ArtTalk with Alejandro Rodriguez, Winner of the 2020 Musical Songwriting Challenge

Alejandro Rodriguez
from the National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the ArtsMusical Theater Songwriting Challenge is a national contest for high school students presented in partnership with the American Theatre Wing, in collaboration with Disney Theatrical Productions, Concord Theatricals and National Music Publishers’ Association’s S.O.N.G.S Foundation. The goal of the program is to engage the musical theater field in nurturing the next generation of songwriters. Winners are paired with a professional theatrical coaching team consisting of a mentor and music director to hone the student’s original song into a Broadway-ready composition. Their song is then recorded by Broadway musicians and vocalists in New York City. Final songs are distributed on streaming music platforms and compiled into a songbook created by Concord Theatricals.

One of the 12 winning songs is by Floridian Alejandro Rodríguez, a Colombian composer/performer. He graduated Cypress Bay High School in Weston and is currently pursuing a degree in Music Composition at Florida State University. Rodríguez has been doing musical theatre and music since he was in elementary school, participating in various musical productions in and out of school, as well as taking voice, piano, acting, and dance lessons. He is currently writing a musical called My Elijah, a gay love story set in Europe during World War II. Some of his music for My Elijah can be heard on his recently released EP “Songs from My Elijah” on most streaming platforms. Alejandro’s winning song, “Days from Long Ago,” is taken from My Elijah. He would like to thank the NEA & American Theatre Wing for this incredible opportunity as well as his family and friends for their endless support.

The Division of Cultural Affairs would like to thank Alejandro for answering a few questions about himself and his art.

How long have you lived in Florida? 

I was born and raised in South Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. My whole family is Colombian and they moved to Florida two years before I was born.

What got you started in theatre? 

When I was 7 years old, I started taking voice lessons at Broadway Kids Studio in Davie, FL and was introduced to the amazing beauty that is Musical Theatre. I remember the first musical theatre song I ever sang was “Mister Cellophane” from the musical Chicago. Then a few years later, I saw my first musical which was the Broadway tour of Wicked and that basically formed my love for theatre and Broadway.

How did you find out about the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge? What was the process of preparing and applying like?

I was doing the show 35mm at Broadway Kids back in February 2020 and my director forwarded me an email about the Songwriting Challenge and told me that I should apply. At the time, I had recently released an EP on all streaming platforms of a few songs from the show I’m currently writing, My Elijah, as part of my sister Valentina’s college senior thesis. “Days from Long Ago,” was on that EP and so I decided to submit that song. I submitted the track, the score, and the storylines of the song and the show, and how the song fits into the show. I only found out about the competition about a week before the deadline but thankfully the application process was quite simple. The NEA extended the deadline due to the pandemic, so I didn’t hear from them for about five months. Then in August, I got an email saying that I advanced on to the final round of judging and then about a month later, I got another email saying that I was selected as one of the 12 national winners for the challenge. I didn’t think I had a chance at all of being selected since it was a national competition, but I’m so thankful to have this opportunity and for the whole experience.

What are some of your artistic influences? What are you currently working on?  

Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably one of my biggest artistic influences as a Latinx composer and performer. He has not only created revolutionary and inspiring masterpieces such as Hamilton and In the Heights, but also starred in them, which is basically what I aspire to do. Before knowing about Lin-Manuel, I didn’t think it was possible for that to happen on Broadway, but I’ve seen that musicians like Sara Bareilles, Dave Malloy and Billie Joe Armstrong have gone on to perform in their shows. Other artistic influences include Amber Riley, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Anaïs Mitchell, and Jessica Vosk. At the moment, I am currently trying to finish writing and composing My Elijah, as well as creating other works primarily for musical theatre.

In your opinion, what is your greatest work or moment that you’ve been a part of within your local arts community?

Yikes, do I have to pick just one? I think it would be either creating my EP “Songs from My Elijah” with my sister or performing in Spring Awakening at Inside Out Theatre Company in Sunrise, Florida. Probably the EP more because I was in Philadelphia with my sister, who produced and sang on the EP, and I got to work in a recording studio and meet so many phenomenal musicians and vocalists from my sister’s university.

Recording “Days from Long Ago” with Broadway theatre artists

What do you think of when you hear our motto “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are arts and culture important to our state?

It’s very self-explanatory when you see it. Culture is what makes a civilization, no matter where you go. Arts and culture play a key role in society and I think that without those things, what are we? Arts and culture not only entertains us, but also educates us, informs us, inspires us, and allows us to see things from different angles. 

Is there anything you would like to add?

Check out “Songs From My Elijah” on all streaming platforms, follow @myelijah_musical on Instagram and @myelijah on Facebook and be on the lookout for my song, “Days From Long Ago,” on the upcoming #IWriteMusicals 2020 Musical Theatre Songwriting Challenge album!

ArtTalk with Isabella Ramirez, 2020 National Student Poet

National Student Poet Isabella Ramirez

On August 5, 2020, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Alliance for Young Artists & Writers announced the 5 students comprising the annual class of their National Student Poets Program (NSPP). Isabella Ramirez, a student at West Palm Beach’s Dreyfoos School of the Arts, serves as the National Student Poet for the Southeast Region, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. During her year as National Student Poet, Isabella will serve the communities in the region and state during her year of service with activities such as conducting workshops, performing readings, and even leading training for community leaders. We spoke to Isabella about the journey that led her to this honor.

