Cultural chief Levine plans to resign, as agency faces funding shakeup
Neil Levine plans to submit his resignation later this month as the executive director of the Brevard Cultural Alliance after eight years of leading the arts agency.
Jim Ridenour, the chair of the Brevard Cultural Alliance board of directors, informed other board members of Levine’s decision at their meeting on Wednesday.
Levine did not attend the board meeting, as he is on vacation, traveling in the United Kingdom, according to Ridenour.
Levine’s pending resignation from his $80,750-a-year job comes at a time when the Brevard Cultural Alliance has been in an ongoing dispute with the Brevard County Tourist Development Council over funding for the arts.
The Brevard Cultural Alliance has been seeking a new contract with Brevard County for providing arts services. On Tuesday, it will present a proposal to the County Commission that would, in effect, cut the Tourist Development Council out of the mix.
The Tourist Development Council, an advisory board to the County Commission, and the Space Coast Office of Tourism, a county department, administer the county’s 5% Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.
That hotel tax is projected to raise $16 million in the current budget year. Under the current allocation formula, 4% of that tax is designated for cultural programs.
The BCA is proposing to the County Commission that it directly receive that money —about $640,000 a year — which it would use for cultural grants and to pay BCA administrative expenses.
More: Matching grants give 15 Brevard County arts, cultural organizations $1.3 million boost
More: County Commission gives Brevard Cultural Alliance temporary reprieve by releasing $105,000
Additionally, Ridenour said he will push for representatives of the arts community and a county commissioner to be added to the Brevard Cultural Alliance board to make it “more inclusive.”
Ridenour sees the proposal as making the Brevard Cultural Alliance more accountable to the County Commission and making its finances “totally transparent.”
“We’re upping our game,” said Ridenour, a retired hotelier who is a former chairman and member of the Tourist Development Council. “We’re trying to do something different and better for the arts and culture community.”
Ridenour said the move would allow the Tourist Development Council to focus on the other 96 percent of the hotel tax revenue.
Ridenour said he has had separate meetings with four of the five county commissioners about proposal, and believes he has the support of at least three of them.
West Melbourne City Council member Andrea Young, who is a member of the Tourist Development Council and chairs its Cultural Committee, said she first heard about the proposal at Wednesday’s BCA board meeting, and is withholding comment until she has more time to study it.
“I want to keep an open mind,” Young said.
Under a plan previously approved by the Tourist Development Council and its Cultural Committee, the Brevard Cultural Alliance would receive $50,000 from the hotel tax in the 2019-20 budget year that begins Oct. 1 for “cultural contracted services.” But the Tourist Development Council — rather than the BCA — would take over administering arts and cultural grants.
It will be up to the County Commission to decide which approach to take with the hotel tax money designated for cultural programming.
In an interview after the meeting, Ridenour said there was no link between the BCA getting County Commission support for the proposed contract and Levine’s planned resignation.
He said he was unaware why Levine was planning to resign at this time, other than Levine may have wanted to pursue “bigger and better things” in the arts sector, possibly including openings that are available at other arts organizations in Florida.
“I can’t get inside Neil’s head” to explain the timing of the resignation, Ridenour said.
Brevard Cultural Alliance staff said Levine would be unavailable to comment because he is traveling.
The agency’s communications manager said there would be no further comment at this point from the BCA about Levine’s pending resignation.
During Wednesday’s board meeting, Andrew Weintraub, secretary of the BCA board of directors, alluded to friction Levine has had with some members of the arts community and the Tourist Development Council, particularly in the past year.
Weintraub said, for Levine, it was “a mark of passion” in Levine pushing his ideas.
At the board meeting, Mike LaFortune, a Brevard Cultural Alliance director emeritus, said, during Levine’s tenure, Levine “advanced the profile” of the county and the BCA, and “put arts in Brevard on the map.”
Ridenour said the BCA was fortunate to have Levine at the helm for eight years, when he expected Levine to be in this job for about five years before moving on.
“I think he had enough,” Ridenour said, in referring to Levine’s pending resignation.
Levine has more than 35 years of experience in the the arts and cultural sectors. Among his previous positions, Levine was director of arts in Cambridgeshire, England, and head of arts programs for Glasgow, Scotland,
Ridenour said a search committee will be formed to seek a successor to Levine.
In the meantime, BCA Deputy Director Kathy Engerran will be heading the agency’s operations.
The BCA is expected to have revenue of $741,810 in its current budget year.
In addition to the 4% designated for cultural program, here is how the allocation of the Tourist Development Tax breaks down:
• 47 percent for promotion and advertising of Space Coast tourism in an effort to attract more tourists.
• 25 percent for beach improvement.
• 14 percent for capital facilities.
• 5 percent for the Brevard Zoo.
• 3 percent for Space Coast Stadium.
• 2 percent for visitor information centers.