An Inside Look at the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finals

by Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Each year State Champions from throughout the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are awarded the opportunity to compete in the Poetry Out Loud National Semi-Finals and Finals in Washington, DC.  This exciting opportunity includes an all-expense paid trip to Washington for each state finalists and a chaperone. I attended the Finals at the end of April as Florida’s State Coordinator to watch our champion, Emily Rodriguez, compete and to learn more about the Poetry Out Loud program.  While there I enjoyed touching base with other program directors from each state, and it was a pleasure to meet the many devoted folks from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation who make Poetry Out Loud a huge success.

This year’s 53 Poetry Out Loud State Champions in Washington, DC. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

This year’s 53 Poetry Out Loud State Champions in Washington, DC. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emily Rodriguez, a 12th grade student at Academy of the Holy Names in Hillsborough County, traveled to Washington with her mom to compete in the National competition. During the first two rounds of Region 2’s semi-finals, Emily recited “The Empty Dance Shoes”by Cornelius Eady and “Memory as a Hearing Aid” by Tony Hoagland.  Not surprisingly, Emily’s excellent recitation skills led to the judges’ selecting her as one of the top 10 students to move onto the third round. During this final round, Emily recited “Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God” by John Donne. All of us at the Division of Cultural Affairs are very proud of Emily’s performance and recognize how prestigious it is for her to have been selected to compete in the final round of the Semi-Finals.

Emily Rodriguez reciting Cornelius Eady’s “The Empty Dance Shoes.” Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emily Rodriguez reciting Cornelius Eady’s “The Empty Dance Shoes.” Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Given the vast amount of talent that showed up in Washington for the 2014 National Finals, the judges understandably had a very difficult time making their final decisions.  In the end, three students from each of the three regional Semi-Finals were selected to compete in the Finals. The following evening these nine student each recited poems during the first two rounds. Ultimately, the top three students were selected to perform a third poem to determine their standings as the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finalists. This year, these finalists included Natasha Simone Vargas (New Jersey), Lake Wilburn (Ohio), and Anita Norman (Tennessee) who were surely thrilled!

Once Natasha, Lake, and Anita recited their third poem, the judges determined that Anita Norman would be this year’s National Champion.  In addition to all of the national recognition that accompanies this honor, Anita Norman was presented with a prize of $20,000!  Lake Wilburn came in 2nd place with a $10,000 prize and Natasha Vargas received $5,000. It was wonderful to see such talent acknowledged. The amount of positive energy flowing among all of the students, regardless of their final standings, was evidence of this. The experience was truly gratifying for all involved.

National Champion Anita Norman interviewed by Neda Ulaby from National Public Radio. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

National Champion Anita Norman interviewed by Neda Ulaby from National Public Radio. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Clearly, the fifty-three Poetry Out Loud National Finalists had the time of their life! Besides making connections with like-minded teens from across the United States, their Washington experience included opportunities to meet significant published authors and public figures from stage, screen, radio, and government. Plus, the folks at the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts made certain that the students’ time in Washington was filled with exciting events like meet and greet receptions, an opening banquet with last year’s National Champion Langston Ward, a Congressional breakfast, time on Capitol Hill, and a great National Finals after party.  Having seen how fulfilling the experience was and how wholly the students embraced their love of poetry, I have higher praise for Poetry Out Loud than ever before.

Participation in a Poetry Out Loud program begins at the classroom level. It’s easy to incorporate the program into the curriculum because Poetry Out Loud correlates with English Language Arts Standards set by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Not only does the program seek to encourage our nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through performance and recitation, it is an inclusive program.  It creates an entry point for students to appreciate poetry, it reaches out to students who might not have otherwise taken to poetry or the stage, and it impacts the lives of students both academically and socially. I strongly encourage high school teachers to incorporate the program into their language arts curriculum. Schools interested in finding out more can visit the official Poetry Out Loud website, visit the Florida Division of Cultural Affair’s POL webpage, or contact me for more information. It might just be a student from your community who goes to Washington next year!

Poetry, like camaraderie, is stirring and fun.Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Poetry, like camaraderie, is stirring and fun. Photo by James Kegley, used with permission of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Spotlight On: A Flamenco Tribute to Viva Florida 500

by Tim Storhoff

As part of the Viva Florida 500 celebrations, native Floridian Clarita Filgueiras has produced a short film entitled “Honoring the Past: a Flamenca’s Journey.”

