Spotlight On: The Future of Arts and Culture Districts in Florida

by Bob Evans

I might dispute the claim that a river is the only feature missing from Tallahassee, but I won’t dispute that Johnny Cash lyrics always make a salient point. In a recent Emerging Leaders Blog Salon post at the Americans for the Arts ARTSblog, “Another Wide River to Cross: Incentivizing an Arts District in Tallahassee,” my colleague, Tim Storhoff, gives some excellent commentary as to why a centralized arts district can be a defining factor in the overall health of a city. The truth is that these arts and culture districts provide a community with a meaningful sense of place and purpose, the likes of which cannot be easily replicated.

Map of the Bradenton Riverwalk from

At the behest of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, I’ve done some research on the subject of arts and culture districts. I found that these areas, intended to create a “critical mass” of places for cultural consumption, have 4 major outcomes:

  • Attracting artists and cultural enterprises
  • Fostering cultural development
  • Encouraging economic growth
  • Fulfilling community needs – both rural and urban

These outcomes are condensed from the National Association of State Arts Agencies Policy Brief on State Cultural Districts, which naturally also defines the state’s roles.  Currently, 12 states have enacted legislation for arts and cultural districts, but Florida is not among their ranks. Overall, I feel like the recognition, facilitation, and cultivation of these districts by the state is the most crucial part of the process.

Originally, I was unclear if the catalyst of these districts came from a grassroots or local effort or from the state; was it a top-down or bottom-up approach? Through my research, I discovered it was more of a growth from a younger program to an older program, where the criteria are established first, and grants, funding, and tax incentives are added later. The current models in states like Texas and Maryland support this.

Maryland is especially receptive to these districts, and has provided admissions and amusement tax exemption, income tax credit, and property tax credit for these districts, the most of any state. The benefits of these districts are astounding. Towson University conducted an economic impact study of these arts districts in Maryland, and found that “an estimated 1,621 jobs, $147.3 million in state GDP, and $49.8 million in wages were supported on average annually between 2008 and 2010.”

Florida has some excellent examples of arts and culture districts, from the Bradenton Riverwalk, to the Tampa River Arts and Channel Districts, Jacksonville’s CoRK District, Miami’s Design District, and on. But as of right now, there are no local or state systems to provide a forum for communication, nor are there direct tax incentives for these areas. If Tim’s dream comes true, there will be a vibrant district right in the middle of Tallahassee, and, as he theorizes, “If Florida’s policy makers can experience the benefits of an arts district firsthand, perhaps a statewide system can be implemented.”

Right now, it’s hard for anyone to see long term benefits of giving tax breaks, especially to relatively new programs. It’s going to take time, and we need to be cautious, which is exactly why states like Texas have adopted the certification-only approach without incentives. It’s a great way to test the efficacy of the program. But, as for the future, I’ll just have to defer back to Mr. Cash: “I don’t know. I can’t say. I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.

Culture in Florida: February

Culture In Florida

by Tim Storhoff

Culture In Florida is a monthly news roundup to show our state’s wonderful diversity, spotlight the organizations and artists that contribute so much to our communities, and stress the comprehensive benefits of arts and culture to Florida’s economy and quality of life.

February went by quickly, but it was another busy month for arts and culture across the state, and as we look forward March will have even more events. Florida Heritage Month takes place from March 15 to April 15, so watch for events taking place statewide.

The many arts and culture events available in the Florida Keys received some well-deserved media attention this month, as articles have spotlighted the importance of arts grants for putting artists in schools and how the Florida Keys offer visitors and residents ‘more than t-shirts and beer’:

The Florida Keys are more than sunshine and saltwater, frozen drinks and four-day cruises. The island chain has always beckoned to a legendary roster of writers, painters, performers and artists, and still calls endlessly to others who appreciate those endeavors.

Artist Mario Sanchez, playwright Tennessee Williams and author Ernest Hemingway never heard the term “cultural tourism,” and certainly weren’t aware that they were giving birth to a new industry while they lived and worked at the intersection of the Atlantic and Gulf. But the arts have become more than a passion in the Florida Keys. They’re an industry — a cultural tourism industry, which has been steadily gaining momentum in Monroe County.

