Special Feature: Artist Amy Gross

AmyGrossEach year, the regional arts agency South Arts awards a State Fellowship to an artist in each of its nine member states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Southern Prize is awarded to one of these nine artists and South Arts also awards one finalist. This year’s finalist is Florida’s Fellow, Amy Gross, a mixed media artist living in Delray Beach. We asked Amy to tell us a bit about her journey and why Culture Builds Florida.


Amy Gross:

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Iris Mushroom Biotope by Amy Gross

One thing I have discovered is that a path only seems to make sense when you turn around and look back at it. As a teenager, one of my favorite songs featured the line “How did I get here?” suggesting a randomness that was very appealing at the time. But now, when I ask myself that kind of question, much of it can be answered by this one fact: I moved to the state of Florida.

I was born and grew up on Long Island, New York, halfway between the ocean and New York City. My father was a painter and a textile designer, my Mom a lover of books and music. I never had to argue a case for being an artist, and because my dad was raising a family of four as an art director, it was proven fact that you could make a life for yourself as a creative person. I majored in Fine Art at Cooper Union in Manhattan and studied everything I could get my hands on there: graphic design and painting, printmaking, calligraphy, sculpture. I graduated into the terrifying New York City art world of the late eighties and early nineties, and being a shy person, wilted immediately.  And realized that surviving was going to be for me like it was for everyone else on Earth, I set about finding something I could do well and make a living from.

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Spora Mutatus by Amy Gross

So I became a textile designer like my Dad, expanding into surface design as time passed: children’s bedding, baby blankets, slumber bags and rugs, plush toys, dolls, magic show stages, beach towels. I freelanced for over twenty years, working with Sesame Street and Disney and Warner Brothers, Elmo and Winnie the Pooh and Bugs Bunny. I painted at night for a long time, but the ideas I had about what kind of artist I was morphed and changed. I would only answer to the title “designer,” which is unfair to every graphic artist out there, and which only applied to my own confusion of identity. I had a lot of unformed assumptions about what kind of personality made interesting art, thinking I had some of the elements but not enough to justify sharing my work with anyone outside my family. I kept sketchbooks and journals, but they were for me alone, and I felt almost liberated by the loss of the labels I had stuck onto everything creative when I first left art school. I figured that I had chosen my path.

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Silver Bees, (h.miserablis), Adapting by Amy Gross

Then I moved to Florida. My extended family had lived here since the seventies, so I assumed that it would be known territory. I was wrong. In the almost twenty years I have lived here, Delray Beach and South Florida have been so multilayered I’m still discovering it. In New York I was always on the periphery of the art community, but once here I was almost immediately welcomed into the creative world. Museums held talks where the artists were right there in front of me, answering my questions. Studios were opened up, galleries had exhibits by people that might be too much of a risk in more expensive places.

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Silver Bees, (h.miserablis), Adapting, detail, by Amy Gross

Within months I was standing on the sidewalk in Lake Worth next to my favorite artist, a person I was too in awe of to speak to. But imagine – I could have, if I had worked up the nerve. And I became friends with working artists from places all over the world, interesting people bringing experiences to their work that I had known little about. There was an openness, a generosity that I wasn’t used to, a camaraderie that suggested that competition was not the only motivation that made you want to work hard.

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Brood Comb Biotope by Amy Gross

I became excited about the prospect of being an artist again. The landscape here fascinated me, the constant and accelerated growth, the tension between the natural and the man-made, the battle between the native plants and the invasive foliage, the adaption and symbiosis that weaves itself into every story here. Plants tangle and overwhelm any structure that isn’t constantly managed, rainforests thrive in between gated subdivisions. Water turns solid from duckweed, strangler figs squeeze palms, reptiles sleep in your drain pipes. I vitally needed to describe these collages of elements, to combine them with my own life experiences and mix the things I could see with what I could not. I started making my embroidered canvases and later, fiber sculptures to describe my fascination with this strange environment and turn this awe into metaphors that tell a story of a human’s experience within it.