This 17 minute film presents two Flamenco dances choreographed and performed by award-winning choreographer/dancer, Clarita Filgueiras accompanied by singer Vicente Griego and guitarist Rodrigo Valdez. Clarita descends from a long line of Flamenco artists. Born in Florida, Clarita began her studies in Spanish dance at the age of eight with Jose Molina and Luisita Sevilla. In the late 1980s, Clarita lived in Madrid with her family and studied traditional Spanish dance styles including flamenco with some of Spain’s best artists. Clarita has been a member of the Division of Cultural Affairs State Touring Roster and was a recipient of a 2012 Folk Heritage Award from the Florida Folklife Program

The short film goes through the process that created the choreography and performance commemorating Ponce de León’s arrival in Florida through the eyes of Clarita Filgueiras. In many ways, flamenco is a great representation of Viva Florida 500. This year through events all across the state, Viva Florida has highlighted the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present-day Florida since Juan Ponce de León named this land La Florida. While Spain’s claim in 1513 marked the beginning of a new era, Florida’s Native American heritage dates back more than 12,000 years, and Florida’s cultural affluence results from the diversity and interaction of cultures in our state.

Like Florida’s rich culture, flamenco is also the result of cultural interactions in a country’s southernmost region. While the music and dance tradition has transformed dramatically throughout history, flamenco originated as a vocal tradition that arrived in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain where Europe is closest to North Africa, in the fifteenth century. It was brought by the gitano people who were believed to have originated somewhere on the Indian subcontinent before traveling for centuries through parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. When they arrived in Andalusia in the early 1400s, they found a truly cosmopolitan place where people from diverse cultural backgrounds and religions coexisted fairly peacefully. The music the gitanos brought with them already reflected the diverse regions they traveled through. Over time, the music gained more acceptance and popularity in Spain when gitanos performed in cafes where intellectuals gathered. In the nineteenth century, Spanish guitar became a primary feature of the music and dancers became the focal point of staged performances. Flamenco continues to be one of Spain’s defining traditions, and it came to Florida through interaction with Spain. Today, performers like Clarita Filgueiras and her dance company Flamenco Puro continue to further the flamenco tradition in our great state.

For more information about flamenco, the video, or to hire Flamenco Puro, contact Clarita Filgueiras or visit To learn more about Viva Florida 500 events, visit

Culture in Florida: March

Culture In Floridaby Bob Evans and Tim Storhoff

Culture In Florida is a monthly news roundup to show our state’s wonderful diversity, spotlight the organizations and artists that contribute so much to our communities, and stress the comprehensive benefits of arts and culture to Florida’s economy and quality of life.

As promised last month, March was full of events across Florida. The Division of Cultural Affairs was busy, as were the many art, history, and science museums across the state.

Here in Tallahassee, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs hosted our statewide Poetry Out Loud competition March 8th and 9th. The program is a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. For a full breakdown of Florida’s event, replete with pictures, see our previous blog post.

The 2013 Poetry Out Loud Florida State Finals champion Kourtney Brooker, reciting her poem during the final round.

The 2013 Poetry Out Loud Florida State Finals champion Kourtney Brooker, reciting her poem during the final round.

Elsewhere in Florida, the Gasparilla International Film Festival was held in Tampa from March 19th to the 24th. Since its inception in 2006, the festival has continued to draw international crowds with its exciting crops of filmmakers, actors, and writers, who all come together for a week of brilliant cinema. This year’s festival was no different. One of Florida’s own independent filmmakers, Lawrence Feeney, president of Pasco Films, took home the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature category for his film, Pharmboy. The film, which was shot in Pasco County, is a fictional account of a teenager who was born addicted to prescription pills. The festival also features the work of another Floridian, Vaughn Wilkinson, who played the lead in the independent feature film Against the Grain. Wilkinson, who graduated from Tampa’s King High School in 2002, has had success in national commercials and a part on 90210.

March was also Florida Archaeology Month, and for two New College students, it paid off. Matt Andersen and Jodi Johnson won Cornelia D. Futor Archaeology Student Grants, sponsored by the Time Sifters Archaeology Society of Sarasota. The grant competition is open to undergraduate and pre-doctoral graduate students enrolled at a college in the Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa area and is based on excellence in archaeology research papers.