Other cities and areas have also been working to stress the importance of arts and culture in their communities. The DeLand City Commission has partnered with the Florida Museum of Art in the hopes of  incorporating public art and redevelopment projects to encourage economic development. The city of Bradenton is using the unique Village of the Arts — billed as Florida’s largest art colony — in a renewed effort to draw tourists to the area, particularly those with an artistic bent. In Boynton Beach the city spotlighted the fifteen large kinetic art sculptures that were installed over the last year, and St. Augustine has been celebrated as a world-class art and music destination.

The famous Florida Highwaymen were busy throughout February with the Third Annual Original Highwaymen Weekend Extravaganza that took place in Davenport at the end of the month, and a special event featuring the artists and their paintings at the Museum of Florida History on February 5.  The Florida Highwaymen was a group of 26 black artists who studied painting together and took their unique, colorful paintings of Florida landscapes to sell on the road and door-to-door during a time when many galleries would not let them display their work. Famous Highwaymen paintings have included serene sunsets, sleepy Florida rivers, arching palm trees, crashing ocean waves and bright red palmetto trees. 

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner with members of the Florida Highwaymen during the February 5 event at the Museum of Florida History.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner with members of the Florida Highwaymen during the February 5 event at the Museum of Florida History. Image courtesy of the Museum of Florida History.

This month, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens remembered Robert W. Schlageter, who grew the institution from a small, locally focused museum to one with a collection spanning 4,000 years of art history. He died Feb. 2 in Clearwater at the age of 88. The Norton Museum of Art has had an Annie Leibovitz exhibition on display all month that will continue through June 9. There have been numerous exhibitions and events statewide related to Viva Florida 500, such as the dedication of the Wild About Wildflowers public art display in Delray Beach, the OLA Film festival took place in Orlando, and the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts in Pensacola featured an exhibition of underwater photographs by Karen Glaser in “The Mark of Water, Florida’s Springs and Swamps.”

The Florida State Fair took place in February, with arts and culture featured as an important element in the fair’s events. Numerous awards for artwork were given out. Commissioner Putnam recognized Reid Risner, the winner of Florida’s 500th Anniversary Youth Fine Arts Competition. More than 200 Florida students submitted entries of fine artwork representing the history of Florida agriculture. The competition’s finalists will be on display for the duration of the fair, along with the winners of Florida’s 500th Anniversary Youth Coloring Competition. A new museum at the fair was also unveiled, “Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition.”

Solomon Dixon was chosen as the featured Florida artist for Black History Month 2013.

Solomon Dixon was chosen as the featured Florida artist for Black History Month 2013.

February was Black History Month, and numerous events took place across the state to honor the contributions of African Americans through arts and culture. The First Lady of Florida chose Solomon Dixon as the featured artist for this year.

There’s a lot going on in March. The state finals for Poetry Out Loud will take place in Tallahassee on March 9. Also remember to keep up with the Florida Heritage Month calendar and submit  events that are significant to Florida heritage, arts or culture, open to the public, and appropriate for audiences of all ages. You can also check for upcoming happenings at Art & Gator’s Event and Festival Calendar and the Viva Florida 500 calendar.

Florida Heritage Month will take place from March 15 to April 15.

Florida Heritage Month will take place from March 15 to April 15.

Culture in Florida: December

Culture In Florida

by Tim Storhoff

Culture In Florida is a monthly news roundup to show our state’s wonderful diversity, spotlight the organizations and artists that contribute so much to our communities, and stress the comprehensive benefits of arts and culture to Florida’s economy and quality of life.

December kicked off with Art Basel in Miami Beach. Beyond being a successful and high-profile arts event, it also did a lot to give back to the surrounding community. A number of artists who came to the area for Art Basel stuck around to restore murals in West Grove. Keif Schleifer, an arts advocate and sculptor from Atlanta who organized the effort, said, “We’ve been humbled by this community and the kids who’ve been painting with us since the day we arrived. I see Art Basel as more than an event of the moment. It’s a meeting ground for people to come together and grow something bigger that continues.” Art Basel has also helped transform the nearby Wynwood neighborhood into a more vibrant area for visitors, and the neighborhood’s connection to Art Basel was covered in the New York Times. Those interested in learning from Art Basel’s success should check out 8 Tips for Courting Influencers the Art Basel Way from the pARTnership Movement.