How long have you lived/been in Florida?
I was born and raised in Florida, so I’ve lived here all my life!

What got you started with the literary arts and writing poetry?
As a child, you could always find me with a book in hand or writing in a composition notebook, so in a way, the literary arts were something that I found myself naturally inclined to. I didn’t start getting serious about the literary arts however until I auditioned for Bak Middle School of the Arts as a communications major. There, I was exposed to creative writing, poetry, film, and journalism in an academic setting that allowed me to begin cultivating my interest in the communication arts. Interestingly enough, I spent much of my time in middle school and eventually high school as a student journalist way before I ever called myself a poet. Although I had always written poetry and appreciated the art form, I didn’t truly begin my journey as a poet until I joined the slam poetry team at my high school my junior year. From there, opportunities blossomed out of poetry, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

How did you find out about the National Student Poet competition?
My first exposure to the National Student Poets Program was in 2019 when I attended the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Ceremony held at Carnegie Hall as a gold medal recipient in journalism. The National Student Poets get to perform at the awards ceremony, so I saw the Class of 2018 perform their poems and was absolutely mesmerized. However, even with that, I didn’t know much about the program until the following year when I was named a national silver medal recipient in poetry, qualifying me for the National Student Poets Program.

What was the process of preparing and applying like? What are you looking forward to about the opportunity?
The only way to be considered for the program is by receiving a national medal in poetry from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which only about 400 works out of the original 20,500 received. From there, I found out I was one of 40 semi-finalists selected for the program, and I submitted an application with a portfolio of work and videos of myself performing that work. Then, in summer of 2020, I found out I was selected to be the National Student Poet for the Southeast Region of the United States. I was so happy; I had never imagined when I initially submitted my poetry to find myself in such an honorable position. There are so many exciting things that come with being a National Student Poet, but I’d have to say I’m most excited for engaging with my local communities through the literary arts and poetry to hopefully share my passion with others.

What are some of your artistic influences? What are you currently working on?
I have a variety of artistic influences, but the main ones include other slam poets such as Olivia Gatwood and Melissa Lozada-Oliva and news/politics. Many of my poems are my reflections on socio-political issues and often my personal experiences with them, so the news tends to be one of the biggest influences on my poetry. Currently, I’m working on preparing slam poems for the upcoming Louder Than A Bomb Florida Slam Poetry Competition. As you can imagine, there’s certainly a lot to write about after living through 2020.

What do you think is the greatest moment that you’ve been a part of within your local arts community?
One of the greatest events I’ve been able to be a part of within my local arts community was the Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) Florida Slam Poetry Competition. The competition happened to fall in March of 2020, which was right when the United States began shutting down and life changed drastically due to the pandemic. My peers and the community were in much need of relief, and LTAB helped bring us all together. LTAB shifted the competition to online, and despite the virtual setting, I felt that the excitement and “hype” that exists at slam poetry competitions translated well online. It was a chance for me to get my poetry out there and watch live the Facebook comments and support from the slam poetry community pour in. I also had the chance to listen to other students’ poems and learn from my peers, which is my favorite part of slam poetry. During a time where many were feeling disconnected and lost, LTAB brought together the Florida community to share and connect through poetry.

What do you think of when you hear our motto “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are arts and culture important to our state?
When I hear the motto “Culture Builds Florida,” I reflect on the impact arts and culture have as the foundation of our society. As someone who was able to tap into arts education in Florida early in my life, I cannot even express how enriching it has been to have access to the literary arts and gain invaluable life skills and opportunities from it. The arts exposes people to worlds that exist outside of their own and allows people to develop an empathy for others they wouldn’t have otherwise had. In a diverse state like Florida, this empathy and connection that the arts stimulate is necessary to building bridges across cultures. As a Latinx individual in Florida, the vibrant Hispanic culture that exists in Florida and presence of our arts has not only let me connect with others from my community, but further connect with my own identity. Arts and culture truly build Florida as the backbone of this state, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Thank you for chatting with us, Isabella. Is there anything you would like to add?
If you would like to get in contact with me and discuss how I can serve your community as National Student Poet, you can email the program’s manager, Hannah Jones, at hjones-consultant@scholastic.com. For any news coverage requests, please email the program’s publicist, Kelly Forsythe, at kelly@forsythepr.com.

Art Talk: Karen Bell and Sarasota’s Circus Arts Conservatory

The Circus Arts Conservatory’s mission is to engage and educate students using unique and innovative learning programs, to measurably improve the quality of life for individuals in care facilities and to advance the extraordinary legacy and heritage of the circus. CAC’s mission underscores its commitment to sharing the entertainment, education, and enrichment that circus arts provide.

A Special Message from Circus Arts Conservatory:
Regarding what is going on right now: Circus Arts Conservatory has pivoted its platform and moved online with CAC Connects. We are using new technology to promote our online performances and classes. CAC has been running summer camp on a much smaller scale this year with success while keeping the campers and staff safe and healthy. We are still optimistically planning for our ’20-’21 season, but we are being prudent and monitoring the situation.