At the Florida Museum of Natural History this month are the fossilized remains of a giant crocodile. The fossils are from the same coal mine in Colombia where the 48-foot-long “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” was discovered. “This is extremely exciting because we’ll be unpacking the first lower jaw discovered of this giant, 30- to 40-foot-long crocodile relative we believe may have actually battled Titanoboa,” says Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology curator Jonathan Bloch. University of Florida doctoral candidate Aldo Rincon discovered a tooth and lower jaw segments of an extinct hippo-like species while excavating in the Panama Canal. His research has recently been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The fossils are being held at the Florida Museum of Natural History for analysis.

The Jacksonville Zoo, seemingly in preparation for the upcoming 20th anniversary re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, has opened its very own version of the fictional park. DinoTrek features 21 life-size animatronic dinosaurs, as well as a unique comprehensive experience. Visitors pass through a Jurassic Park-like gate, follow a foggy path to a moat, cross over on a floating dock and enter a heavily wooded area where the dinosaurs move, roar and snarl. DinoTrek also offers a dig site when kids can excavate fossils. The exhibit will continue through June 30th.

With the Voyager 1 spacecraft rapidly making its way out of the solar system, space is once again making the news in Florida. Space Florida, the state’s public/private space development corporation, wants to convince NASA to release 150 acres of its land now contained within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge or Canaveral National Seashore to operate a commercial spaceport outside the security perimeter of NASA launch facilities. They will make their first appearance before the Volusia County Council on April 4th.

Saturn V rocket engines from the famous Apollo 11 mission to the moon were discovered by Jeff Bezos off of the coast of Florida. Bezos, founder of and its CEO, said in 2012 that he planned to recover those specific engines. The rocket engines remain property of NASA and the U.S. government, and Bezos has indicated that he would like to pull the engines to the surface and then have NASA put them on display at a museum in Seattle.

The noteworthy collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the John F. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) and the Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS) continues with over forty pieces from the heart of the NASA art collection. Florida Celebrates Space is open at MOAS through April 28, 2013. The exhibition is offered in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León’s discovery of Florida and illustrates the peninsula not only as a destination for the first explorers, but as a gateway for those launching to explore new worlds beyond Earth. Included are pieces by Annie Leibovitz, Andy Warhol, James Wyeth and Robert Rauschenberg. To accompany the exhibition, MOAS is offering special Florida Celebrates Space events and activities through April, 2013.

Frank J. Thomas being inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame during the Florida Heritage Month Awards. Photo by Gary Pettit.

Frank J. Thomas being inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame during the Florida Heritage Month Awards. Photo by Gary Pettit.

Florida Heritage Month began on March 15 and will continue until April 15. The Florida Heritage Month Awards Ceremony was held on March 20 at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. The event included a reception, cultural performances, the Florida Folk Heritage Awards, Secretary of State Historic Preservation Awards, Florida Book Awards and the induction of artists into the 2013 Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

If you’re looking for things to do in April, it’s Jazz Appreciation Month so check out some live performances between now and Jazz Day on April 30. As always, keep your eye on the Viva Florida 500 calendar all year long and check out the local cultural calendars in your area!

Spotlight on Central Florida: Summer Arts Camps

by Jennifer BonnerInterim Director, Orange County Arts Education Center

Jennifer Bonner

As part of my job with the Orange County Arts Education Center located in Orlando, I collect and publish the listings of summer camps from local arts organizations in our annual Arts Summer Camp Guide.  This year I went one step further and visited the Arts Summer Camps listed in the guide. Hello summer!

It was wonderful – absolutely like being a kid again! This summer I’ve seen 270+ summer camps.  Let me rephrase.  270+ summer ARTS camps in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. The arts opportunities available to the next generation of Central Floridians are thriving, and I was lucky enough to peer into that world for just a short while.

From ancient Egypt to Hungary, from improv to Brazilian martial arts and drumming, I was transported throughout the world through the power of the arts. The joy I felt KNOWING this was happening in my area cannot surpass the joy students were feeling learning and absorbing a tremendous amount of information disguised as “fun.”

As an arts educator I have always been haunted by the “fun” aspect of my area subject (theatre, in case you were wondering).  It’s “just for fun,” you get to “play around.” I will tell you now, not because of my own subjectivity, but because I saw it through the eyes of the students: “fun” is the best way to learn.  The arts are a model for all teaching.  This is especially true in the summer.