Art Video on December 5, 2012 during Art Basel 2012.  (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Art Basel Miami 2012, Courtesy of Art Basel)

Art Video on December 5, 2012 during Art Basel. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Art Basel Miami 2012, Courtesy of Art Basel)

Other events across the state have been big hits this month too. This includes the Bradenton Blues Festival (mentioned last month), which sold 3126 tickets and exceeded expectations for its first year. Boynton Beach has continued its rebranding campaign with the opening of the Plein-Air Exhibition in the Boynton Beach Library. Many events centered around the holidays. The very first Christmas celebration in North America was held in Florida, and that holiday spirit continues today. Three million lights helped make St. Augustine’s historic district sparkle, the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Estates held their annual Holiday Nights, and the Tampa Theatre had a packed showing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Many other holiday events related to Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa were held across the state that incorporated the performing and visual arts in various ways.

We want to acknowledge all of the Florida arts and culture organizations that have recently had success receiving grants. The Miami City Ballet received a $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant, which will come in $1 million increments over 5 years, is the largest the company has received in its 27-year history. Sixteen Florida Organizations also received ArtWorks Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts worth a total of $412,000. Additionally, the group Citizens Interested in the Arts (CIA) donated $1 million to thirty visual and performing arts organizations in South Florida for the year 2013. On an individual level, Viera resident David Saylor received a great honor when his photo “Discovering Limits” was chosen in Canon’s “Project Imaginat10n” contest to be the inspiration for short films by celebrity directors.

This has been an exciting month for museums across the state. The Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center celebrated its Grand Opening after closing in March for a complete remodeling and repurposing, and the staff at the Elliott Museum in Stuart started moving items into their new building set to open March 2, 2013. The Polaseck Museum in Winter Park has acquired a bust of Woodrow Wilson, created by Albin Polasek himself, that was targeted for destruction by the Nazis. This piece of art was believed to have been destroyed during World War II but is now on display in the museum. In Sarasota, the Ringling Museum opened a new exhibition featuring sixteenth century Venetian art by Paolo Veronese, and the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm is exhibiting the work of Sylvia Plimack Mangold, an American painter known for her landscapes and “portraits” of trees, as part of the museum’s effort to highlight the contributions of women artists. In a special article for the Gainesville Sun, Rebecca Nagy, director of the Harn Museum of Art at UF, asked how brick and mortar museums can stay relevant in the digital age.

The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Photo by Wally Gobetz and made available by a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. (Photo by Wally Gobetz and made available by a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.)

With the New Year comes the official start of Viva Florida 500, the commemoration of Florida’s 500th anniversary so be on the lookout for related events in January and all year long. Looking forward, the Miami New Times presented “Nine New Years Resolutions for Miami’s Arts Community” and the Carrollwood Cultural Center is already preparing for a busy winter season starting in January.

Happy New Year from everyone at the Division of Cultural Affairs, and we hope that 2013 brings you health, happiness, and many opportunities to experience and share the great arts and culture events Florida has to offer!

Culture In Florida: November

Culture In Florida

By Bob Evans & Tim Storhoff

With so much going on across the state of Florida in the world of arts and culture, we have decided to add a monthly feature to the Culture Builds Florida blog. By looking back at some of the cultural events and news stories that occurred each month, we hope that Culture In Florida will help show our state’s wonderful diversity, spotlight the organizations and artists that contribute so much to our communities, and stress the comprehensive benefits of arts and culture to Florida’s economy and quality of life.

Between political elections and the Thanksgiving holiday, November has been a busy month for Floridians. In a proclamation, President Barack Obama announced that November would be National Native American Heritage Month, and November 23 would be Native American Heritage Day. Various events featuring Native American art have been held across the state as a result. Additionally, First Lady Michelle Obama designated two Florida communities as Preserve America Communities: Bonita Springs and Flagler County. This designation will help bring an increased focus to these communities and draw visitors to their events. Over in Collier County, there were over 100 events as part of their “Celebrate the Arts Month,” which was designed to promote the area’s arts community and involve more residents and visitors in cultural activities.

