Arts Alive Nassau provides arts opportunities and educational experiences free of charge to students in Nassau County schools. We chatted with founder and president Jane Lindberg to learn more about the organization and about her career in Florida.
Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us about the history and founding of Arts Alive Nassau.
Jane: We were formerly known as the Amelia Arts Academy. In the 1990’s, we were the only organization in our area that offered private lessons in different kinds of arts. By 2011, our original plan was not working and the organization was failing miserably. I was trying to raise funds to start a band in one of the elementary schools and went to see a potential funder. He was hesitant to support an organization that was giving lessons to kids from families who could afford to pay for them. I took this information back to our board of directors and we began to rethink our operations. There were hundreds of kids in Nassau County who were totally without any kind of cultural life… there was no visual arts curriculum in the elementary schools at all and very minimal music instruction. So we started a conversation with the school board about how our organization could provide the artists/teachers and the programming if they could provide the space and the children. This was the beginning of our organization as it is known today.
In 2012, we were “reborn” as Arts Alive Nassau and started offering three programs: a dulcimer class, an elementary school band, and a visual art class. Originally, we worked with three elementary schools and provided the classes after school. Over the past six years, we have grown to providing 20 after school classes and two classes with the ESE program during the school day. We are now a presence in each of the nine elementary schools in the county. The schools don’t charge us anything for the use of the space and we are able to offer our instruction free of charge, in exchange. It’s a wonderful relationship because finding space and getting kids on location is often a problem. Through our partnership, the instruction happens right where they are and it has worked very well.
DCA: What is unique about the population that your organization serves?
Jane: Nassau County is very unique. The differences between the South end of Amelia Island, West County and East County are huge. Some towns such as Yulee, Callahan, and Bryceville are mostly rural and there are very few arts opportunities at all. Bryceville Elementary, for example, is so small that they don’t even have a music teacher or art teacher. But, the schools in these towns were the first to contact us with interest of seeing what we could do for their students.
DCA: What types of programming does Arts Alive Nassau offer?
Jane: We offer music lessons, violin, ukulele, band… one of the elementary schools has both a brass ensemble and a drumline. We still offer our dulcimer classes as well as visual arts classes in painting, drawing, and puppetry. We also have a great partnership with a theater company in South Carolina, the Baillie Players, that has helped us produce musicals at Callahan Elementary School for the past five years. This year they are doing “Snow White”. The teacher at Callahan has all the music, scripts, choreography and casts the show and then our partner company will come down to coach the kids and bring the sets, costumes, and props. There are usually 40-50 students involved and it’s such a wonderful thing for the children. In Callahan, which has a population of around 1,300, the community members and families come out in droves to see the children perform– even the mayor usually makes an appearance! It’s a great event not only for the students involved but for the community, as well.
In the past, we have also facilitated an honors chorus, which has recently developed into the First Coast Singers.
DCA: How many students are involved with your programs?
Jane: Each year, close to 600 students are involved in our activities. Currently, we have 255 students in our classroom-based programs. We’d love to be able to reach more students but are limited, like many organizations, by our budget.
We emphasize quality over quantity. Most of our music classes have a limit of ten students. This is to ensure that our students are getting the best possible instruction at all times.
DCA: What is your role within the organization?
Jane: I am “president for life”. Our organization is very small and has no paid executive director. We are fortunate to have a wonderful board of directors made up of people who really care and really show up. They are the driving force behind everything that we do.
Four years ago, we were fortunate to receive an endowment that has enabled us to hire a program director. She has done an incredible job working with the schools and coordinating everything. We are constantly coming up with new ways to grow, and to involve students in the arts from early on. This is really important to me because I think that we, as a society, are somewhat culturally illiterate. The arts are not valued nearly as much as the value that they add.
DCA: How long have you lived and worked in Florida?
Jane: I moved here in 1998 with my husband to build an industrial plant in Yulee, for manufacturing and assemble electrical controls. For a long time, I was not very involved in the arts, but then began teaching music history at Jacksonville University. While I eventually left my teaching position due to the travel time, I still miss being around the students. College students are wonderful in the way that they think about things– it’s just a different perspective. I think I’ve always been a teacher at heart– it’s really what I love most. So right now, that’s still at the heart of what I do, even if I do most of it on a volunteer basis.
DCA: What is the best part of your job?
It’s definitely seeing the children’s faces. When they get excited and they’ve just learned how to play something, they are so proud of themselves. I think that arts education presents the opportunity for children to find out who they are inside because to me, that’s what the arts give us. They allow children the opportunity to find out who they are through creativity. To see the awakening that takes place in every student and the self assurance and self esteem that comes from learning that they can perform and create in front of people is just amazing. I think that the arts are wonderful because you can have so much fun while you’re learning.
DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to the community?
Jane: It’s amazing to know that we are providing an opportunity for these children that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Our school board does the best that they can– they’re facing constant budget cuts from the legislature and we are able to fill in the gaps and provide art and music to students when the school district can’t.
In some ways, our county is very depressed, so having arts and cultural education available to students is so important. We really want to document what we’ve been able to do in Nassau County so that we can share it with others who might be able to start a similar program where they live and work.
DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?
Jane: Florida, physically, is an absolutely beautiful state– really, there are places in Florida that are just gorgeous. But I think that arts and culture make us civilized. They soften our world and our environment tremendously. I can’t imagine living in a place without art– what a horrible thing it would be if there were nothing stimulating to see or to hear. Arts and culture make us different as human beings– and right now, I think we need culture more than ever.
For more information about Arts Alive Nassau, visit their website at: http://www.artsalivenassau.org/.
The Division thanks Jane Lindberg, President of Arts Alive Nassau, for her participation in this interview.