Guest Series: Bob White of the Cultural Council

November 3, 2011 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville Executive Director Robert White shares how the arts are indeed thriving.

It’s happened again.

Someone has walked up to me and, with a significant and ponderous tone, asked "How're you doing? Are the arts going to be ok?

Or perhaps it’s someone who volunteers that, in these difficult times, the arts will always be the first to be cut.  This is inevitably followed by a tsk-tsk or a tut-tut.

The truth is, that while these are hard times for everyone, we know that these are almost certainly the "good old days" for many artists and cultural institutions - and that’s good news for the rest of us.

First of all, just consider that the people of Northeast Florida generally have regular, open, and easy access to a broad range of significant cultural offerings.  These include:
• Our Museum of Contemporary Art, the largest museum dedicated to the presentation of contemporary art in the Southeast,

 • The Friday Musicale, the State of Florida’s longest-running performance venue,

 • Theatre Jacksonville, the longest-running, continuously producing community theatre in the South, and

 • Stage Aurora, regionally significant as the home for developing African-American stories and theatre for all audiences.

And that’s just for starters.

Did you know, for example, that for four of the last seven years, American Style Magazine has named Jacksonville, Florida as one of the top-25 arts destinations in the United States? I know – I was surprised, too.

But then you dig a little deeper, and you find that institutions are enjoying unprecedented success:

 • The Cummer Museum’s bi-annual Ball sold out in two days and has an overflow crowd of almost 100 people,

 • Players-by-the-Sea can’t produce hot musicals or edgy plays fast enough to accommodate regular sell-out crowds, and

 • The Museum of Science and History opened the new state-of-the-art Bryan-Gooding Planetarium.

But wait!  There’s more!

Through a partnership program between the Cultural Council and Downtown Vision, Inc., local artists are occupying vacant storefronts in the downtown for gallery and studio space.  'Art in Strange Places', a creative collaboration among local artists Doug Eng, Dolf James, and others, keeps springing wonderful and artful surprises on us.  Main Street Park is enriched with lively, new and temporary art installations on a nearly monthly basis.

And still, the list of artistic events, opportunities and happenings keeps growing. In one week alone – last week, in fact – I met with no fewer than four cultural leaders who have "Big Ideas and Fresh Plans" for 2012, 2013 and beyond.  And the really cool thing is, I believe they have the resources and infrastructure in place to turn these aspirations into legacy pieces for Jacksonville.

Part of the energy supporting this groundswell is found in social media and technologies; we have new and efficient resources for telling our stories. Along with this – and particularly true of publicly-funded institutions – we are exploring relevance in deeper and more meaningful ways.  In other words, how does art connect with you?

At the Cultural Council, we want to know how arts groups intersect with the public conversation of the day.  Is it about education?  Without question – that musical instruction enhances mathematical achievement in the classroom.  Is it about crime?  Arts and cultural activities create traffic on a street level that turns lights on, keeps people moving and energizes vacant spaces.  If the Florida Theatre turns its lights on, it mitigates crime in a five-block radius.  Are we talking about health care?  'Art with a Heart for Children' changes the lives of families of hospitalized children on a daily basis.  Patients heal more efficiently in colorful spaces.  Even better, they will exhibit a remarkable response rate when engaged in working on an art project in a hospital bed rather than left to watch tv.

The truth is, there is no challenge that faces our city that doesn’t have an art and cultural component to its solution. The same thing can be said of people and the challenges we face in our own lives. Something tells me that if you are reading this article on this site, you already know this; none of this is news. But some of it – or maybe all of it – is news to someone you know.  I’m hopeful that you’ll help me spread the word that Jacksonville is a cool place, so that maybe that next someone to come along will share an encouraging word or a wink and a thumbs up.


Editorial by Robert White.