Karen Bell

We sat down recently to chat with Karen Bell, a very talented artist and Professional Circus Clown with Sarasota’s Circus Arts Conservatory. Karen joined CAC in 2005 and has been instrumental in progressing CAC’s outreach programs and creating circus arts curriculum and education programs for the Conservatory.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA):  Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Karen: I had no choice! The arts have been a part of me from my early childhood when I made my poor family watch me perform in the living room. Visual arts and performing arts both satisfy my inner self – I find that clowning is a way for me to bring all my talents together into one art form. I am able to create my own costumes and props, write my own material, choose my music and enjoy the audience’s laughter.

Circus Arts Conservatory’s Karen Bell & Robin Eurich performing – photo by Cliff Roles

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida?

Karen: I came to Florida in 1985 to attend Ringling Brothers Clown College. After that I was on the road but I still called Florida my home. I have been back full-time since 2005, when I began working for The Circus Arts Conservatory.

Karen Bell and Robin Eurich performing – photo by Cliff Roles

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Karen: The best part of my job is working with people who are passionate about our mission.

“I have so much respect for Pedro Reis and Dolly Jabobs-Reis and their vision for the future of the @CircusArtsSRQ, as well as the future of #circus as an art form.” – Karen Bell

Clown-Week kicks off with Karen Bell and Robin Eurich – video produced by Richard Czina

Also, it’s great knowing that no two days will be alike. There is always something that comes up… and no two audiences are alike either, from students in the classroom to senior citizens to our circus audiences. I love working with our Sailor Circus Academy and working with the students that are a part of our Circus Arts Magnet program at Sarasota High School, and I am looking forward to the start of a new Magnet program with Sarasota’s  Booker Middle School.

Karen Bell works with a student – photo by Daniel Perales

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on?

Karen: Since the beginning of the pandemic, performance has been, of course, discontinued. The Conservatory still wanted to finds ways to engage with our audience, so we introduced CAC Connects. Each day we publish content to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. It is also on our website CircusArts.org.

Clowning Elements with Karen and Robin – video produced by Karen Bell

We are sharing everything from past circus performances, to educational videos for elementary students, and exercise classes with our Sailor Circus Academy coaches to keep our Sailor Circus students in shape. We also created an amazing live virtual performance called ‘One World Circus’ with professional, world class circus artists from around the world! What an incredible achievement for us – there were 1,700 people from all over the world watching the performance!

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Karen: The CAC touches the lives of people from 0 to 100, and with our Education Program we teach physics, language arts and theater in classrooms across Sarasota, Manatee and Hardy Counties. It’s invaluable to work with middle and high school students through our Magnet program.

Karen Bell working with students at the Sailor Circus Academy – photo by Daniel Perales

Students from the Sailor Circus Academy benefit in many ways through the rigorous training program we provide, not only learning circus skills but learning life skills as well. We bring entertainment, memory stimulation and joy to senior citizens at their senior communities and, of course, during our performances of Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus.

Robin Eurich and Karen Bell work with a student – photo by Daniel Perales

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Karen: Art is not just important to Florida, but to the world! Circus has deep roots in Sarasota, first with John Ringling bringing the Ringling Bros’ Winter Quarters here and then other circuses followed suit. When Ringling came, his arrival also brought culture to Sarasota; he and his wife Mabel were great art lovers, and they would bring back famous pieces with them when traveling Europe which are now housed in the Ringling Museum. Many cultural arts programs followed soon after.

Slappy and Monday headlining at the Summer Circus Spectacular – video produced by Starfruit Productions

DCA: Is there anything you would like to add?

Karen: As the future is still questionable for the performing arts, we are continuing to be relevant. The CAC will be in schools teaching Circus Science virtually, and we will hopefully be bringing back our Sailor Circus students to start training in our newly renovated and well maintained arena. Our performances will happen again this year, but in what form we are not sure. But rest assured, we will continue to preserve the art of the circus!

The Division thanks Karen Bell and Circus Arts Conservatory for their participation in this interview. For more info about CAC and their programs, be sure to visit their website at www.circusarts.org.
Also, be sure to check out more videos from Clown Week on their YouTube, Facebook and Instagram @ CircusArtsSRQ.

Art Talk: Katia Carranza, Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet

We sat down recently to chat with some of the Principal dancers at Miami City Ballet, and got an inside look into their world and activities with the company.

Katia Carranza graduated from the Escuela Superior de Musica y Danza de Monterrey in Mexico in 1996. She then joined Ballet de Monterrey as a soloist. In 1998, she joined Miami City Ballet as a corps de ballet dancer, was promoted to soloist in 2001, principal soloist in 2003 and in 2004 she was promoted to principal dancer. She left after the 2006-07 season to rejoin Ballet de Monterrey as a principal, but continued to dance with MCB as a guest artist for an additional six seasons. Carranza rejoined MCB full-time in 2017 as a principal dancer.

Katia Carranza

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Katia: I started this career at a very young age. I didn’t really know that ballet was something I love. Little by little, I became more involved and it brought me so much happiness. I think that being able to do what you love is such a blessing.

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida?

Katia: (Laughs) I came here in August of 1998 for the first time, 23 years ago. I joined Miami City Ballet that year and it changed my life. I am from Monterrey, Mexico. I studied there and danced for one year at Ballet de Monterrey.

