Night of Fire: 38th Arts Awards Gala at the Marble Bank

May 14, 2014 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

MetroJacksonville's Stephen Dare attended what was doubtlessly the most fun event in the long history of the Arts Awards in Jville. Held at the iconic Laura Trio Marble Bank Building, the space was transformed for a few hundred of the cities most generous philanthropists and Corporate sponsors as they honored five people for special recognition this year.

Of recent, there has been a lot of talk about it being a 'new day' for the cultural council in Jacksonville, and this seems to be a pretty accurate description of the waterchange that has been taking place.  Both in the way that the Council has been approaching the arts community and the public in general.

But this year's Arts Awards dinner was the first evidence of the new thinking going on over at the CC in how it has approached the philanthropic community.

I previous years, the staid event has been attended with the barely required level of enthusiasm that one expects from a not terribly excited community.  It has been held at stiff corporate environments like the Times Union center and really had to work to sell tickets to the event.

With the changing of the guard and the leadership of Board President, Diane Brunet-Garcia and supercharged newcomers like Lisa Goodrich, the event decided to reach out to the city's wealthy supporters of the arts with something that approximates the new enthusiasm and energy of projects like One Spark, the Spark District, and the development of new grants that can finally be extended directly to artists after a nearly 20 year hiatus of artist funding in this manner.

The decision to hold the event at the Marble Bank which is finally being developed after 15 years of false starts by Steve Atkins was a pretty audacious move.  Certainly there was a lot to clean out and deal with considering the long abandonment of the structure itself.  As was the decision to use Artivores, a group devoted to combining food and arts events that has surfaced in the primordial soup of Jville's urban historic districts.

No one really expected the event to sell out within the first week, and yet the extra excitement and novelty of the event did exactly that.  Tickets to the event, even priced at 150 dollars per seat became harder to find than sweet tea in California.  In fact, the event was sold out even before the usual suspects were even aware that the tickets were for sale.

Betsy Lovett, photo by Agnes Lopez 2014

This year however, the guest list represented a powerful cocktail of politics and wealth that has been lacking for a few decades.  The Lazzaras were there, the Lovetts, and the Gilmans, but this year was also politically exciting as they were joined by John Peyton, the CEO of Gate Petroleum and former Mayor of Jacksonvillle, and the rather anxious looking Mayor Alvin Brown who seemed very aware of the presence of Lenny Curry, the Republican Party of Florida head who has been rumored to be running against him in the upcoming election.

The gracious heads of the Museums were there, Maria Hane, Marcelle Polednik and the ever refreshing Hope McMath, of course, but also the luminaries like Helen Lane, and Bruce Dempsey upon whose shoulders so many in the room have had to stand in the cultural community.

In the lower floor, the banquet tables had been spotlessly groomed by the very smooth Biscottis organization, and Barbara Bredehoeft the founding partner of the genteel restaurant and catering firm was on hand personally to attend to the details.

The upper deck was reserved for the multitude of performers who provided entertainment all the way through the evening, and while dining the crowd was treated to a mix of music that would have been unlikely in the more buttoned down previous iterations of the event. Josh Waller performed a couple of numbers from his production of Hedwig with the 5 & Dime theatre company, and the cast of Rent was brought on to sing Seasons of Love for the very enthusiastic crowd.  NPR personality and Spoken Word legend, Al Letson performed a spoken word piece, and there were experimental and modern dance perfomances.  Beginning the evening was a performance by indie musicians, Jordyn Jackson and Shawn Fisher of Flagship Romance.  Throughout it all, Lee Hamby could be seen directing movement and keeping house with the string of performances.

A huge departure from years past was the addition of an outdoor street party for music and dance that gave people wanting to participate in the ceremony an affordable alternative to the pricy dinner tickets.  It ended up being the default event for everyone else who wouldnt have blinked at the ticket costs, but who simply could not get an available seat in the house.

In every way this event was the most inclusive, contemporary event that the Cultural Council has ever overseen.

Not running from any kind of excitement, the featured artist this year was Chip Southworth, also known as Keith Haring's Ghost, who was arrested earlier in the year for improving the soviet era electrical boxes of riverside with bona fide art.  In previous years, his work would have been marginalized and exempted by the CC.  This year he was asked to create giant quick painted portraits for the entrance of the Bank (which you can see in the photos below).

All of which signifies the organizations new commitment to relevance with Jacksonville's long neglected artists and creative types.

And according to all accounts, the new approach paid off handsomely.  According to recent figures, this years Awards Ceremony managed to raise private excitement and a corresponding boatload of financial backing.  This was the most profitable Awards Gala that the Council has ever had, and much of that can be attributed to the influence of the new board members, in particular Lisa Goodrich, who lived, ate, drank and slept the event for the previous month.

All in all a brilliant event and an encouraging direction, on all levels, for the Cultural Council to be taking.

Check out some of the photos we snagged from the event.

DJ Nick Puzo, on the outside stage for the street party with fellow DJ.

Chip Southworth's installations were vivid on either side of the entrance.

A closer look at his  Andrew Jackson portrait.

Volunteers setting up outside.

Candidate for mayor and City Councilperson, Bill Bishop with the remarkably gracious outgoing president of the Cultural Council, Diane Kilpatrick Brunet-Garcia

The Arrival of Jordyn Jackson, half of the beloved duo, Flagship Romance.

NEXT PAGE: The guest list and photos of the event!

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