any dollar amounts will affect us," he warns.

Rudy Garcia received his education in the halls and the backrooms of the state capitol. Garcia was just 21 years old when he was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1984, and over the next 16 years he watched and learned how things get done. He specialized in two areas: education and the state's budget.

Today the Hialeah Republican is spending his seventeenth year in Tallahassee as a freshman senator. He was the original sponsor of the bill creating New World. The school couldn't have a better champion than Garcia in the Senate.

Because of term limits, one-third of the legislature is new to Tallahassee and to state government. As a result few know the intricacies of the budget better than Garcia. And so this past Friday, when the latest budget estimates were announced and most of his colleagues headed home for the weekend, Garcia stayed behind in Tallahassee, analyzing the numbers and meeting privately with the staff of the budget committee.

Late Friday Garcia told me he had found in the Senate's version of the budget a pocket of money he would use to restore funding for the New World School of the Arts. "I am confident we can fix this," he told me. "This is the first art institute in the State of Florida. If we allow these cuts to remain, we will turn it into a mediocre institution."

Two weeks into the legislative session Garcia is emerging as one of its stars. In addition to finding money for New World, Garcia says he believes he can restore funding for the Miami Book Fair International, which would have lost all its state subsidy ($200,000) under the proposed budget. Indeed the list of programs Garcia is trying to help this year is extensive. "We're putting our time to good work," he says.

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