the Arts are Alive
Grammy nominated Shawn Mullins sings his story-like songs at Seaside during the 2011 30A Songwriter’s Festival.
the Arts are AliveThe Heart of the Emerald Coast Beats Strong With a Vibrant Arts Scene
by Zandra Wolfgram
They say you can measure the heart of a community by the health of its arts scene. If that’s the case, the Emerald Coast has got a lot of heart and soul. The beach towns and small communities nestled from 30A to Pensacola are home to hundreds of talented artists who collaborate with dozens of art organizations — some edgy and new, others traditional and several decades old — to bring us inspired music, vibrant art and thrilling theater offerings all year long. From Broadway to the Bard and beautiful art galleries in between, EC Magazine canvassed the coast to find out what the “hottest tickets” in town hold for us this season.
WHERE DO THE ARTISTS GO FOR THEIR 'ART FIX'?
“To me art, music and food go hand in hand. I like to go Vintij for a nice dinner, have a glass of wine and hear some live music like jazz or go to a Sinfonia concert.” — Todd Allen, Artistic Director, Northwest Florida Ballet
“I enjoy browsing the art galleries along 30A. I like going to small concerts at churches, and I like to go to see the Pensacola Opera.” — Demetrius Fuller, Director, Sinfonia Gulf Coast
“I really like the Fort Walton Beach Art Walk, the Belmont Arts and Cultural Center’s Hot Glass Cold Beer event in Pensacola and Digital Graffiti in Alys Beach. These are things I try not to miss.” — Mercedes Rogers, Artist and Owner, Full Circle Gallery
“In my travels to other cities and communities, I search for upcoming cultural events and activities that relate to music, stage productions, historical preservation, art galleries, art festivals and visiting art exhibits at museums. When at home, I am content with reading to escape everyday’s challenges, or enjoying a concert featuring one of our many talented local musicians.” — Marcia Hull, Executive Director, Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation
A Visual Art Feast
30A is to Northwest Florida what Louvre is to Europe — a treasure trove of visual art. Rosemary Beach, Seaside and Grayton Beach are the cradle of the visual arts. (One of the most celebrated art festivals in the area, the ArtsQuest Fine Arts Festival, now held in Seaside, was formed by the many local artists in Grayton Beach in the late 1980s.) Tucked in upscale row houses under a canopy of scrub oak trees is Seaside’s handsome “artist colony” called Ruskin Place — an eclectic collection of several art galleries and studios. The Red Bird Gallery, The Art of Simple, Albert F’s, Newbill Collection by the Sea and the Eileen West Gallery, to name just a few, are found here. The gallery owners open their studio doors and welcome art lovers with refreshments and live music during the First Friday Art Walk event each month beginning at 5 p.m.
A testament to the thriving art scene of 30A is the Ogden Museum at WaterColor. Building upon the larger regional and national interest in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art/University of New Orleans, the Ogden opened a new satellite museum in WaterColor in 2008. The museum, which is free, showcases a number of changing exhibitions, and serves as a branch of the Ogden’s Center for Southern Craft and Design.
But you don’t have to go to a gallery to enjoy great local art. The South Walton Tourist Development Council created Art in Public Places — a program giving local artists public settings to display their work year-round. Now, visits to the library, courthouse, state parks and many official buildings are brightened by the talent of local artists such as Dorothy Starbuck, Susan Lucas, Justin Gaffrey, Martha Cooper and Allison Wickey, among many others.
The Voice of Art
The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation (MKAF) is synonymous with the arts in Destin. Established in 1995 as a not-for-profit organization, its mission is to honor the late Destin pioneer, Mattie Kelly, by promoting arts and education through cultural events and educational programs. “We were one of the first organizations and one of the only organizations doing concerts 16 years ago. We had a humble beginning,” said MKAF executive director Marcia Hull.
In addition to weekly outdoor concerts in May and June, the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation also presents the Destin Festival of the Arts in concert with a private home tour (showcasing local artists’ work) in September. Your children may have experienced one of the many art programs the foundation has presented to 40,000 children in more than 30 Okaloosa and Walton county schools. They also offer after-school art instruction at select schools, and art and theater camps during the summer.
When the economy slowed, Hull turned her focus from raising funds to raising awareness. “I realized I didn’t need to ask people for money, I needed to focus on sustainability of our organization,” she said. Hull zeroed in on elevating the arts on the “agenda” of local officials. Her single-handed lobbying efforts convinced the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County to host a cultural tourism symposium this year. But she isn’t stopping there. Hull is collaborating with the city of Destin and its chamber of commerce to create a cultural arts and preservation commission.