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Mycorrhiza by Amy Gross

Florida’s creative inclusiveness was a very important factor in my finding a place for what I do in the outside world. This is why Culture Builds Florida. My mentors in Palm Beach County encouraged me to go beyond my earliest ambitions, to push my boundaries. And my most recent experience, being chosen as the 2019 Fellow for the State of Florida for the South Arts Southern Prize, was an affirmation I did not imagine or expect. My process is primarily a solitary and internal one; I make things now from an inner conviction and I still look up and am surprised that what I do has a life outside of my studio. So when I found myself in a room celebrating art making with South Arts, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the myriad sponsors, I was floored. I was surrounded by people who are deeply invested in the arts and the lives of art makers, who understand its value and what it can do for the community. Their gift of support and its translation into precious time to work made me even more grateful that I get to do what I love to do. It took me a while to get to the place where I could meet them all, and their affirming “Yes!” will stay with me wherever my work goes next.

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Collection by Amy Gross

Art Talk: Kimberly Hyatt and Cathedral Arts Project

The Cathedral Arts Project is an arts education organization serving the children of Northeast Florida by providing access to instruction in the visual and performing arts. It was founded in 1993 by a small group of individuals from St. John’s Cathedral wanting to provide arts instruction to underserved and at-risk youth. We chatted with CAP’s President and CEO, Rev. Kimberly Hyatt, to learn more about the organization and about her career as an arts leader in Florida.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): How long have you lived and worked in Florida?

Kimberly: This summer will be 23 years. I came to Florida in 1996 and have been with the Cathedral Arts Project since 2002.

DCA: Tell us about your work with the Cathedral Arts Project. What is the best part of your job?

AM4A3534Kimberly: The children are definitely the best part of the job — just witnessing how the arts can transform a child’s life. We see time and time again that there’s something about the arts to reach children in ways nothing else can. The arts stay with them for life and it is really a privilege to witness.

 

DCA: What are some of the challenges involved with leading this organization?

Kimberly: When leading any institution there are always challenges to overcome and we try to see these as opportunities to solve. One challenge would be the fact that there are so many children in our community who would benefit from an arts-rich education. Continuously trying to serve these children while maintaining the standards of our programming is definitely a challenge — to balance growth with maintaining quality.

DSC03547Right now, it is especially important to make sure everyone understands how vital the arts are when it comes to issues of mental health. It’s so tough to be growing up today and I really feel that it is more important than ever that children be able to utilize the arts as a means of self-expression. I think anyone who watched the powerful performance by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas theatre students at last year’s Tony Awards is aware of just how important the arts can be when facing complex challenges.

Getting everyone to understand that if you care about public education, you must care about arts education is also particularly challenging. We’ve been able to move the needle a great deal here in Jacksonville, but it is so important that everyone learns how impactful an arts education can be. We know what the arts are capable of achieving and we want to make them the top of everyone’s minds.

DCA: How has the organization evolved over the years?

Kimberly: When I came the budget was small, under $100,000. It was a fledgling ministry of the local cathedral that had just recently become a standalone nonprofit organization. Now our budget is over $2 million and growing — so we’ve definitely evolved in that way. This has allowed us to grow from being a small organization serving just a few children to a more complex organization that serves many more children, working collectively with others for systemic change. Today I tend to put our work into three buckets.

PHP 1718-1The first is that we teach children, so we provide arts learning to children who need it the most. That will always be the heart and soul of what we do. The Cathedral Arts Project also provides professional development for local artists, educators, and school administrators. The third bucket is advocacy. We spend a lot of energy on advocacy, working to broaden the relevance of arts education in the minds of families, policymakers, and business leaders. This goes hand-in-hand with what I said earlier, that caring about public education means caring about arts education.

For a program that started out serving just 10 kids in an afterschool dance class, we’ve grown tremendously. We directly impact more than 1,000 students each year through our afterschool and summer programs but are able to serve many more through the various facets of our programming. Over the years, more than 28,000 children have been enrolled in our programs.

DCA: Which counties or areas does your organization serve?

Kimberly: We serve all of Duval County, which has over 129,000 students enrolled in public schools.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution the Cathedral Arts Project makes to the community?

DSC04264Kimberly: It goes back to our mission statement. I truly believe that we are enriching the quality of life here for generations to come. The latter part of that statement is easy for us to sometimes gloss over, but the transformative effect that our work is having on a child’s life will have ripple effects for generations to come, in countless ways.

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

DSC02413Kimberly: I think that culture really is what sets us apart as a state. Culture draws visitors to come and have experiences that they can’t have anywhere else. Culture is what draws companies to relocate their communities and it’s why people want to live here. I think it is culture that joins all of us to work here together, regardless of how different we might be. I believe that arts and culture provide opportunities for each of us to feel like we belong and to understand each other and really build one another up.