Where else, would you find the all of the majors of a college department spending their entire summer at school?  In.   The.   Arts.  Valencia College, the 2011 winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, holds the Summer Dance Institute each summer for all dance majors and select high school students culminating in a performance at the end of the intensive.  These students receive no credit.  They are simply there to better themselves, to learn and grow.  Led by Department Chair Dr. Suzanne Salapa and Artistic Director Lesley Brasseux Rodgers, the Intensive creates a wonderful atmosphere.  And that atmosphere seems to be contagious.

There is also an “Acting Gym” which takes place every Saturday from 1-3 p.m.  Used as his student enrichment hours, Professor John DiDonna is continually amazed that over 30 students show up every Saturday including the summer, and that participation figure is growing weekly.

Mennello Museum of Art Summer Printmaking Camp. Image submitted and used by permission of Jennifer Bonner.

All of the large arts organizations in our area have summer camps.  The Orlando Repertory Theatre alone has over 50 summer camp offering for students.  The Orange County Regional History Center brings history alive with their artistic process.  Students – ranging from 5 years of age through middle school – learn about ancient Egypt through maps, mummification and the painting of hieroglyphs.  The Orlando Shakespeare Theater is teaching Shakespeare, make-up, history and costuming through an innovative “Zombie Shakespeare” camp.  Crealdé, a local visual art center, has a finely tuned model.  Each students enrolled moves through drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I had none of these options!

Here’s the wonderful thing about this area: it isn’t just the large arts organizations that have camps. There are literally hundreds of camps run by individuals or small arts organizations I mean, a first-timer trying out theatre might be intimidated by the word Shakespeare (although as a theatre person myself, I can promise you that he is very friendly).  Summer Drama Camp, a camp that has just begun running year-round starting this year, is a one-woman operation.  Focusing on a production, students are also taught responsibility, character and the business side of theatre.  Magic Curtains Productions, run by a husband and wife team, taught the basics of theatre to those that have never been on the stage before and those who have been in the program since its inception.  The innovative Lego camp, iBrick Academy run by James Jones, a technology teacher in Orange County Public Schools, along with his son, has three different locations, including LEGOLAND Florida.  Students are taught through the STEAM process (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) using innovative and creative ideas to create windmills, cars and robotic bugs.

Words of the day and research materials at the Mennello Museum of Art Summer Printmaking Camp. Image submitted and used by permission of Jennifer Bonner.

And while most of the camps are geared towards the preK-12 years, there are even a few for the adults and the professionals.  The Art and History Center Maitland offers workshops and classes all summer specifically geared to adults and the newly opened Starving Artist Studios has adult classes in ballroom dance and ballet, as well as private instruction and group classes in theatre, music and dance for professionals.  The Orlando Ballet’s Summer Intensive serves a diverse body of participants, ages 7 through adults. Orlando Ballet also offers adult walk-in classes for those in the community who just want to try it!  Capoeira Brazilian Pelourinho teaches a form of martial arts that incorporates music and dance has level for all ages, including special “Mom/Dad” classes following the youth classes so the students and parents can experience the art together.

There are so many more that I could mention, so many more that I visited and am in awe of.  Each with their own strengths.  Each with their own approach to learning.  Each with their own fun.  Being a kid again this summer couldn’t have been more fruitful.  Thanks for the arts fun Central Florida!

Spotlight on Florida Folklife: Cane Grinding

by Ken Miller

Cane grinding, circa 1890s. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection

In bygone days rural communities often organized working parties, turning labor into social events. Hog killing, corn shucking and cane grinding were examples of this phenomenon. Music and a meal were standard parts of these rituals. During World War II families and communities were scattered, and these social events started fading away. As we look at our lives now, many of us pine for the days when there was time, energy and desire for the rituals that solidified families and communities, turning necessary work into good fun.

A Southern cane grinding is similar to a New England maple syrup cooking. Maple sap gathering and cooking extends as long as the sap is flowing, from three to five weeks, with syrup boilings whenever the holding tank gets full. Cane grinding now is usually done in one hectic day, making it more suitable for a work party. Here in the Deep South, sugar cane has always been the sweetener. Prior to World War II almost every farm in the South had a cane patch to provide the year’s sweetener and the surplus served as a welcome cash crop. In addition, cane could provide the enhancer for localized liquid corn products.

Cane grinding circa 1911. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection.