CLOCKWISE, FROM ABOVE: Seaside’s Red Bird Gallery showcases nearly two dozen visual artists; South Walton 2011 artist of the year Allison Wickey creates abstract nature landscape paintings inspired by the Emerald Coast; Dread Clampitt’s “hipbilly” sound rocks several local beach bars; award-winning photographer Michael Granbury frames the Emerald Coast beautifully in this dramatic beach portrait.
“We need a voice. This is about creating a quality of place. ” (The arts) is a proven catalyst for growth, quality of life and economic prosperity.” she said. For Hull it’s not just business, it’s personal, too. “I personally just can’t imagine a community without art. It is central to quality family time,” she said.
The Music Makers
While music is universal, we all sway to a different beat of the snare drum. From rock concerts on the beach to jazz in small clubs, the Emerald Coast pulses with a diverse range of music seeping from its restaurants, nightspots, bars and even churches. Mainstays such as the rhythmic Jones & Company, melodic Reed Waddle and folksy Dread Clampitt — who have played the coast for years — are joined by newer bands and performers such as reggae-rockers Heritage and soulful singers such as Curtis Clark. You can catch a live performance nearly every night of the week.
WHERE DO THE ARTISTS GO
HOW TO SUPPORT THE ARTS
» Attend an art event
» Become a member of a local art organization
» Support art education programs
» Buy art from local artists
» Donate your time as a volunteer
» Reserve subscription seats to a music or performing arts series
» Give your business to companies who actively support the arts
» Speak up to your legislators
An anchor for the professional music scene in the Emerald Coast is Sinfonia Gulf Coast. Lead by maestro Demetrius Fuller, the orchestra’s sixth season will embrace an Americana theme. The season kicks off in October with an intimate gala event at Seagar’s Restaurant featuring the John Pizzarelli. Fuller describers the entertainer as a world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer who says he will offer up “innovative selections that will surely reinterpret the Great American Songbook.”
Main stage Sinfonia concerts, performed at the Destiny Worship Center and the Emerald Coast Conference Center, will include the popular Orchestral Holiday show featuring Grammy-award-winning vocal quartet New York Voices; a concert by violinist Caroline Goulding; “Rhapsody in Blue;” as well as a concerto and pops concert. Fuller said Sinfonia plans to continue its community outreach with themed dinners, 5K runs, and its intensive series of art education, which last year brought Sinfonia’s music education program to more than 30,000 local students.
Coined “a symphony redefined,” Fuller describes the orchestra this way: “Sinfonia Gulf Coast is one-stop symphony shopping that combines a traditional symphony, the pops, chamber music and social events — all in one.”
After five seasons, Fuller has become known for staging lively music events. Incorporating other art forms, such as dance and visual art, along with celebrity performances has given Sinfonia a broad audience base — and a benchmark. “If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me ‘How are you going to top this?’ I’d be rich,” he said.
For Fuller, being successful at anything means constantly challenging the status quo. “I think it’s time for art organizations in our area to reinvent themselves. It’s really easy for any business to get in a groove and do the same old thing, but that doesn’t inspire new energy into your organization. It’s a task to continually adjust your mission statement, but you have to,” he said.
ABOVE: Destin’s Reed Waddle (shown here as EC Magazine’s One to Watch in April 2009) now performs his poetic melodies all across the country; RIGHT: Dynamic computer art is the centerpiece of Digital Graffiti, an electrifying annual summer event, at Alys Beach; BOTTOM: Sinfonia Gulf Coast, led by Fort Walton Beach-born maestro Demetrius Fuller, is known for its modern take on presenting the classics.
Jump in With Both Hands and Feet
In Fort Walton Beach, you can experience art “hands-on.” The Art and Design Society (ADSO), for example, offers year-round art classes, workshops and seminars in drawing, painting, encaustic and clay sculpture in its Art Center studio. ADSO also presents monthly art exhibitions at its Art Center gallery and produces two major art shows: the Southeast Regional Juried Art Exhibition in May and the Beaux Art Exhibit, now in its 53rd year, in February.
The Northwest Florida Art Association (NWFAA) holds several types of art workshops ranging from digital art and website design to photography and cartooning in downtown Fort Walton Beach in what they call the Lair at Fountain Square.