The Division thanks Rev. Kimberly Hyatt and the CAP team for their participation in this interview. To learn more about the Cathedral Arts Project, visit their website: https://capkids.org/.

Art Talk: Jane Lindberg, President of Arts Alive Nassau

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.

image (4)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?

IMG_3747Jane: 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?

Drumlineclass2018Jane: 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?

Close up performanceIt’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?

Bryceville Jan 2019.2 (002)

 

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. 

Art Talk: Jennifer Sabo, Executive Director of Arts4All Florida

Arts4All Florida is a statewide service organization dedicated to making the arts accessible for everyone. We chatted with Jennifer Sabo, the organization’s executive director, to learn more the organization and about her career in Florida.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): How long have you lived and worked in Florida?

Jennifer: I attended grad school at UF and earned a Master’s in Museum Studies with a concentration in Education. After grad school, I briefly moved to LA, but ultimately came back to Florida, working at the Ringling Museum for a few years as the Youth and Families Program Manager. After that, I had the opportunity to be the founding Director of Education at the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. That was a true labor of love! It was so exciting to be part of building something from the dirt up. I then had the not-so-brilliant idea to move north again (into the cold), but was soon looking to move back to Florida right when Arts4All Florida (formerly VSA Florida) was looking for a new Executive Director. It worked out perfectly, as I already knew a lot about the organization and had partnered with them on a few programs when I was working with Ringling and Golisano. I’ve now been the Executive Director at Arts4All Florida for a little over four years.

DCA: Tell us about your work with Arts4All Florida. What is the best part of your job?

Jennifer: There are three parts to my job. One part involves the typical Executive Director task of funding the organization—both finding funding and managing funding. A big part of our budget comes from the Florida Department of Education, so a lot of my work is managing and writing our grants, meeting deliverables, reviewing program evaluations, communicating with stakeholders, and so on.

Another big part of my job is what is typical of much nonprofit administration work, “other duties as assigned”. This includes a little bit of everything—marketing, event planning, working at summer camps, and many other things. This is one of the things that I love about the organization. We have an amazing—but small—staff, so everyone really works together and takes turns helping one another with their duties. No one is a silo!

The last part of my job involves trainings, conducting both in-person trainings for school districts and cultural organizations and webinars. We help teach others about accommodations and accessibility for all. I love this part of my job. Most of the time, the people that are at the training really want to be there and want to be more inclusive and accessible. It’s awesome when you see the lightbulb go off in someone’s head and say, “this will work for my neurotypical students, too!” Our vision is really to make the arts accessible for everybody.

DCA: What are some of the challenges involved with leading this organization?

Jennifer: Funding. Every year, the month of April is really stressful, as we wait to hear about grants and other funding sources. We are an interesting organization in that we are both public and private. A large portion of our funding comes from the Department of Education through the University of South Florida. All of our staff are USF employees, but we are also a private 501(c)(3). This makes my work interesting because we have to report to our funders, the DOE, USF, and school districts in more than 60 different counties.

DCA: How has the organization evolved over the years?

Jennifer: The organization is now 38 years old. It was founded in 1981 as a joint project between the Florida Department of Education and the Division of Cultural Affairs. Florida was incredibly proactive about facilitating arts accessibility in this regard– the organization was founded before the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was originally called Florida Arts for the Handicapped, and was part of the international organization that eventually became VSA (which stood for “Very Special Arts”). In 1986, VSA directed all affiliate organizations to become private nonprofit organizations, which was the start of the organization as it exists today.

The program has changed throughout the years based on whatever the needs have been at certain times. We have hosted conferences, residencies, trainings, and now we do a little bit of everything.

Recently, we changed our name from VSA Florida to Arts4All Florida to signify our focus on universal arts. We want everyone to be able to participate in the arts together, not just people with disabilities.

DCA: Which counties or areas do you serve?

Jennifer: For the past two years, we have served 64 different counties throughout Florida. We serve each differently based on their specific needs.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that Arts4All Florida makes to the community?

Jennifer: Our vision is to make it so that everyone can do art together, so that the arts are universally accessible to people with and without disabilities. The arts are a unifying force and they really level the playing field, so to speak. Many people who have disabilities are able to be incredibly successful in the arts. It’s really cool to see someone without a disability appreciating the art of someone with a disability.