Cane is typically harvested around Thanksgiving. Large crops used to take several weeks to be harvested and boiled. First, the freshly cut and stripped cane is crushed in a roller mill to extract the juice. The raw, greenish brown juice tastes somewhat like vaguely sweet “grass tea.” Some folks really enjoy this treat. The mill was traditionally powered by a blind mule walking in a circle at the end of a pole, which directly turned the mill’s rollers. The more modern use of a tractor PTO (power takeoff) for power doesn’t seem to affect the taste but for my memories it is noisy, smelly and out of place. Next, the juice is boiled down to syrup consistency.

Wilmer Cribbs grinding sugarcane for making into syrup - Wellborn, Florida. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection.

On the Grissett farm west of Tallahassee (where I have attended many a cane grinding), thick black smoke from the “fat lighter” fire and controlled confusion were the norm as Roy and Wayne Grissett would keep the fire roaring and the foam skimmed off of the 6-foot diameter cast iron syrup kettle. A chilly November wind keeps the crowd close to the steaming kettle. It is very hot and humid inside the open syrup shed, in stark contrast to the weather outside. Bees of all types are attracted to the sweet juice and smell but I’ve never seen anybody get stung.  When the viscosity is just right the fire is pulled from the firebox and the syrup is poured off and strained into a container so that it can cool enough to be bottled in old style 1/5 gallon glass bottles. This process is repeated until all of the syrup has been cooked.

A traditional cane grinding is always accompanied by a “covered dish” dinner (the noon meal for you non-Southerners), served and eaten outside by the syrup shed. All of this is generally accompanied by home-made music.

Our band “Scrub Oak” has often been asked to play for the cane grindings at the Grissett’s farm west of Tallahassee. We play our version of “Antique Country” or “Pre-Grass” music with fiddle, guitar and mandolin both before and after the meal.

About mid-day folks start bringing in covered dish food, salads and desserts.  The blessing and eating can start as soon as Gayle’s fresh biscuits arrive. Then one of the essential rituals is to see how much syrup one can pour into a fresh cooked biscuit and still be able to get it into your mouth without sticky tragedy. Kids are the most skilled at this sport. Every kid old enough to have a pocketknife is carrying his or her own stick of fresh cane. They deftly peel and cut off chunks to chew, swallowing the juice and then spitting out the empty pulp. They may also cut off a chunk for a smaller, as yet uninitiated kid.

The two brothers are now only one. Last year’s grinding was a memorial for Wayne Grissett, a beloved husband, father, brother and friend who passed on just a few weeks before this years grinding. The crowd is huge as the community comes together to remember Wayne and pay its respects to the family. We see again the many benefits of families and communities coming together for work and fun, for grieving and healing.

Spotlight on Florida Heritage Month

by Jennifer Hoesing


Each year Florida celebrates its heritage with Florida Heritage Month, March 15 to April 15. Throughout the month, Florida residents and visitors will have special opportunities to experience and embrace the many historical sites, cultural activities and literary programs throughout the state. The activities are intended to help residents and visitors gain an understanding and appreciation of Florida’s commitment to supporting historic preservation, arts and culture, and libraries that create economic vitality, enhance quality of life and instill community pride.  Residents and visitors can find more information about Florida Heritage Month and related events at

From now until the close of Florida Heritage Month on April 15, we’ll be featuring some of the people and places that contribute to Florida’s cultural legacy. Join us for this Florida Heritage blogging blitz!

Art Talk: Colleen Duffley

by Heather Stuyverson

Today’s “Art Talk” features Colleen Duffley, an Panhandle-based professional photographer who has been photographing people, places, and things for more than 28 years. Colleen’s creative and vibrant spirit has brought artistic inspiration to Florida and beyond.

Colleen Duffley knows a lot about success in today’s arts marketplace.

Colleen Duffley (image submitted)

Her professional photography business and arts organization are both known for bringing artistic opportunity and vision to scenic 30A in the Florida Panhandle. “In order be a successful artist in this world you have to be a great business person as well,” Colleen told me in an email interview late last year. “You have to be well spoken to get your message across and to grow the concepts and ideas that you, as an artist, believe in.”

Colleen’s concepts, ideas and messages are indeed successful. With Colleen Duffley Productions, her professional photography business, she shoots, produces, directs, and designs advertising concepts. She has made a name for herself in the field of photography, with clients including Neiman Marcus, Traditional Home magazine and Carnival Cruise Lines.  Colleen says photography has given her the opportunity to meet the most amazing people and see the most incredible places.  She says, “I have often truly pinched myself, thinking, ‘I’m getting paid to do this?’”

photograph by Colleen Duffley (submitted by the artist)

In addition to her photography business, Colleen also owns and operates Studio b. Studio b. brings together the best of the best in the fields of photography, art, design, literature, food, and wine by hosting seminars, classes, and lectures.

