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Monday, August 16, 2010

Commentary by Lee McDonald

In reading an article in the Ponte Vedra Recorder today I was struck by a gallery closing that concerns me. To be sure, over the past two years fine galleries in many communities known as thriving cultural centers such as, Sarasota, Miami, Naples, New York, Atlanta and San Francisco have closed. However, this closing in Jacksonville Beach troubled me for several reasons. Loss of the Eclectic Gallery is followed by a growing recognition of the integrity and business acumen of the owners, their relationship with the community and artist partners. This is yet another demonstration of a besetting issue in Northeast Florida that culturally we have a large population who do not value nor support the arts, that elected leadership reflects that value, and that there is little movement towards a positive change in greater support of arts and arts education in Jacksonville.
Yesterday in a conversation with a professional in the cultural community, someone said that they had a feeling that we "live in an educational and cultural dessert". Of course those of us interested in a healthy community continue to volunteer, work, and search out those sub-groups in the community which seem to resonate with our value of the arts and expanded cultural development in Jacksonville.
The article is unusual in that it announces both the closing of the gallery, and a growing number of regional and national awards this gallery has been nominated to receive. The statement on the closing simply underscores the gallery moving "out of state". Eclectic Gallery was nominated for thirteen such awards in four years and received the top retailer Award in 2008. This award is the premier award in the American Craft Industry and is based on nominations from leading professionals in fine arts throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Near and dear to my heart is the professional ethics in a troubled time that Eclectic Gallery maintained. Such as honoring contracts, promoting cultural developments in the community, and educating the public and artists in better understanding of the best in regional and national arts.
We could simply write this closing off as another casualty of the recession, but I fear that there is more here than first meets the eye. It is yet another indication that those who favor greater cultural development in Jacksonville have more work cut out for them than they may still know. Smaller communities across the nation with less revenue, and smaller per capital incomes create and sustain thriving cultural regions for their citizens. I continue to watch as elected leaders in our community make bad choices for allocation of funding. One such decision was this weeks school board decision in a vote of four to three to alter contractual relationships with teachers. Ironically this is done at a time when opposite actions are taking place in St. Johns county and throughout the rest of the state. Our regional School Board is the only one to take such action in this period and it reflects poorly on our community in how we value educators, professionals, and cultural development. (Not to mention the intent of Contractual obligations and the reason law exists in ordering a society.) I have lived in this area since 1989 and I have watched the continued decline of funding for the arts, arts education and public education. I've also seen incredible volunteers and private gifts and organizations continue to try to pick up the SLACK of our elected leaders. However, we are exhausting those alternative sources of good will and community activism.
I do not relish sounding as negative as this might to some of you, however, I am genuinely concerned about the future of our community. It does not mean I will abandon putting that preverbal "shoulder to the wheel and pushing" forward even when it appears some of us are going uphill against those who do not favor cultural development of the region and seem to have, at least historically, the downhill advantage. I not only believe, but know that the arts and cultural development for the city is critical for the economic development of the area. It is a proven fact that communities who publicly fund and support the arts in their cities receive far more, not just in enrichment, but in demonstrated dollars, as a direct result of the cultural impacts in a region.
It is also distressing to continue to see flagrant touting of a pseudo elitism that does not foster good relationships within the community such as was pictured on the front page of the local paper this morning, i.e., members of the City Council and entertainment activities with the local sports industry. There are those of us in the community that can support athletic events and a thriving culture that includes, music, dance, drama, visual arts, and literary expression.
On September 14 there will be a meeting in Jacksonville. . .the Cultural Summit sponsored by the Florida Department of State. I hope you will each take the online Cultural Summit Survey and let your opinions be known. Know where your elected leadership stand both ethically and in what they value about public funding of culturally significant issues and education in the community.

Continue to support those local businesses that share your value of the arts. Remember when you spend dollars with locally owned business the larger part of that dollar stays in the community in which you live. Consider those running for election for the local School Board and other important areas of the community that control the purse strings of the community. When there values differ from yours, choose another candidate and be sure and tell your friends why.
Lee McDonald

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