» The Mozart Effect surfaced when research uncovered that adults who listened to music of complexity for 10 minutes or so experienced temporary increases in their spatial IQ scores.1
» Music training, specifically piano instruction, is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science. Learning music at an early age causes long-term enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning.2
» 57.8 million people attended arts and cultural events in Florida in 2008.3
» In 2008, 88,326 jobs were supported by arts and culture in Florida.3
» 74.9 percent of visitors to Florida participate in cultural activities.3
» Florida cultural tourists spend more than tourists not attending cultural events ($631 per day compared to $457).3
Sources: 1-Frances Rauscher, Ph.D., Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine ; 2-Frances Rauscher, Ph.D., Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine; 3-Florida Division of Cultural Affairs
Full Circle Gallery, located on Eglin Parkway, owned and operated by Mercedes Rogers, is another place art lovers of all ages are encouraged to touch art. She offers “sip and spin” sessions, where you can gather with a spouse or friends and sip wine while “throwing” clay on the pottery wheel. The gallery also offers painting parties, raku workshops, pottery classes, seasonal workshops and children’s art classes.
For Rogers, being an arts advocate not only is enriching, but it makes economic sense. “It is important to support local arts because the money spent on these kinds of products goes directly back into the local economy,” Rogers said.
In addition to presenting a full season and its top-rated public school, The Académie, the Northwest Florida Ballet, lead by artistic director Todd Allen, also offers a range of dance classes such as ballet, tap dance and hip hop for both children and adults.
This year, the ballet is stepping up its programming with something new — a family show. The ballet will stage “Corbian,” an original production about a glow-in-the-dark dinosaur. The family-friendly performance, slated for Sept. 30, will only run an hour long, plenty of time for little dancers to make their early bedtimes. The company will reprise their popular holiday production of “The Nutcracker” (Nov. 19–20) and stage “Romeo and Juliet” (Mar. 31–Apr. 1). During the summer months the ballet plans to bring its troupe to stages throughout the community, including the St. Augustine Green at Rosemary Beach.
For Allen, the most important thing art lovers can do is speak up. “This is a time to be vocal,” he said. “Across the state and the country all art organizations are going through really tough time right now. We’re lucky to have a symphony, an opera (and) beautiful museums in our small community, but we can’t take them for granted. If you appreciate the arts, let your elected officials in Tallahassee and D.C. know just how much.”
On Stage in Pensacola
The “City of Five Flags” is home to the cultural “big five:” ballet, opera, symphony, theater and an accredited museum of visual arts.
It just may be safe to say William Shakespeare is alive in Pensacola! The Pensacola Shakespeare Theatre has launched its second season. Under the artistic direction of Kevin Kern, the new company plans to stage both classic and modern works “that inform, inspire and enlighten audiences.” The next production, “Twelfth Night,” is scheduled for August 11–14 at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts at the University of West Florida campus.
One of the jewels in the crown of Pensacola’s royal art offerings is surely the Saenger Theatre. Known as the “Grand Dame of Palafox,” the Saenger, which opened its Spanish Baroque doors in 1925, underwent a $15 million renovation in 2009. The 2011-12 Broadway series includes “ Mark Twain Tonight!” with Hal Holbrook (Oct. 15); “My Fair Lady” (Nov. 30), “Elvis Lives” (Jan. 29), “Riverdance” (Feb. 14), Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” (March 19) and “Straight No Chaser” (May 6).
The Pensacola Opera, which started out in 1983 as volunteer-based organization, is celebrating its 28th season this year with two main stage productions at the Saenger Theatre.
ABOVE: Pensacola Shakespeare Theatre was a big to do when it staged Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in its first season last summer.
This year’s season will include Giacomo Puccini’s sweeping Japanese tragedy, “Madame Butterfly” (Jan. 20 and 22) with the role of Cio-cio San performed by soprano Inna Dukach and the tenor role, Lt. Pinkerton, performed by Dinyar Vinai. Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece, “Rigoletto” (March 9 and 11) stars Todd Thomas, Jane Redding and Chad Johnson in the lead roles.
NOT QUITE A MICHELANGELO?
Try your hand at volunteering with one of these local art organizations:
Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation
Art & Design Society of FWB
Cultural Arts Association
Okaloosa Arts Association
Off the stage, Gallery Night is increasingly popular casual art event. Downtown Pensacola art galleries, restaurants and shops open several times a year for an after-hours evening of sampling the city’s arts and culture at a leisurely pace.
For more information on the Emerald Coast art scene, note the various art organizations and resources listed, and check out the calendar event listings in each issue of EC magazine.