Marking its 50th anniversary of advocating for the arts and artists in Northeast Florida, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville presented its 2023 Arts Awards on Sept. 21 at a reception at Venue 841 on the Downtown Southbank.
“In a city like ours that is bursting at the seams with creative talent, support for the arts is paramount to our quality of life, not just this evening, but year-round,” said Melissa Ross, city Director of Strategic Initiatives in Mayor Donna Deegan’s office, at the ceremony.
Ross said that decades ago, Jacksonville was known as the leading arts city in the South and the motion picture industry’s winter home before the movie business moved to Los Angeles.
“Yet somehow, we got away from that city– and communitywide support. We’ve become a donor city when it comes to our talented artists and we must do better by them,” Ross said.
“We are hard at work to change those facts.”
Ross said Deegan’s budget calls for the Cultural Council to be funded with $8.25 million, a $3 million increase. She said the mayor’s Arts, Culture and Entertainment Transition Committee has come up with ideas and policies to further arts, culture and entertainment in Jacksonville.
A panel of volunteers including Cultural Council board members, former winners, artists and community representatives, chose the winners.
• Toni Smailagic, owner of Cre8Jax and Cre8Jax.com, received the Helen Lane Founders Award, which honors a leader who integrates arts and culture into everyday life within the community.
• The Robert Arleigh White Award For Advocacy, which honors an individual who fosters an environment of educating and learning of the benefits of the arts, was presented to Mari Kuraishi, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.
• The 2023 Art Innovator is Adam Madrid, director of LOL Jax Film Festival and an editor with PRI Productions. The award honors an individual who creates new and innovative ideas to benefit the community.
• The Art Educator Award, which honors a person who demonstrates dedication to enriching their students with a passion for the arts, was presented to Laura Hammock, a first-grade teacher at Pine Forest Elementary School.
• Art of Giving, which honors an individual or couple who steward their resources to fund and sustain arts and culture programs, was presented to philanthropists Richard and Kimberly Sisisky.
• The Community Impact Award honors an individual or organization with a record of visible transformational results that are evident within their community and a commitment to impacting others’ lives.
The 2023 recipient is Rethreaded Inc., a nonprofit that helps victims of human trafficking change their lives through counseling, developing job skills and employment.
The business community’s support of the arts also was recognized this year.
• Indigo Art Therapy Studio in San Marco was chosen as the Small Business of the Year, an award that honors an organization that has fewer than 250 employees and gives support to arts and cultural programs and organizations despite its size.
• The 2023 Corporate Business of the Year is Miller Electric Co. The award honors a business that is dedicated to supporting arts and cultural programs and organizations.
“It is critically important for corporations to help activate the arts. Miller Electric is a trailblazer in how corporations can set the standards,” Diana Donovan, Cultural Council executive director, said Sept. 18.
She said the company was chosen in recognition of its support of arts organizations including The Cathedral Arts Project, the Jacksonville Historical Society, the Florida Theatre, the Museum of Science & History and others.
“Big companies value the arts and see it as essential. The arts help feed the heart and soul and that helps feed the bottom line,” Donovan said.
Also, VyStar Credit Union and North Florida School of Special Education received Community Highlight recognition to celebrate their investment in cultural infrastructure, quality of life and Downtown creative economic impact.
VyStar was chosen for its investment in the infrastructure of Jacksonville Children’s Chorus’ new home in Downtown Jacksonville. The school was chosen because of its investment into arts programming for our local children with special needs.
According to the Cultural Council, arts organizations supported by grants awarded by the state and the city through the Cultural Council had an economic impact of $103,827,082 last year, a 13.3% increase over the previous year.
In 2022, 9,000 performances and events were supported by the city and more than 3,000 local artists participated through programming, exhibitions and educational programs.
More than 1,000 jobs are supported by the arts and culture sector and more than 3,300 vendors and small businesses support events and programming.