Orange County commissioners defer grant to Mad Cow Theatre until further review



Orange County's board of commissioners deferred a $75,000 arts grant to Mad Cow Theatre Tuesday after allegations about delinquent payments to artists working for the professional theater group. 

Last week, Orlando Weekly published an article on the issue after Aradhana Tiwari, former resident director at Mad Cow, alleged on Facebook that over the past two years as an employee, the theater had consistently fallen behind in paying her for her work, sometimes for weeks and even months. Tiwari told us she was still owed money from before her employment began in 2014, which was finally paid to her earlier this month. After her post went viral, Tiwari and more than 100 people signed a petition alleging similar treatment over the past years and calling for a boycott of Mad Cow until it pays what it owes.

City officials also confirmed to OW that Mad Cow owes the city about $330,000 in fees and reimbursements related to its lease with the city for the space at 54 W. Church St. Alvin Wang, a member of Mad Cow’s board of directors, has said there is no question the theater was late in its payments and it is working on a plan to fix the issue. Michael D'Aquino, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Labor, told us after our initial story that the department's wage and hour division "does not have an open or closed investigation with Mad Cow Theatre." D'Aquino adds that employees who want to file a complaint for not being paid properly can contact the division at 904-359-9292.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Orange County commissioners were set to approve recommendations from the county's arts and cultural affairs advisory council for about $2.4 million in county funding for 25 arts-related groups, including Mad Cow. 

Tiwari told commissioners during the meeting's period for public comments that she is "passionate" that Orange County funding is distributed to "fiscally responsible arts organizations who practice ethical business standards."

"This most recent media storm has underscored that Mad Cow's unhealthy culture of compensation has been in progress for over a decade," she says. "I'm deeply disappointed that the city and Orange County arts and cultural affairs continue to support such delinquency year after year. I understand their position that Mad Cow Theatre is a cultural asset in downtown Orlando, but I ask you, does being a cultural asset excuse such fiscal irresponsibility and misuse of hundreds of artists in this community?"  

Commissioner Ted Edwards suggested the county send Mad Cow's grant award back to the county's arts and cultural affairs advisory council for further vetting. Edwards adds that the county's arts and cultural affairs board "was not aware" of the allegations against Mad Cow and that it "was somewhat unfair to criticize our board for information we didn't have." 

Hal Kantor, chairman of the arts and cultural affairs advisory council, says the board did not know the recent allegations against Mad Cow when it made recommendations. Kantor agreed with Edwards and Mayor Teresa Jacobs that the grant award should be pulled back. 

"My personal view is that artists and technicians need to be paid," he says. 

Edwards says the financial allegations against Mad Cow are "a very serious matter." 

"We certainly want Mad Cow to succeed," he says. "But on the other hand, they need to fulfill their responsibilities as a recipient of Orange County art and cultural funding. Pay those artists and others that provided services."  

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