We just wrapped up our “A Definition of Dance” program which we started four years ago. We wanted to bring world-renowned dancers with disabilities to Tampa to do community outreach and performances. The performance during the first year of the program was one of the most incredible performances that I have ever been to in my life, one of those events where everything comes together just right and amazing things happen. In year two, we expanded the program to bring in more dancers and travel to more cities. We were able to bring in 15 artists with all different kinds of abilities from eight different countries for performances in Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa. This year, we brought in the dance crew ILL-Abilities, and they were absolutely amazing. They spoke about discovering and overcoming their disabilities through dance, and were able to translate this story into their performances. Each dancer performed solo before they came together as a crew. The coolest part was watching how kids reacted to their performance—the kids didn’t focus on the dancers’ disabilities—they just thought, “this is really cool”. That experience was really like our vision coming to life.

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

Jennifer: As I mentioned before, the arts are a unifying presence for everybody, whether you are a creator or a consumer. Everybody can enjoy some type of arts and everybody gets something different out of it, either through producing art, participating in art, or viewing art. The arts relax, heal, and unite us. They are social and bring everybody together. No matter what your job is or what your abilities are, everybody can engage with the arts at some level. They make us who we are as a society and culture.

DCA: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Arts4All Florida?

Jennifer: If there are any organizations that want to help the arts become more inclusive and accessible, please contact us! We are here as a state service organization to help you.

For more information about Arts4All Florida, visit their website at: http://vsafl.org.

The Division thanks Jennifer Sabo, Executive Director at Arts4All Florida, for her gracious participation in this interview.  

Meet the Florida Council on Arts and Culture: Nancy Turrell

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 Nancy Turrell. Nancy was appointed to the council in October 2017 by Senate President Negron.


NT martiesDCA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nancy: I am resident of Stuart, Florida, one of Florida’s great and growing small arts towns. I have been fortunate to serve as the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Martin County since April 1999…nearly 20 years. My educational background includes a Master of Arts in Philanthropy and Development from Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota and a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from New York University.

I am not an artist; however, I had opportunities as a young person growing up to be involved in the performing arts.  I played the lead role in our fifth-grade class play, “The Murder at Mother Goose’s House.” Starting in sixth grade, I began playing the flute and in seventh joined the choir, both of which I continued through my senior year in high school. Through my participation on a nationally competitive synchronized swimming team I gained an appreciation of classical music and choreography.

I am a lover of the arts. I was raised to attend concerts, go to museums, and love to be in the audience. In the past I’ve served as a board member of the Lyric Theatre and as an advisory member for Florida Arts and Dance Company.

While attending NYU, I was introduced to arts administration. During my senior year, I had an internship with the Cooper Hewitt Museum, a part of the Smithsonian Institute. I was placed in the development office and was soon covering for the membership director who went on maternity leave. My continuing love of Alexander Calder’s artwork was born there, as I was tasked with the job of translating his titles from French to English.  This was a great early lesson on the many hats an employee of an arts organization wears.  When I moved to California after college, I sought a position in an arts institution but was repeatedly told that without an arts background they weren’t interested. Needing a job, I secured a temporary position with United Way of Los Angeles County and went to work. Shortly thereafter, I found my way to Stuart in 1990, and United Way of Martin County.  When Mary Shaw (my predecessor) retired from the Arts Council in 1999, I jumped at the chance to get back to my roots in arts administration.

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

Nancy: Communities across the state would be lifeless places without the spice and variety that arts and culture infuse. Florida’s most popular tourist attractions are firmly based in creativity; this industry depends on people gaining a solid education rooted in creativity and the arts.  This builds Florida’s economy, its people and culture and our shared experience as Floridians.

The arts are a vehicle to bring together people of vastly different life experiences. Today, we need to have more things that bring us together rather than split us apart. Too many societal issues challenge us and create divisiveness, where shared arts experiences bring people and communities together. This may be our most important role in “Culture Builds Florida” as we look back years from now at the legacy that is created by our actions today.

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

Nancy: I am inspired to build our audiences for future generations to come. I have said for many years that the goal of our arts education programs and outreach efforts isn’t really to build future artists, but rather to create an understanding and appreciation of the arts that leads to a passion for the arts.  Without an audience an artist has no purpose and our lives would be so very boring and uninteresting.

The joy that the arts brings into our lives can not go without mention. For me, the arts have created many happy memories and cherished moments.