Workshop at Studio b. (submitted by Colleen Duffley)

Studio b. also serves as an art gallery throughout the year and is currently featuring an exhibit entitled “Light Impressions: A Celebration of iPhone® Photography.” The exhibit features the curated work of 40 iPhoneographers from around the world, with their work showcased on 40 iPad 2® units.  Colleen says this is the first iPhone® photography exhibit of its kind, and there are plans to tour the exhibit internationally.

Light Impressions at Studio b. (submitted by Colleen Duffley)

At the end of the day, Colleen says her business ventures have helped her become a focused, resilient and disciplined person. Colleen summed it all up, saying that her work in the arts is truly a part of her. “Working hard and being creative defines who I am as an individual.”

Postcard from Martin County: Waterfront Wednesdays

submitted by Nancy Turrell, Executive Director at the Arts Council

The Arts Council of Martin County & Sunset Bay Marina invite you to come by land or sea to Waterfront Wednesdays at Sunset Bay, a weekly arts and fine handcrafts show featuring local artisans.  This new waterfront, sunset and sea focused event is a great opportunity during the Holiday Season to buy, hand crafted holiday gifts for everyone on your shopping list. The marina sets a perfect stage for select artisans to display their finest works portraying Stuart’s connection to the ocean, inlets, rivers, waterways, bays and lakes.

Visitors and arts patrons visit some of the artists booths at the inaugural Waterfront Wednesdays at Sunset Bay. Featured artists represent a variety of media including literature, painting, jewelry-making and photography. Photo Credit: Tom Winter

Enjoy art, music and nature’s stunning sunsets over the St. Lucie every Wednesday from 4 p.m. until sunset.  This free-to-the-public event includes free parking on and off site, shuttle service, valet parking, and dockage on the marina transient and dinghy docks.  Larger vessels may use the fuel dock after 5 p.m.

Participating artists include photographer Eric Wickstrom, painters Ruthann Hewson, Linda Schoppmeyer, and Bruce Wells; jewelers Francia Yaffe and Sam Uberbaum, clay artist Kym Sheppard, textile artist Judy Nichols.  The line up of artists will vary each week to offer an array of styles and genre, keeping the event interesting even for the most dedicated guest.  A variety of performers will be integrated in the event as it matures offering music, storytelling and other engaging experiences.

Patrons view the wide array of Palm City artist, Ruthann Hewson. Hewson is an award-winning “realistic impressionist” oil painter who grew up in Massachusetts but has resided in Martin County since the 1970s. Photo Credit: Tom Winter

Waterfront Wednesday was launched on November 16 in partnership with the Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage in order to offers a weekly opportunity for artists to meet new customers and for residents and visitors alike to enjoy our natural beauty and the artists’ creativity.  As the designated local arts agency for Martin County, the Arts Council believes strongly in providing enhancements to our arts environment that allow artists to thrive as professionals and to provide opportunities for visitors and residents to engage in the arts.  This event will grow over time and will provide a positive economic impact to downtown Stuart, the participating artists and the sponsoring businesses.

Patrons shop at the jewelry created by “Clayworks” by Kym Shepard. Each week Waterfront Wednesdays at Sunset Bay’s Facebook page announces the artists and entertainment that will make that night special and unique. Photo Credit: Tom Winter

While speaking of economic impact, The Arts & Economic Prosperity III report provides compelling evidence that the nonprofit arts and culture are a significant industry in Martin County – one that generates $16.8 million in local economic activity. This spending – $12 million by nonprofit arts and culture organizations and an additional $4.7 million in event-related spending by their audiences – supports 456 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $9.9 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $1.4 million in local and state government revenue. This economic impact study sends a strong signal that when we support the arts, we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest in Martin County’s economic well-being.

The Arts Council of Martin County provides services to visual and performing artists, arts organizations, students and the public.  The Arts Council believes that the arts are a basic and vital component to an individual’s development and life fulfillment.   Programs and services of the Arts Council cultivate and celebrate the values of artistic appreciation, creativity and freedom of expression.  The Arts Council encourages programs that create opportunities for artists and arts organizations to strengthen their resources and reach all segments of our community.  For more information, please call 772-287-6676 or visit  The Arts Council is sponsored in part by the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Stuart, Martin County Board of County Commissioners, and private contributions.

