This spring, Port Jefferson was only one of three villages to be awarded grant money from two separate programs that promote local arts organizations in Suffolk County, one for and the other for the .
According to Catherine Green from the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development, the county uses money from a hotel tax it charges for overnight stays – called Fund 192 – to fund organizations that contribute to the cultural arts and attracts out-of-town visitors, especially to downtown communities. A portion of the money collected also goes to the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. Close to $300,000 in total goes to arts organization in Suffolk County.
From the money collected through Fund 192, $263,660 in grants were awarded to 39 town arts councils, drama and dance companies, museums and performing arts organizations, including Port Jefferson’s own Theatre Three.
Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn said that organizations like Theatre Three “create jobs and spur local economies.”
“Cultural arts organizations like Theatre Three, Gallery North and The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages are part of the fabric of our community and an important piece of the foundation of our unique sense of place,” she said.
Gallery North and The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages also received grant money through the program.
Port Jefferson was one of three villages to also win a grant for emerging film exhibition programs. The county set aside $23,000 in competitive grants from the same tourist tax fund and only four programs won, including the Port Jefferson Documentary Film Series, a festival that brings award-winning and important documentary films to the village every spring and fall.
Patchogue and West Hampton also received grants from the cultural arts and emerging film programs.
“Not a lot of communities get both,” said Green.
Although this time around, the village was on the receiving end of the two programs, Lyn Boland, co-director of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series said that they have gotten a grant almost every year since they started and they rely on the money to keep showing films.
This year’s award was a little different than others.
“Instead of applying with the arts council for one general grant, there’s one specifically regarding films,” she said.
Launched a few years ago by a some friends who love good films, last saw a big jump in attendance and although they do not rely on ticket sales to fund the series, it's is a good measure of success.
"We started with an audience of about 12 people six years ago and this season our audiences averaged 100 people per night," Boland . "We had a 33 percent audience increase over the same period last year."
She said this spring the series “went well” but she would have like to have seen another jump, attributing it to the subject matter in the films this year.
“We had serious documentaries that may have scared some people away,” she said.
Although they know that the films might not always be palatable or pleasant, Boland said that they try to show the best of what’s out there.
“We do not shy away from the controversial,” she said.
They are already planning for the fall film series and have some ideas on what they want to show. Boland said a film called “They Call It Myanmar” has caught the eye of the planners. It’s about life in the small Asian country – also called Burma – in the grip of military rule for the past 50 years.
At least three people on the board have to see a film and like it to make the cut.
“The films also have to have some critical acclaim and go through a vetting process before we pick them,” she said.
The budget for each screening is between $800 to $900, more than half of which is the film’s distribution fee. The film series usually has a speaker at each presentation. Some speakers will donate their fee back to the organization.
Boland said they receive about $5,000 from the county, which goes to keeping the program alive.
“Without the grant we can’t function,” she said.
The ticket prices only cover 20 percent of their operating costs. The Suffolk County grant and another from the New York State Council for the Arts makes up the rest of their costs.
“Ticket prices will not make it at all,” she said.
The series is also produced entirely by volunteers who do it for the love documentary films. Boland said she doesn’t know what she would do if any of her volunteers decided not to work on the series anymore.
“I don’t want to think about it,” she said.
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