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

Nancy: I hope to change the tide of funding for the arts across the state through advocacy. I am a firm believer in the validity of the state grant process.  Having a leadership opportunity to speak out on behalf of the process and its transparency is a privilege. Being appointed to the Florida Council on Arts and Culture gives me a voice that I didn’t have before.  As the director of a small organization in a community where not many organizations receive grants, my hope is to increase the number of grant applications through the Division of Cultural Affairs from my region, the Treasure Coast.  Receiving these grant funds will further strengthen the case for the investment of state funds in local arts organizations.

Art Talk: Katchen Duncan and Bahama Village Music Program

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© Ralph de Palma Photography

Bahama Village Music Program is a community music education program that has been serving the Key West area of Bahama Village since 1999. The program is dedicated to giving underpriveleged kids the gift of music. We chatted with BVMP’s executive director, Katchen Duncan, to learn more about the program and its impact on its community. 

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us a little about the history and founding of Bahama Village Music Program.

Katchen: Bahama Village Music Program was founded in 1999 following the retirement of beloved Bahama Village piano teacher Ellen Sanchez.  Robin Kaplan, the program founder, recognized the void in the neighborhood and founded BVMP in a storage room off the stage in the Frederick Douglass Gym with a few student teachers and a dozen students. Students showed up whether it was time for their lessons or not, and it was soon realized that this was really something the neighborhood and the community at large needed.  

DCA: What is unique about the population that BVMP serves?

Katchen: BVMP’s student population is very diverse, with students from all walks of life mingling together in ensemble classes and workshops.  BVMP mainly serves low income at risk youth but any child is allowed to participate. Still, over 80% of our student’s families report an income under the ALICE level.  Many of our students are first generation americans, and some are the only english speaking members of their families.  A really unique aspect of BVMP is the student teacher model, BVMP students become teachers when they reach high school offering not only after school employment but also something to work towards!  Having the goal of becoming a student teacher inspires our students to work hard on their practicing and musicality.

DCA: What types of programs does BVMP offer?

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© Ralph de Palma Photography 

Katchen: BVMP offers individual lessons in piano, guitar, drums, woodwinds, brass and strings.  We also offer ensemble classes in music theory, composition, choir, a cappella, ukulele, school of rock, violin, dance, steel pan and musical theater. Through our partnership with the local school district we were able to expand our programming to offer classes before and after school at our city’s largest elementary and middle school. These popular programs have received much support from the community as the local school had cut music programs from their curriculum.

DCA: How many students are involved in BVMP programs?

Katchen: Over 175 students participate in lessons or ensemble classes at our main location with over 50 students participating at the local school we have partnered with. Over 225 students a week receive free music lessons!

DCA: You just wrapped up your third year of summer programming. Tell us about it.

Katchen: Our BVMP summer camp is the best! The campers have so much fun and really learn a ton in such an immersive environment.  Having the students for 8 hours a day five days a week really ups their musicianship and creativity.  The amazing results are evident!  Our songwriting class wrote 10 different songs!  Our ukulele class learned how to fingerpick in six weeks!  The end of summer recital brought the house down.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

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© Ralph de Palma Photography 

Katchen: The best part of my job is the kids.  When they spill off the bus at the end of the day so excited to see you and get started on their music lessons, you realize you’re doing exactly the right thing.  They inspire us more than they know.  It’s even better when adult students come back and tell you how much their time at BVMP meant to them. After almost 20 years, we are starting to teach the second generation of BVMP students!

 

 

DCA: What are your hopes for BVMP in the future?

Katchen: I hope that we can continue to give the gift of music for many years to come! We are looking forward to celebrating 20 years of free music education next year and I barely believe that we’ve made it this far!

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

bvmp 2

© Ralph de Palma Photography

Katchen: Culture and art are the building blocks for a great society.  Many ancient philosophers saw this and we have all seen it to be true through our local art programs and cultural events.  These are the things that make each community unique and inspiring.  At BVMP we tout the benefits of music education on the individual; increased cognitive development, better scores on tests, enhanced problem solving skills.  But we know that putting the ideas and feelings of making music, collaborating with others without words, expressing emotions through playing and listening, make our students better human beings. More connected to their community and themselves, art and culture make everyone strive to be better and create things to make our world better.

The DCA thanks Katchen Duncan, executive director, for her participation in this post. To learn more about Bahama Village Music Program, visit: http://www.bvmpkw.org/.

Meet the Florida Council on Arts and Culture: Heather Mayo

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 the council’s newest member, Heather Mayo. Heather was appointed to the council in April 2018 by House Speaker Corcoran. 