During my time there, I had an opportunity to compete in Jackson, Mississippi and that was when Edward Villella hired me, and I was here at MCB until 2007. From 2007 through 2017, I was dancing for both MCB and Monterrey, but I came back to Miami 4 years ago to dance here full-time. I feel like I am from here, and that I really grew as an artist here.

Katia Carranza and Kleber Rebello in NINE SINATRA SONGS© Choreography by Twyla Tharp. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Katia: Being on stage, for sure. I enjoy having an opportunity to share what we do with so many people, with the audience. I feel like we can change their lives. I always hope that they leave the theater with a positive experience. That is the best part: sharing what we do.

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on?

Katia: The most important thing is keeping my body moving, until we can all dance onstage and together again. We normally rehearsed together for 8 hours a day, so it is super important to keep my body moving. It is something my body needs – it gives me energy and makes me happy, and so my body asks me to do it every day. I take different classes by Zoom, such as ballet and resistance training, and I use my pointe shoes a little bit every day. I must continue or else my feet and my ankles will become weak.

Katia leads leads a “Move with MCB” ballet básico class (en Español) on Instagram.

Plus, now that we have more free time, I get to teach, which I enjoy a lot. It’s important to continue to be motivated, for both myself and my students too. We all need to stay motivated so we can be on stage again when the time comes. But for now, I have this chance to teach and share with students in Mexico, Brazil, from all over the world. I love being able to share in this way.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Katia: I believe that the greatest contribution we offer is to the next generation of dancers with the various programs and training Miami City Ballet Company and School offer to children and young people. I believe dance can change lives, because it changed mine.

I think dance makes me a better person and gives me opportunities to learn about things that are important. I believe that dancers touch lives and help others, and that our work can have a positive impact on young people. That is the greatest contribution we give.

Katia Carranza and Renan Cerdeiro Ballet dancers in Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Katia: Florida is a special place because there are so many cultures here, and we are fortunate because we can experience the different cuisine, histories, and many things that are learned through arts and culture. It helps us all to be better people, and it is something we can share together.


This has been part three of a three-part Art Talk feature with some of Miami City Ballet’s Principal dancers. Thank you to Miami City Ballet and the artists for taking the time to share with Culture Builds Florida.

Art Talk: Jennifer Lauren, Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet

We sat down recently to chat with some of the Principal dancers at Miami City Ballet, and got an inside look into their world and activities with the company.

Jennifer Lauren is a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala. She began training in various regional schools and later with Royal Academy of Dance and the Alabama Ballet Pre-Apprentice Program. In 2007, Lauren joined Miami City Ballet as a member of the Corps de Ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 2011. In 2014, she was named one of Dance Magazine’s “Top 25 to Watch.” During her tenure with MCB, Lauren has been featured in principal and soloist roles. In 2017, she was promoted to Principal.

Jennifer Lauren

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Jennifer: I really didn’t choose it. I was introduced to dancing when I was young and fell in love with it. Ever since then, I have been hooked! It is all I ever wanted and dreamed about.

Jennifer Lauren in Apollo. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida?

Jennifer: I have been with Miami City Ballet for the last 13 years, and I joined the company in 2007.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Jennifer: The best part about my job is that I am doing exactly what I love to do. I am sharing my passion with so many people, including my company. Dancers are extremely close, and because we understand each other, there is this rare bond I have with my coworkers.

Jennifer Lauren and Ashley Knox in Symphonic Dances. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky ©. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: What are you currently working on?

Jennifer: Lately, I have been working on my basic technique skills. With the extra time, it has motivated me to take a closer look at how I execute my work and how I can improve my craft and artistry.

I’ve also been teaching a lot of private lessons to ballet students, which keeps me aware of my own technique. I love sharing my thoughts and ideas with younger dancers. I am always open to accepting anyone who would like private lessons via zoom. 😊

Jennifer leads a “Move with MCB” ballet basics class on Instagram.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Jennifer: Our organization offers a place for people to forget their troubles and enjoy the art of ballet. We create an environment for around 2 hours, in which a person can completely relax and enjoy what they are watching. It stimulates imagination and creativity in people. The school is also an important start for children to begin to see the value of dancing, whether they grow up to be dancers or grow up to admire the art form.

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

Jennifer: Exactly that. Without culture, humans are not inspired. That is why we have the arts.

We all need to be inspired. We need to be moved by multiple forms of art and entertainment. Florida is full of amazing artists and Miami City Ballet is one of its gems.

Miami City Ballet dancers in Symphonic Dances. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky©. Photo © Alexander Iziliaev.

DCA: Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Jennifer: Without the arts and culture, we have no color in our lives. We need to be inspired and encouraged to open our minds and see what we can create. Going to see a ballet could inspire the next Barishnikov or Maya Angelou to break through. 


This has been part two of a three-part Art Talk feature with some of Miami City Ballet’s Principal dancers. Tune in tomorrow at 8pm ET for our last candid conversation!

If you are interested to take a private lesson with Jennifer, please contact her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jenlaurenq

Art Talk: Rainer Krenstetter, Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet

We sat down recently to chat with some of the Principal dancers at Miami City Ballet, and got an inside look into their world and activities with the company.