Five questions for Victor Merriam, VSA Florida Young Soloist

by Jennifer Hoesing

VSA Florida sponsors the Florida Young Soloists program, now in its fifth year. A statewide call for musicians and vocalists with disabilities age 25 and under is sent each spring. Three prominent music professionals adjudicate the applications and select the top two as Florida’s nominations to the VSA International Young Soloists program. The Florida finalists appear with the Florida Orchestra. Today we have five questions for Victor Merriam, one of this year’s Young Soloists.

Victor Merriam

DCA: What do you enjoy most about making music?
Victor: The thing that I enjoy the most about making music is probably the unparalleled freedom and beauty which accompanies it, where you can express yourself in beautiful ways that words never could grasp.

DCA: Why do you think it is important for people to make music?
Victor: I think it’s important for people to make music, because, like any other form of art, it’s a beautiful thing that could fade away if people just stop doing it one day.
Why are music and art important to Florida?

DCA: Do you think you will always perform music?
Victor: I believe I will always be performing music; there’s no describing the happiness it can bring to change peoples lives with what you do.

DCA: Who are your favorite musicians or artists?
Victor: Some of my favorite musicians/artists are (in no specific ranking) Valentina Lisitsa, Andre Rieu, Serge Tankian, Victor Wooten, Max Bemis, Andrea Bocelli, Salvadore Dali and Vincent van Gogh.

DCA: Why are music and art important to Florida?
Victor: Music and art are vital to parts of the economy and culture in Florida; there is an extremely large musical and artistic scene in many areas around the state, music is part of its culture since some styles of rock even originated in Tampa Bay (which continues is a melting pot for artists and musicians).

Art Talk: EcoArt South Florida

by Jennifer Hoesing

EcoArt on the West Palm Beach waterfront. Michael Singer served as the primary designer of this project, completed in 2010. This work is a significant example of the cross disciplinary work of a sculptor who has been doing large scale infrastructure related environmentally sensitive art for decades. (photo submitted by EcoArt South Florida)

Today’s Art Talk is a conversation with EcoArt South Florida. EcoArt is a multi- and cross-disciplinary practice that weds art with the best environmental science and community engagement.

A graduate of EcoArt South Florida's pilot apprenticeship program, Stuart artist Jesse Etelson works with Audubon Society staff and volunteers in providing sculptural bird nesting shelters in areas where removal of exotic trees has damaged avian habitat. (photo submitted by EcoArt South Florida)

DCA: Tell us about EcoArt South Florida.
EcoArt South Florida: EcoArt South Florida encourages broad support for environmental stewardship within communities by involving citizens of all ages and demonstrating innovative and aesthetically striking ways to create and save energy, reduce heat island effect, capture and reuse stormwater and many other positive approaches to enhancing the health of our interrelated ecosystems. EcoArt (short for ecological art) is not a new art practice. It is only new here in Florida!

Volunteers collect seeds as a part of EcoArtist Xavier Cortada's installation on Lincoln Road in Miami. Cortada is a multitalented artist whose projects to restore Florida's urban canopies and mangrove stands are large scale performance pieces involving hundreds of non artist volunteers, government agencies and philanthropic organizations. (photo submitted by EcoArt South Florida)

Cortada's EcoArt installation on Lincoln Road in Miami. (photo submitted by EcoArt South Florida)

DCA: How does EcoArt encourage the public, and in particular, elected officials, to incorporate arts and culture into everyday life?
EcoArt South Florida: EcoArt South Florida intends to assist targeted communities to establish “EcoArt Nodes” in each of South Florida’s five watersheds by 2015. We define an EcoArt Node as
a committed group of stakeholders, with a strong organization at its center (either as its own nonprofit, or as a subunit of an existing organization) dedicated to growing EcoArt and supporting emerging EcoArtists in their locale. An important stakeholder group that must always be included as each EcoArt Node is established, are elected and career officials of municipal and county governments.

The locations for our EcoArt Nodes have been scientifically identified by our GIS study of all five watersheds in South Florida, completed for us by Dartmouth College’s department of geography undergraduate students, Spring, 2011.

EcoArt South Florida’s comprehensive community education program and artist apprenticeship is specifically designed to engage key communities in best ways to establish and support strong EcoArt practices in their areas. We will work with the communities identified as EcoArt Nodes to field this program which will be the basis for ongoing development and support of EcoArt practice.

