Doreen O’Toole is the education director at the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.
FOR HOW LONG?
Since April 15.
WHAT DO YOU DO AS DIRECTOR?
“I put together educational programs to take into the community. The No Child Left Behind Act states art should be a core subject but when it trickles down, the states must support that and it is implemented on a local level by the school system. Who can make that happen is the parents. Part of our job as the Cultural Council is to educate people on the impact of the arts.”
WHAT VALUE DO YOU
ATTRIBUTE TO ARTS INSTRUCTION?
“The arts are part of any community; it is part of the world’s culture. It is as important as science, just in a different way. Art reflects the biography and history of a community and should not be ignored. Scientific studies show the impact of art on the learning experience of children. With art, we can reach students that otherwise could not be reached, reach students in ways they are otherwise not being reached, connect students to themselves and each other, transform the environment for learning, provide learning opportunities for adults in the lives of young people and connect learning experiences to the world of work. They’ve learned that if a child is engaged in the arts, their SAT and FCAT scores are higher. Visual arts teach cognitive capacity, content and organization of writing, sophisticated reading skills, interpretation of text, reading readiness, music cognitive development, spatial-temporal reasoning, mathematic proficiency. It’s a fact. It changes learning for youngsters and has a profound impact on how accepting they are of other people. It removes preconceived stereotypes.”
WHERE ELSE HAVE YOU WORKED?
“I was at WJCT for seven and a half years, the last three of which I was the education manager. I spent 10 years at different chambers of commerce in Jacksonville, Providence, Daytona and Flagler. Then I got into the educational component at Junior Achievement.” Her first real job after graduating from school was in journalism, working for the Florida Times-Union.
WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT PROJECTS?
Art in Jail is a program that allows young inmates to release their emotions in a creative and positive way. The Cultural Council has applied for a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts for the program. Enlisting the aid of local artists, juvenile delinquents will write poetry, keep journals and snap photographs to chronicle their experiences. They will set up a website to post their work. Other initiatives include Arts: Ask for More and guitar lessons for Inside/Outside, a transitional home for delinquents moving back into society. “Ask for More was originally put together by Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. We want to educate parents, educators, school board members and elected officials on what the arts can do in a child’s life. It’s not just fun; it’s got great value.”
WHAT ARE YOUR OBJECTIVES?
“My personal goal is to develop programs for senior citizens and I’m not talking about arts and crafts at a nursing home. It’s good therapy for the elderly. For them, it will be an opportunity to hear great music, maybe paint pictures. Seniors are often forgotten but they have a lot to contribute because of their history. I also want to pull other art organizations together so we are unified and the community receives focused educational opportunities. I’ve met with the educational directors at the other cultural organizations in town — the Cummer, River City Band, MOSH. One of the things we’ve all talked about is that a lot of us are duplicating work. We all want to meet regularly to come up with varied methods. If the Cummer is doing an exhibit on a certain period, is there something the River City Band can tack onto that musically so the children would get a more comprehensive look at that time? They want to do educational outreach in schools. That can be done without any of the organizations losing their identity.”
WHAT’S REWARDING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
“I get to preach about how wonderful art is. When I was at the jail listening to those young men read, they were very passionate. You see it is touching somebody. The arts can bring people together. I think instead of sending soldiers into countries, we should swap artists to teach us about each other.”
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE?
“Getting people to understand that the arts is not just pretty stuff. I don’t think the average person is educated enough about art to know that it’s not just fluff. The challenge in every community is that the arts are not available to everyone. Low income families can’t afford to go to the symphony or the Cummer. I would love to see us develop art centers. Go to the Northside. There’s a lot of history on the Northside. Imagine the art that could come from that. On the Westside, there is a large Filipino population. They have a lot to bring to the table. The Southside has a lot of Baltic refugees. If we bring all these groups together, it would be so enriching. I would like to breathe that to life.”
WHAT DOES THE LOCAL ART
COMMUNITY NEED MOST?
“Support, not just financially. There is so much that goes on artistically in this town that is not well-known. People are not aware of all we have here.”
THE TIES THAT BIND
O’Toole is married to Mick O’Toole. They reside on the Westside.
O’Toole likes cooking (she claims to own 150 cookbooks), gardening and collecting poetry. She also enjoys reading novels by Gail Godwin, tuning into the Home & Garden Channel or watching a good love story.
WHO’S YOUR HERO?
“Jimmy Carter. He’s one of the greatest humanitarians of the 21st Century.”
— by Monica Chamness