Heather Mayo - HeadshotDCA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Heather: I am a Tallahassee, Florida born-and-raised resident who has a great love for the arts. The arts have always played an integral role in my life, and my involvement in the arts began at a very young age when my mother, a ballet instructor enrolled me in dance lessons at the age of three. At seven years old, I picked up the guitar for the first time and discovered my passion for music. Throughout the years, I have played various genres on the guitar but mainly focused on studying the styles of classical and jazz guitar during my studies as an undergraduate student at the Florida State University College of Music. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Music in 2006, I worked at a prominent recording studio on music row in Nashville, TN and learned various aspects of the music business. Four years later, I decided to return to FSU to pursue a Masters in Arts Administration and to dedicate my career to working as an arts administrator in the non-profit arts sector.

Currently, I have the privilege of working for Florida State University as the Assistant Director of Production and Community Engagement within our College of Music. In my position, I help oversee our performance hall production coordination and assist in various outreach, engagement and entrepreneurial activities of the College. As a volunteer, I am currently serving as the Immediate Past-President of the Friends of Dance Council within the College of Fine Arts at Florida State University, and I am also serving as a 2018 Catalyst with the Knight Creative Communities Institute in Tallahassee.

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

Heather: When I hear “Culture Builds Florida”, I think of economic growth and social impact. In the most recent Arts and Economic Prosperity study conducted by Americans for the Arts, it was found that the arts and culture sector is a $4.68 billion industry in Florida. The arts and culture industry in our state supports 132,366 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $492.3 million in local and state government revenue [1] In my hometown of Leon County, FL the nonprofits arts and culture sector is a $201.9 million industry which supports 7,161 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $26.6 million in local and state government revenue.[2]  To me, these numbers prove that the “Arts Mean Business!” The arts support job growth, generate government revenue and attract cultural tourism in our state.

In addition to impacting our state’s economy, arts and culture contribute in countless ways to the well-being of our state by making a social impact in our everyday lives. The arts enable us to uphold our cultural identity as Floridians but also keep us moving forward in innovative ways that are relevant. Arts and culture celebrate diversity and inclusion by bringing people together under one purpose. They enable us to express ourselves, our feelings, and our beliefs creatively. They help us heal; they contribute to our health and wellness. They are vital to the education of our children. They allow us to reflect on our society, on world issues and on our own lives in meaningful ways.

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

Heather: For me, the most inspiring part about working in the arts is the opportunity I have to work in an industry that makes a difference in people’s lives through a creative process. The best example of this in my own world is witnessing a performance come to fruition after our team has spent months preparing for its premiere. There is so much behind-the-scenes work that goes into each production, but the most rewarding part is to see it all come together successfully. Some of my most favorite moments are when I stand in the back of the concert hall and witness the joyful impact the performance is having on an audience member’s life. I often think to myself, “Wow, we helped create this moment for them!” Those are the times I feel most inspired.

Another aspect I love about working in the arts are the relationships that are made along the way. On a daily basis, I get to work with a fantastic team of colleagues who inspire me to be more excellent in everything I do. I also have the wonderful opportunity to work with multiple artists at the local, national and international level. Through these relationships, I have seen the power in collaboration and how we can spur on each other to new creative heights.

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

Heather: First and foremost I hope to support the mission of the Department of State and the Division of Cultural Affairs through my service on this council. I genuinely believe that state arts agencies are one of the most significant vehicles our country has to fulfill our public duty to the arts. By representing all interests of the state, the Division helps ensure that the economic, educational, and civic benefits of the arts are made available to all Floridians. For that, I am thankful for the work the Division is doing for us on a daily basis and look forward to supporting their efforts.

Alongside my fellow council members, I also hope to strengthen strategic partnerships and boost arts advocacy conversations with art constituents throughout the state. It’s no secret that we are living in a time in which advocating for the arts needs to be at the forefront of our daily lives. With this in mind, I hope we as art constituents can become familiar with the economic impact of the arts within our own immediate communities and that we can also be prepared to express how the arts enhance our quality of life. In turn, I hope that through these increased conversations, we can come together as an arts community and jointly make an impact in preserving the cultural heritage of our great State of Florida.

[1] http://dos.myflorida.com/media/698818/artseconomicprosperityfl.pdf

[2] https://coca.tallahasseearts.org/uploads/documents/COCA_Arts__Economic_Prosperity_Bklt_v2.pdf