Rainer Krenstetter was born into a dance family in Vienna where he began his ballet training at the Ballet School of the Vienna State Opera. In 1999, he was accepted into the Royal Ballet School in London and continued his training there until 2000 when he became a corps de ballet member with the Vienna State Opera Ballet. In 2002, he joined the Staatsballett Berlin under the direction of Vladimir Malakhov and went through the ranks up to Principal dancer in 2013. He joined Miami City Ballet as a Principal dancer in November 2014.

Rainer Krenstetter

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Rainer: My parents were dancers at the Vienna State Opera in Vienna, Austria, so I grew up in the theater and opera world. As a very young child, I loved going with my parents to spend time backstage — in the dressing room, in the make-up room, the costume department, being around everyone… I just fell in love with the atmosphere of the theater, of the opera.

That was my true passion — the atmosphere of the opera house… the smells, the dust, the different people. I thought, since my parents were dancers, that if I danced I could also be a part of the opera world. So, I danced.

Rainer Krenstetter performs Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna at Staatsballet Berlin. © Bettina Stob

DCA: Have long have you lived and worked in Florida?

Rainer: I started in November 2014. I remember arriving to Florida the day before I started, on November 1. When I landed at the airport, I was wondering… “What is going on here?”…Halloween is not so celebrated where I am from. Upon arriving at the airport I saw all the flight crew, baggage claim attendants, everyone on Lincoln Road and Miami Beach in these costumes. I thought, what is happening here?? Why is there a carnival? So that was my introduction to Florida.

DCA: What was it that attracted you to the United States, and to join Miami City Ballet?

Rainer: I was dancing in Europe from 2000-2014 with Vienna State Opera Ballet and Staatsballett Berlin. During that time, I was performing all over the world but mostly danced classical ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Giselle. As an artist, I believe it is important to experience and learn as much as possible. Part of the reason I moved to Florida was to gain new experiences.

Miami City Ballet dancers Tricia Albertson and Rainer Krenstetter performing “Emeralds” from George Balanchine’s Jewels. © Alexander Iziliaev

I have always been interested in the choreography of George Balanchine, but I did not get to dance as much Balanchine in Europe as I wanted to. In Berlin, when our artistic director would ask what works we wanted to perform at our gala, I would always ask to perform works by Balanchine such as Tarantalla, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Stars and Stripes.

When I found out that Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, was looking for a male principal dancer, I knew it was time to pack my bags and head to Florida, as I really wanted to learn more about the Balanchine style and have an opportunity to perform more of his works.

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on?

Rainer: While we wait until it is safe to perform on stage again in front of audiences, I am keeping busy with my classes, and I am doing a lot of teaching. I am also available for private lessons [contact Rainer via Instagram], and because we have time and the technology available, I can teach all over the world – even to Japan!

Rainer leads an intermediate “Move with MCB” class on Instagram (recording saved to Youtube)

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to you community?

Rainer: In every art form… ballet, visual art, theater, music… what we do is give inspiration to the community. At the venues we perform in throughout Miami, Broward, Palm Beach and Collier counties, I see our community’s reflection. We are open to the entire community in South Florida, not just for the people who can afford a $200 ticket, as we have accommodating ticket prices and opportunities for all audiences to enjoy our shows.

We are here for everyone, and that is what I love about Miami City Ballet. We are dancing for our community, and we see that reflection at our shows. It is very different from what I have experienced anywhere else.

Rainer Krenstetter performs Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna at Staatsballet Berlin. © Bettina Stob

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Rainer: Well, Florida is famous for beaches, parties, Disney World, Harry Potter World… so there is this image of what Florida is. Right now, it is so important to show the other sides to Florida culture. I’m very happy that with the theaters we have in South Florida, these amazing arts centers that we get to perform in and where people and families can experience dance, theater, and opera with amazing artists. This is so important, to bring the arts to the community so they can enjoy, learn and experience many different cultures.

This has been part one of a three-part Art Talk feature with Miami City Ballet’s Principal dancers. Tune in tomorrow at 8pm ET for another candid conversation!

If you are interested to take a class with Rainer, please contact him on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/rainerkrenstetter/

Art Talk: Stephanie Martino of Florida Film Institute

We sat down recently with Stephanie Martino of Florida Film Institute to discuss FFI’s upcoming (and redesigned for online) 2020 Summer Film Camp.

Stephanie is the Director of CINEMA, a program designed to empower aspiring young filmmakers and to prepare them for the film industry in Florida.

Stephanie Martino

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Stephanie: As a young child, I was always fascinated with the arts and creative platforms. I have studied and worked in fashion, interior design and painting. All of those endeavors have led me to love and have a passion for filmmaking.

DCA: How long have you worked in Florida? 

Stephanie: I have lived and worked in South Florida since 1989.

DCA: What is the best part about your job? 

Stephanie: My job, teaching and working with budding young filmmakers, is very rewarding. I am proud that the Institute extends the knowledge and process behind filmmaking to eager young students who want to learn. Some of them actually choose film as a future career path as a direct result of participating in our CINEMA program. I also enjoy working in a team environment with my loyal and dedicated staff members.

DCA: Tell us a little bit about your organization. What are you currently working on? 

Stephanie: Well…due to the pandemic, our upcoming summer film camp will now take place virtually! Even though we cannot be together in person, we are moving forward online and celebrating the 10th anniversary of producing our award-winning summer film camp in partnership with The Coral Gables Art Cinema!

