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.)

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.