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- 2014 - January - 1st -

Workspace: Kimberly Hyatt

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

Every day at work Kimberly Hyatt is surrounded by a miniature art museum.

Hallways and offices of the Cathedral Arts Project, where Hyatt serves as executive director, are lined with dozens of colorful, neatly framed artworks by children.

Behind the aesthetics, though, is a relentless sense of mission — to ensure that every child in Northeast Florida has an arts-rich education. Hyatt's job is to lead the nonprofit that brings after-school visual arts, music, acting and dance lessons to 1,200 underserved children.

To reach that goal, Hyatt constantly measures factors like fundraising, the number of children in the program, their school grades, their FCAT scores and how many guest artists are brought in.

"We're very metric driven here. We have some 127-odd objectives in our operations and strategic plans," Hyatt said. "I just believe in that old saying — what gets measured gets done." 

It's a lesson she took from growing up on a small tobacco farm in South Carolina. In the summer it was her job to remove tobacco that had been curing on sticks. 

"I was paid by the stick and there was a certain amount I was expected to do," she said. "Even as a 12-year-old, I about killed myself to make sure I exceeded those goals. It wasn't about the money — I think I was making 2 cents a stick."

That same perseverance has helped Hyatt grow the small nonprofit from an annual income of $17,000 in 2002, when she was hired, to $1.6 million today.

The Cathedral Arts Project started in Jacksonville in 1993 as a mission of St. John's Cathedral. The dean's wife had loved dance as a child and invited children from the nearby community center to after-school dance classes. Soon area principals began asking if the church could bring arts programs to their schools.

By 2000, demand had grown enough that Cathedral realized the program needed to operate as an independent nonprofit to remain viable. Two years later, Hyatt became its first executive director.

With degrees in political science and divinity, Hyatt had worked as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and an Episcopal pastor, but not as a nonprofit director and never in the arts.

She took part in a Community Coaches program, which offered mentoring with peers from other nonprofits. 

"There were other nonprofit board members and CEOs who were way more seasoned, and all but two of them said, 'You should just give up now,' because we were such as small nonprofit," Hyatt said, with a laugh.

"But two coaches said, 'No you can do this.' The fact that we stuck with this, made our case and built support within the community, to me that's a huge accomplishment."

Today, Cathedral Arts offers twice-a-week arts lessons to 1,200 students during the school year and 800 during the summer. Priority is given to schools where at least 62 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. 

"We help students who are below or near poverty," she said. "These are students whose parents could never afford private dance or violin lessons."

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