FFI’s Cinematographers in Education and Media Arts (CINEMA) program provides an enriching after-school experience for teens interested in pursuing filmmaking. This year, we are providing a virtual hands-on learning environment at our 2020 Summer Film Camp for interested high school students to learn about the art, business and science of filmmaking.

Camp attendees pose during the 2019 FFI Summer Film Camp at Coral Gables Art Cinema

The upcoming six-week, intense filmmaking camp will begin June 15, 2020 until July 24, 2020. The camp will meet via ZOOM on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 1pm. This camp is geared to high school students ages 13 to 18 who seek an opportunity to practice formal film production methods. Students will even be able to use their own devices to create projects, mainly their smartphones, which are becoming a dynamic tool used in filmmaking!

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to your community?

Stephanie: We are very proud of CINEMA, a multi-level learning platform, and how it provides local students with a creative and engaging outlet if they wish to focus on their artistic path now in high school, and to prepare for a possible future career in film.

“Next of Kin”, selected as best narrative film poster during the 2019/2020 school year

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state? 

Stephanie: Florida is not just about sunshine and beaches, although those are great things our state offers!

“Culture Builds Florida” is a great motto and resource for those that enjoy the arts, but personally I am grateful to the CBF blog for publishing content with their grantee organizations like Florida Film Institute, and helping to enhance our mission to educate young adults in our diverse communities about filmmaking and the opportunities it can provide.

DCA: Anything you would like to add?

Stephanie: Yes, thanks for asking — despite the ongoing pandemic, FFI has turned a negative into a positive. We responded by broadening our programming and recreating our cutting-edge, virtual CINEMA program. We are so excited to implement this platform for our 2020 summer film camp students and to give them an unforgettable experience!


The Division thanks Stephanie Martino and Florida Film Institute for their participation in this interview.
For more info about the upcoming 2020 Summer Film Camp, scholarship opportunities and to register, visit: https://flfilminstitute.org/programs-summer-film-camp/

Interested in having your organization featured on Culture Builds Florida? Click HERE to access the proposal form (Note: submission does not guarantee inclusion.)

Art Talk: Leiland Theriot, Executive Director of Florida Alliance for Arts Education

Leiland Theriot is Executive Director of the Florida Alliance for Arts Education (FAAE). The Division of Cultural Affairs recently talked with Leiland about FAAE’s newest partnership with Interactive Academy to provide teaching artists and students access to virtual arts education and remote classes.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Can you tell us a little bit about FAAE?

Leiland: The Florida Alliance for Arts Education was founded by Dr. June Hinkley (FDOE) and Dr. Mary Palmer (UCF Dean) in collaboration with arts educators and agencies from around the state, including the Department of Education and Division of Cultural Affairs, to establish the Arts for a Complete Education (ACE) coalitions.  Our mission is to improve, enhance, and promote arts education in the state of Florida.  We are currently funded by the FDOE ACE Grant and by two grants from DCA: one for General Support and the other from the National Endowment for the Arts Special Initiative.

DCA: FAAE’s new partnership with the Interactive Academy to provide arts education classes through a virtual platform is particularly timely. How will it work?

Leiland: The FAAE and the Interactive Academy will partner with teaching artists anywhere in the state to remotely continue to provide arts instruction to their students. The delivery can be to one student, or 20, or 1000. IA has several delivery platforms available. The FAAE is the paymaster, registration, and additional marketing. There are no costs initially, and the three will split the net revenue evenly. The best thing is that the platforms are secure and private!

DCA: What was the genesis of the project?

Leiland: Ricardo Canchola (IA) approached me in January at Arts in the Capital Day. We began our discussion, thinking we might have everything worked out by maybe the summer or fall. And then the Coronavirus Pandemic happened, and we were watching our friends losing their “gig” pay. We had respond quickly to try and get them working again.

DCA: Teaching artists are a valuable resource. Are you looking for particular disciplines?

Leiland: No, we are not. You can do any arts discipline. There is a warning for musicians, however – live ensemble playing does not work on any digital platform, due to latency issues.  We do have other options, however, that will work for delivering music instruction.

DCA: What qualifications does a teaching artist need to take part in the program?

Leiland: Our teaching artist should have a high level of content knowledge, and have had experience in delivering online lessons. This is fairly simple to learn the digital platform, and Ricardo has developed video tutorials and is willing to chat with anyone having difficulties. You will need a laptop with video and audio (camera and mic), and your ping speed should be around 20-30 mbps at minimum, around 50 mbps on uploads if you plan to livestream. Visit Speed Test to check your speed.

DCA: How does a teaching artist sign up?

Leiland: Click HERE for the proposal form. You can also get there by going to https://www.faae.org. The first banner on the landing page has a button that takes you to the page for the Interactive Academy, and there you will find a button to Submit a Proposal.

DCA: How do you plan to attract students to the platform?

Leiland: The FAAE has email distribution lists for memberships (over 3500), local arts agencies, and public schools arts supervisors (who will send to teachers to send to students). Also, most teaching artists already have access to the emails for past participants.

DCA: What is the ultimate goal of the initiative?

