(MIAMI)— PEN America today sharply criticized Governor Ron DeSantis for his veto of nearly $32 million in state funding for arts and culture— the entire state arts budget— saying the decision will “devastate” the arts and stifle free and creative expression.

“A state with an emaciated arts sphere, where books are already banned and classroom dialogue is stifled, is one that is in danger of abandoning freedom of expression altogether,” said Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America’s Florida office. ”DeSantis is taking his war on culture to a new level. This decision will not only devastate the arts but add to his legacy of censorship and disregard for art, literature, and knowledge.”

The grants had already been approved by the Legislature when the governor vetoed the budget without explanation; the decision is unprecedented and reportedly will impact 577 arts programs and 33 facilities.

Florida leads the nation in book bans, with over 5,000 instances of books being banned in public schools since 2021. DeSantis has frequently come under fire for his censorial legislative priorities, including the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits educational speech about sexuality and gender identity and the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits certain educational speech related to race, sex, and American history. The slashing of arts grants is especially insulting when DeSantis approved an increase of millions of dollars to beef up the state’s litigation budget, ensuring Florida taxpayers will shoulder the burden of legal costs for many cases brought to overturn the wave of censorial bills passed under his tenure.

“A culture of free expression requires the arts,” Blankenship said. “Museums, art training programs, theaters, and other culture centers are vital to communities not just for the economic benefits they offer, but as instruments of democracy. The arts help people open themselves to new ideas, challenge their thinking and learn to empathize with perspectives other than their own.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057