The city of Bradenton has also been busy this month. Bradenton’s Riverwalk is working on rebranding itself as one of the “top riverfront communities in the nation in order to boost tourism.” With events like ArtSlam and the upcoming inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival, it’s well on its way. Headlining for the Bradenton Blues Festival is Grammy Award nominee Ruthie Foster, as well as Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee Kenny Neal and Southern Hospitality, led by Bradenton Beach resident Damon Fowler.

Visitors enjoying Bradenton's third annual ArtSlam this month. Photo courtesy of

Visitors enjoying Bradenton’s third annual ArtSlam this month. Photo courtesy of

A number of events were held to celebrate Arts and Health Month. From The Society for the Arts in Healthcare website, “Arts & Health Month is a time to host awareness-raising events and heighten media attention for [the] field.” Shands Hospital in Gainesville was host to three events to raise awareness and promote the healing process. The Musicians in Residence duo of Danielle DeCosmo and Cathy DeWitt have been playing music for patients, and Writer-in-Residence Barbara Esrig helped create oral histories with patients, families, and staff. A therapeutic paper-making workshop was also held, taking personally significant pieces of fabric and turning them into works of art.

November has also been a month of beginnings and openings. Artists in Hernando have a new gallery in which to exhibit their work thanks to a generous offer by newly-elected County Commissioner Nick Nicholson. Key West is in the middle of its inaugural Key West Film Festival, screening at the historic San Carlos Institute and the Tropic Cinema until Sunday, December 2nd. Over in Santa Rosa County, the Imogene Theater officially reopened, featuring an original play by local playwright Shay Moran.

Students in Florida have so many opportunities to experience and participate in arts and cultural activities year round, and this month was no different. Janie Howard Wilson Elementary students hosted artist Ruby Williams, who spoke about being successful, as well as her life as an artist. Thanks to a generous donation by Gibson Law Firm in Lake Wales and Miss Ruby herself, the students received two paintings for the school’s art collection. Seminole State College of Florida’s interior design students had the opportunity to decorate the Leu House Museum based on important figures in Central Florida history, such as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, philanthropist Harriett Lake and former Florida Lt. Governor Toni Jennings. The display will run through December 31st. Palm Beach County high school students have the chance to win cash awards, thanks to a banned book essay contest hosted by the West Palm Beach Library Foundation. In conjunction with its upcoming exhibition, “Banned and Burned: Literary Censorship and the Loss of Freedom,” students will discuss in their essays how a banned book has influenced them, and why they feel that it should be protected. Essays must be 500-1,000 words and should be submitted by December 31st.

Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera rehearsing with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. Photo provided by Tim Storhoff.

Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera rehearsing with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. Photo provided by Tim Storhoff.

There were many events across the state of Florida that showcased the state’s diversity and functioned as cultural exchanges with other nations. One major newsworthy occurrence was the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba concluding their first tour of the United States with multiple performances in Florida. The orchestra visited Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Naples, St. Petersburg, Fort Pierce, and West Palm Beach during the month of November. Tim Storhoff, an Arts Consultant with the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, attended multiple performances on the orchestra’s tour, and you can listen to his talk from the Kravis Center about their musical selections at the Arts Radio Network. HistoryMiami is featuring a somewhat related exhibition about the guayabera shirt’s evolution through Cuba, Mexico and the United States. “The Guayabera: A Shirt’s Story” runs through January 13. The annual Accidental Music Festival in Orlando also featured an exchange with the Symphonic Orchestra of Guanajuato, Mexico.

Upcoming in December:
Art Basel Miami Beach and its many satellite events run from December 6th through the 9th, featuring local young artists like Juan Fernando “Buddah Funk” Gomez. There will also be holiday music events going on throughout the month across the state, and as we approach New Years be on the lookout for Viva Florida 500 events, like this Wall of Florida History exhibit in Leesburg and the newly rechristened Gran Naranja kicking off 2013 in Miami.