Meet the Florida Council on Arts and Culture: Katharine Dickenson

The Florida Council on Arts and Culture is the 15-member advisory council appointed to advise the Secretary of State regarding cultural grant funding and on matters pertaining to culture in Florida.

Appointments to the Council are determined by the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, in consultation with the Secretary of State. The Governor manages seven seats that serve four-year terms. The President and Speaker manage four seats each, with terms of two years. The appointments are based on geographic representation, as well as demonstrated history of community service in the arts and culture.

In this bi-monthly series, we will introduce you to each member of the council and share their thoughts on the role of arts and culture in the state of Florida. This month, we chatted with Council Chairman Katharine Dickenson. Katharine was re-appointed to the Council by Governor Scott in 2018. 

katharine photoDivision of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us a little about yourself.

Katharine: As a lifelong Floridian, I have been fortunate to see the state of Florida develop into a world class arts destination. Growing up in Jacksonville I was lucky to have had an early start in theater. As a Girl Scout, I played Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scout founder, to a packed audience in a church hall wearing bloomers. Moving to Miami as a young teenager, I acted in several plays at my high school. “Glee Plays the Game” and “The Mouse That Roared” were two of my early Thespian efforts. In “Glee” I had to flounce around the stage and in “Mouse” I was a dedicated secretary to the Prime Minister. I found I was a much better “flouncer” than a secretary.

At home, my family had an interest in the arts. My father would show slides of famous paintings after dinner and we would occasionally listen to opera and jazz. I loved the slides but opera was harder for me to understand. Now of course I love it.

I attended the University of Miami graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Education and a Master’s Degree in College Student Personnel Work. I wanted to be a Dean of Women in a college or university. My Graduate Assistantship work consisted of programming speakers and events for the large student union. Some of the events included Dionne Warwick, Andy Warhol, The Aboriginal Missionaries Band (spoiler alert: my brother’s band), and Gene Shepard, American Storyteller and radio and TV personality, amongst others. I even spent a day with Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey and Viva as chair of the Program Council at the University of Miami. Buy me a coke and I will tell you about that.

Retiring from the stage early, I began a career of community leadership and advocacy in Boca Raton with an emphasis on Historic Preservation and the Arts. Serving as President of the Junior League, Chair of the Historical Society Board and the Palm Beach County Historic Preservation Board was a privilege. I was appointed to the Florida Historic Preservation Advisory Council in 1983 by the Secretary of State to review grants, set policy and advocate with the Legislature.

Nationally, I served on the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Edith Wharton Home in Lenox, MA, the Robert Todd Lincoln home in Vermont and the Manchester Music Festival as well as the Dorset Theater Festival also in Vermont. Recently, I served on the board of the Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton.  In 2010, the Department of The Interior appointed me to a Federal Commission to celebrate the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, which was held in 2015. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied city in America, and our year-long celebration culminated in hosting the King and Queen of Spain as our guests.

DCA: What do you think when you hear “Culture Builds Florida?

Katharine: The Arts are for everyone, with enjoyment coming from creating, producing or being an audience member. They create soul-changing experiences that unite us as a people, a culture and as a social organism– giving us laughter, tears and pure enjoyment for a full life. In Florida, The Division of Cultural Affairs and The Council on Arts and Culture strive to do this every day, every way for everyone.

DCA: For you, what is the most Inspiring part about working in the arts?

Katharine: For me, working as a member of this Council since 2001 and chairing it several times, I find it most inspiring to be able to affect change. In a field that is home to 29,735 creative industries with a $14 billion annual payroll creating $49.7 million in annual revenue, the Arts are clearly a player in state industries. This success creates economic prosperity and makes our state livable and attractive.

DCA: What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture?

Katharine: As a longtime member of the Council, I have seen the “glory days” when legislative support for Florida’s arts and cultural programs was over $40 million dollars and also the years where only $2 million was awarded to run the same number of programs. It is my job as a member of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture to work towards greater legislative support for the role of the arts in creating a diverse and successful state. Florida has the potential to have one of the finest statewide arts and cultural programs in the country. We who love the arts must encourage advocacy, diligent grant reading, and speaking aloud in support of the arts in our individual cities in order for things to change.

Currently, I live in Vero Beach happily representing Indian River County after 48 years in Boca Raton and representing my beloved Palm Beach County.


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