Leiland: Our initial goal is to get teaching artists working again. However, once we have a solid revenue stream it is our intention to use it to support our mission – to improve, enhance, and promote arts education. There are four school districts with less than 20% arts education. Those districts do not have elementary music or visual art classes for their students. I would like to see what we could do to change that.

DCA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Leiland: I left teaching three years ago to be the Executive Director of the FAAE. I have never regretted that. I love being able to work with such consummate professional artists, teaching artist, and arts educators. It has been a blessing to work with the people at the Division of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Education to support arts instruction throughout the state. Thank you!

The Division thanks Leiland Theriot and Florida Alliance for Arts Education for their participation in this interview. To learn more about FAAE, visit their website: https://www.faae.org/

Interested in being featured on Culture Builds Florida? Click HERE fro the proposal form (Note: submission does not guarantee inclusion.)

Meet the Florida Council on Arts and Culture: Rivers H. Buford, III

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 Rivers Buford. Rivers was appointed to the council in 2019 by Governor DeSantis. 

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tells us a little bit about yourself.

Rivers: As a Government Relations practitioner, I have represented a variety of groups before the state and national government for the past 30 years. I help those who don’t understand public policy or have time to engage in the legislative process. I served under eight different Secretaries’ of State and as a policy advisor to a Senate President.

When I’m not working, I enjoy walking around the woods of my family’s mountain cabin in Clayton, Georgia. I am entering my 35th year of marriage. My wife and I have one daughter, Kathryn Elizabeth. In addition, I have one loyal four-legged family member, Scout, named after Jean Louise in To Kill a Mockingbird.

DCA: Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Rivers: When I first joined the DOS staff as a team member, the Honorable Katherine Harris was Secretary of State. She sat down with me and explained the value of the arts in cultural relationships, interpersonal relationships and professional business relationships. People want friends with common interests. Art and it’s many disciplines is the universal language that everyone can appreciate, no matter what language they speak or where they live. That is why she felt (and rightfully so) a cultural mission should precede an economic trade mission, to serve as the ice breaker in finding common ground with our future trading partners. The Arts are an economic engine for our state. More people attend events of the arts than sporting events. 

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

Rivers: I appreciate art in its many disciplines. though I can’t play a single instrument or sing anywhere other than my shower, or paint anything other than a solid wall, I admire those who do, and how they think. It is a gift that I hope to be able to help share with others, so they can learn to appreciate them also.

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

Rivers: I’m an avid (some say rabid) collector of the The Highwaymen Art movement. I hope to be able to light the fire in the minds of other to appreciate our many different disciplines through visits to galleries and museums of all types around our great state. And then hopefully, they will buy something. I once heard, living artist need you to buy now, so they can continue to produce. Dead artists, though their works are great, no matter what the discipline, don’t need the money and are not contributing to our economy.

Art Talk: Jonathan Brooks, Photographer and Visual Artist

Jonathan Brooks is an award-winning photographer/visual artist, who was born and raised in Miami, Florida. Brooks graduated magna cum laude with a BS degree, double majoring in Advertising and Fine Art Photography with a minor in Marketing from the University of Miami. His studies in graphic design and architecture, and extensive backgrounds in the fashion industry and music industry have also helped to influence his work. He attended one of the Division of Cultural Affairs’ workshops given as part of the Professional Development for Artists program, presented by Citizens for Florida Arts, Inc. in partnership with the Creative Capital Foundation.

Brooks worked for Eastman Kodak during their transition from analog to digital. His photographs have been published in numerous anthologies and periodicals. His Fine Art Photographs have been featured in major movies (Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates, and Uncle Drew), the Emmy nominated short film series celebrating the 50th anniversary of National Endowment For The Arts- United States Of Art, and television shows (David Makes Man, Southern Charm, The Vampire Diaries, and Germany’s Only Love Counts).

His work has been exhibited in Miami, New York City, Amsterdam, France, Germany, Greece, and the United Kingdom. This includes Art Basel, the Louvre, and the biggest billboard in Times Square.


Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us a little about you and your history. What are you currently working on?

Silver Palm Trees by Jonathan Brooks

Jonathan: I’ve always been artistic and it shows in all I do. I was very much into performing arts in grade school through high school, and totally involved in drama and chorus. I grew up with Twilight Zone and Creature Feature, movie stars and rock idols, the photographs of Time, Life and Vogue magazines, LP records and mixed tapes, and MTV videos. I was always a doodler, until taking two and half years of Architecture at community college, in which I found its rigors ruined drawing for me. I later changed my major to advertising and fine art photography at the University of Miami, where I graduated Magna Cum Laude.

I started out entirely into portraiture and was obsessed with the work of my photography idol Herb Ritts. I continued to enjoy shooting fashion and portraits, but it seemed my photography was slowly becoming a hobby due to circumstances beyond my control.  In 2013, after deeply feeling the effects of the recession, and assisting with my father’s five-year long battle with cancer, his death found me refocusing my efforts on my art photography. I found death, mortality, and our journey as my main topics of interest. I suddenly began using skulls in my portraiture and images. 

Winning Photo Of The Year 2014 during Miami’s prestigious art week at the inaugural Miami Photo Salon, and having my skull series used as the work of a photographer character on the CW Network’s hit series The Vampire Diaries, really helped to boost my confidence and encouraged me to continue to pursue my art.

