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.

Postcard from St. Augustine: The St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Monument

by Brian R. Owens

St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Monument. Bronze sculpture by Brian R. Owens of Deltona.

In May a bronze monument was unveiled in St. Augustine in remembrance of ordinary citizens who engaged in various forms of peaceful protest to advance the cause of civil rights there in 1963 and 1964. This was a critical period for the civil rights movement that had been unfolding in many states for nearly a decade. The citizens who marched in St. Augustine, who survived a staggering level of violence, are credited with helping to sustain the political pressure needed to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Historian David Nolan describes it as “the most important event in St. Augustine’s modern history.” They called themselves Foot Soldiers.

Detail of monument.

I sculpted the monument for a non-profit, tax-exempt organization founded by Barbara H. Vickers, herself a Foot Soldier. Her mission: to create a monument to honor anonymous citizen-heroes connected to events that were largely unknown outside of her city; install it on the most prominent, historic property; get it done in a time when raising private funds is a challenge, when we are at risk of forgetting our own history and perhaps, of forgetting that there is nothing that can’t be done.

Vickers surrounded herself with people who knew the inner workings of city government and how to organize a project like this. The St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Remembrance Project, Inc. was driven by a small core of people but powered by over 200 individuals and 20 companies that contributed to the project. The monument is permanently installed in the Plaza de la Constitucion, a public park in downtown St. Augustine, near the corner of King and Charlotte Streets, 40 feet from a historic structure that was once used to sell slaves. The City contributed landscaping, concrete and engineering services and is now the owner of the monument. Not all public art projects can be handled this way, but this is a method worth noting.

Detail of monument.

Just after the installation, I stood around while the adhesive that connects the plaque to the stone base hardened. Two men walked up – one white and one black – seeing the monument for the first time. They were in a loud, enthusiastic discussion of how to rethink tourism, of new ways to include the monument in advertisements, of the monument as a symbol of our human ability to find creative solutions when the institutions that should protect us fail us. Neither of them was alive in 1964 and still, they connected with the art. They were so excited – so physically animated – that I had to step forward to keep one of them from accidentally knocking the plaque clean off.

Now that the epoch of the civil rights movement is over, we may see it from another angle – as those two men did. It was after all, a human achievement. I suspect that, for them, black and white is a kind of TV they don’t make anymore. Green is the color that preoccupied us at the moment and it’s not the green of the natural world. St. Augustine is a city that is dependent now, as it was in 1964, on tourism. I have no crystal ball to gauge how the monument affects their economy, but I do know how much lighter my own wallet is now that my lady-friend has rediscovered the place. Shortly after the monument was featured on the statewide public radio program “Florida Frontiers,” I received a happy message from the producer with feedback. Apparently, lots of people were planning a little weekend getaway to the “oldest city in north America.” And if the metrics of my website are to be believed, then many of the people who visit my site – and it’s a big number – get a gentle invitation to visit St. Augustine as well.