In addition to establishment of targeted EcoArt Nodes, starting in early 2012, EcoArt South Florida Board and Advisory Committee members will begin to meet where they live, with county and city officials.

To date, the only municipality in Florida we are aware of that has done this is Boynton Beach. Credit goes to Boynton’s Mayor and Commissioners for establishing a Green Alliance of local citizens involved in Green urban and community development that recommended key elements of a Green Ordinance for the city. EcoArt South Florida was a member of this alliance. The resulting new ordinance Includes mention of EcoArt at various places. We are delighted to encourage our city and county officials to follow the lead of Boynton Beach in assuring that EcoArt is included as their communities develop creative ways to “go green.”

Follow the link to learn more about how EcoArt has been integrated into Boynton’s many new green initiatives, please contact the administrator of Art in Public Places Debby Coles-Dobay.

Jackie Brookner (NY) and Angelo Ciotti (PA) are EcoArtists embedded in design team for restoration of West Palm Beach's largest urban green space, Dreher Park, revamped from 2002-2005 to expand water retention. Features "BioSculpture" (tm) in new retention pond which cleans waters with plants on the sculpture's surface, sculptural earthen mounds reminiscent of indigenous people's shell mounds, created from dirt excavated to create a large new retention pond, and a learning garden featuring plants used by inhabitants over a thousand year period to the present. (photo submitted by EcoArt South Florida)

DCA: What does EcoArt do for South Florida?

EcoArt South Florida: EcoArt practice has many identities. All contribute to the community. Most involve the community at every level of the planning, design and creation of EcoArt projects.

In addition to our consultations with communities we have identified as EcoArt Nodes, and continuing to develop our pilot community education and artist apprenticeship program, EcoArt South Florida is also currently working on three program aspects that we believe have great potential for inspiration, education and engagement of the public:

  1. First, the integration of Public EcoArt at the design stage of urban buildings and neighborhoods that will be seeking LEED or other green certification. EcoArt South Florida is working with the South Florida chapter of the US Green Building Council on this.
  2. Secondly, engaging EcoArt with greening the public schoolyard. EcoArt South Florida has been reaching out to public school districts, teachers and administrators through the annual LEARN GREEN conferences; and we are in the process of working with a math and science middle school to develop what will probably be the first comprehensive outdoor classroom in South Florida.
  3. And finally, modeling a new kind of urban streetscape featuring a variety of Florida native canopy trees (instead of the “monoculture” approach currently used) and understory vegetation that encourages the return of pollinators and birds. EcoArt South Florida is involved with a consortium of organizations developing a pilot of this kind of streetscape. Our partners include the grass roots West Palm Beach organization Northwood GREENlife that is taking the lead, the Palm Beach chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, 1000 Friends of Florida and the Center for Creative Education. In addition to the creation of a multiple-species Florida native urban forest pilot streetscape that can be replicated widely, the project will also incorporate arts: sculpture, ceramics, video, storytelling, performance and a community celebratory procession/parade once the planting has been completed.

EcoArt South Florida believes EcoArt will not prosper in our region unless public officials, both elected and career, and our colleagues in the building, development and planning professions are given incentives to do so. It is for this reason that we will be focusing heavily over the next year to two years on insertion of EcoArt within city and county green ordinances as has been done in Boynton Beach.

DCA: What does the future of EcoArt hold for Florida?
EcoArt South Florida: We believe Florida can become one of the key centers for EcoArt practice. EcoArt South Florida is dedicated to making this happen. And this is as it should be. As we point out on our website, engagement of art and culture with environmental issues is still not widely done anywhere, not only in Florida. This is a shame, because, as those of us involved in the arts professions know well, art has the potential to inspire, educate and engage in so many ways. This inspiration and engagement will be necessary if we are to address successfully the many serious implications of climate change. And we have very little time to do this. Art is a form of knowledge, just as important as science. Unfortunately art and artists have not been adequately engaged with science in the struggle to bring our valuable ecologies back to health. Now is the time to bring EcoArt to the task.

DCA: Why do you believe arts and culture are important in the lives of Floridians and visitors to our state?
EcoArt South Florida: Art creates culture and has for as long as human being have inhabited the earth. The best time to have begun to bring art to the task of healing our fragile ecologies was many decades ago. The second best time is now. Florida needs us. The planet needs us. Let’s get to work applying artistic imagination and creativity in tandem with scientific advances to the challenges that face us.