Blue Coconuts by Jonathan Brooks

As of late, I have found a new interest and appreciation for simple still life photography, in contrast to today’s trend of issue based photography (ie. Feminism, climate change,…). I believe the focus on the mastery of photography becomes more important than the underlying reasons behind the photographs. Today, everyone is a photographer and has access to a camera via their cell phone. The rules and techniques of great photography is what ultimately sets the average ones apart from the great ones.

I’m currently working on finding the right place to exhibit my Blue Palms series. I’ve been surrounded by palms for over half a century, and like the great Cuban poet and national hero Jose Marti, I find them inspirational symbols of my birth place and ancestry. It is important to me to find the right venue for this work because I believe it deserves and commands it.

I’m continuing to enjoy botanicals and still life, and want to focus on my ongoing interest in the Everglades, but I am missing my days of portraiture. While enjoying some recent work involving live humans, I’ve begun to play around with masks as identities on individuals, and want to begin a series I have been wanting to start for a while regarding our use of old vs new technology. 

DCA: Why did you choose a career in the arts?

Jonathan: It is innate in me and I really feel that because of that it chose me. I’ve found that my artistic abilities influence everything I do. Whether it be the renovation of my condo in 2000 that was featured in a national publication or in the contents of my Kickstarter funded book The True Cuba that I self-published in 2014. Aside from my photography work, I’ve always gravitated towards all things artistic. In every kind of work I do or have done, I find that there is some level of artistic prowess involved.

A Bubble Bath & A Glass of Wine by Jonathan Brooks

I firmly believe that a true artist expresses themselves in all that they do. Because of that, I would say a career in the arts is much more of a calling, rather than a choice. I know there is a bit of “the artist” in all of us, but I think a few take it to another level, and even fewer take it to another place all together. 

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Jonathan: The best part about being a photographer is that I am able to find beauty in all that surrounds me and share it with others. It is a great outlet for my creativity and my preferred way of creating art. Every image captured is documenting history, freezing time, and capturing a memory. Finding beauty in the day to day and sharing your vision with the world is an amazing way to connect with others. Showing others how to look at things from a different direction or angle, or helping them see the beauty in themselves is a powerful and rewarding tool.

I’ve always loved the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  I believe photography is probably the strongest means of communication there is and a universal language that anyone can understand.  As children, we learned through picture books before we learned to read. The power of an image to deliver a message is something that is worldwide and transcends limits and boundaries. 

Another great thing about being a photographer is that you can apply your skills to an array of different subject matter.  You are never bored or need to deal with the pains of monotony. One day you can aim your camera at fashion and portraits, another at nature or architecture, and another at street or documentary. As a photographer, the world is your oyster.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that you and your art have made to your community?

Jonathan: In my opinion, exhibiting, displaying, and selling my art has a great effect on one’s community, and enriches the lives of all of us. It helps economic development and increases business, improves social well-being, and it brings people together to help celebrate the community. It also encourages interaction in public spaces, engagement in community activity, promotes diversity of culture, builds personal and professional relationships, and educates and entertains. The impact is felt not just in museums or galleries, but all around us.

2 Pink Flamingos & A Thunderbird by Jonathan Brooks as exhibition promotional poster in Athens, Greece. Photo courtesy of Blank Wall Gallery

I think my greatest contribution to my community has been garnering attention and recognition for my art outside of my community. Whether it be other cities and states in the nation or other countries paying attention to my work, this contributes to the positive image of our community when it comes to tourists and foreigners. I take great pride in having my work displayed at the Louvre in France, Amsterdam, Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom, and New York City’s Time Square. I also believe having my art used in major movies and television shows adds a credibility to my work and makes it a part of pop culture.

I feel that probably my greatest contribution to my community is having my work in the Emmy nominated short film series United States of Art, celebrating the 50th anniversary of National Endowment For The Arts.  Inclusion in such a historical, meaningful, and recognized piece of work truly makes me proud for being able to represent my community, Miami, and Florida in such a manner.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

No Vacancy by Jonathan Brooks in Shep Rose’s bedroom on Bravo’s Southern Charm. Photo courtesy of Margaret Wright for Parachute Home

Jonathan: I hear that a state without culture would be pretty boring and uninviting. I think Florida is lucky to be extremely rich in art and culture, and because of this many are drawn here. The abundance of art and culture available in Florida through our many and diverse communities has always established Florida among the most cultural places to be. Some of the hottest destinations for tourists from all over the world are in Florida. Orlando, Miami, and the Florida Keys are prime examples of the excellence in art and culture that the state offers. 

Florida locations are also widely used and sought after in television and movies because of our art and culture. From the vintage Flipper series to Miami Vice to the Golden Girls. I am extremely proud to be one of the Florida artists who will have their work featured in the upcoming Oprah Network’s original drama series David Makes Man. The coming-of-age story from Oscar-winning Moonlight co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and starring The Cosby Show’s Phylicia Rashad is set in the Florida projects.


The Division thanks Jonathan Brooks for his participation in this interview. To learn more about him and his work, visit his website: http://www.jonathanbrooks.net

Interested in being featured on Culture Builds Florida? Please fill out this form: https://goo.gl/forms/3sMwuJWA3bM1orPl2 (Note: submission does not guarantee inclusion.)