Art & Culture Day Dispatch

Dave Reynolds
December 18, 2012



By Dave Renolds

In today's session, the Leadership Palm Beach County Class of 2013, aka the “Greatest Class that Ever Was or Is Currently or Ever Will Be for the Remainder of Recorded Time,” spent the day gaining a better appreciation for the role that the Arts and Culture play within Palm Beach County. Below is a time line highlighting some of the key events of the day, starting at 8:00am:

8:00: This year's class descends upon Lake Worth, or more specifically, the home of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, located at 601 Lake Avenue. If you're not familiar with the location, it's that big white building sitting a stone’s throw away from one of downtown Lake Worth's other noteworthy landmarks, Dave's Last Resort and Raw Bar.

8:05: First things first: breakfast is served. More specifically, breakfast burritos, fresh fruit, and coffee from of TooJays Gourmet Deli. Cultural Council, I like where your head’s at.

8:20: The class is introduced to its first speaker, Rena Blades, President and CEO of the Cultural Council. For the uninitiated, the Cultural Council is a 35 year old organization founded by Alex Dreyfoos that serves as the official agency for arts and cultural development within the county. The council is responsible for things like creating a calendar of cultural events for the year, coordinating and marketing those events, and distributing government grant money to nonprofit organizations dedicated to the arts. It has 15 employees.

8:37: For those of you counting at home, the arts represent a $250 MILLION per year industry within the county (at least, the portion that is nonprofit based), and the sector has grown by 20% over the past 5 years alone. Combine that with other third party art interests (art galleries, studios, etc.) and you begin to see the enormous impact art has on our communities. The Cultural Council is sort of like the backbone of the art world here in the county – part cheerleader, part promoter, part financial supporter. I can tell that Rena takes a lot of pride in the Council’s work and its heavy influence on the arts here in Palm Beach County. Bravo.

8:40: Morning activity: complete a budget for a hypothetical nonprofit corporation. As she provides the answers to the exercise, Rena explains that most arts organizations do not receive large donations from area corporations – rather, most donations come from a handful of large individual donors and foundations. Other funding sources typically include government grants, an endowment, ticket sales, camps and classes, and income from renting out space to host events.

8:45: Following Rena's speech, we are led on a brief tour of the Cultural Council's art gallery, which features many artists unique to South Florida. The museum and building, itself, was recently renovated after being acquired from the Montgomery family in 2009. The museum's walls are all-white, floor-to-ceiling, suggesting that the Cultural Council has an enormous paint budget to play with.

8:47: During the tour Rena takes a moment to point out an X-rated brass sculpture of Jack and Jill on display. Her stab at adolescent humor is not lost with this crowd.

9:00: Bus trip to West Palm Beach. I sit next to one of our videographers for the day, Sal. Sal is from New Jersey, graduated from Full Sail, and now lives in Miami. He splits his time between jobs at New Epic Media in West Palm Beach, a Japanese firm, as well as his own production company. Seems like a pretty good guy, Sal.

9:37: In the second leg of our morning, the bus drops us off at Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach. For the unfamiliar, the Dramaworks building is located on the eastern end of Clematis Street, smack dab between Pizza Luna and World of Beer. Jason and I joke that we’ve probably each walked past this building hundreds of times, but never ventured inside it until today. Welcome to Leadership!  

9:38: The class is introduced to Sue Ellen Beryl, the Managing Director of Palm Beach Dramaworks. For the unfamiliar, Dramaworks is a 13 year old not-for-profit theatre company that engages and entertains audiences through a seasonal rotation of live theatre productions. Dramaworks recently moved into its newer, roomier, renovated digs on Clematis St. from its original location on Banyan Blvd. As Sue Ellen details the alterations her organization made to the facility, you can tell that this woman has a real passion for performance art. Plenty of thought went behind every one of the building’s design features in order to enhance the patron’s experience – much, I gather, from her own vision.

9:43: We tour the facility's theatre, which features 218 red seat-backed chairs and curves around an enormous stage. The current cast at Dramaworks is busy performing “A Delicate Balance,” a work by Edward Albee. Performances run through January 6 (according to Dramaworks' website).

9:45: A handful of us sneak off to inspect the ladies' dressing room. Inside, I uncover a couch, a fridge, a cot, and lots of makeup, mirrors, and lights (about what you would expect to find in a dressing room). I fail to turn up any evidence of a throng of talkative, half naked, beautiful actresses. Damn you, Hollywood!!!

9:48: Back on stage, we receive more bad news. “See those liquor bottles set atop the stage's minibar? Full of colored water, not actual liquor,” Sue Ellen kindly explains as she guides us through the set. Wes, JD, and I share a collective cry as we exit the stage.

10:03: The last leg of the tour takes us upstairs to the Theatre's “Rehearsal Room.” The room features a wall of mirrors. Sue Ellen goes into detail explaining some of the inner-workings of Dramaworks, including how they recruit staff and performers. When possible, local performers are favored over out-of-staters. Besides donations, much of Dramaworks’ funding is generated from is 4300 subscribers, as well as event ticket sales. That’s a lot of local support! She also points out that Dramaworks is in the third stage of a capital campaign – seats in its theatre can currently be purchased for $5,000 apiece. I resist the urge to pass a hat.

10:23: Back outside, waiting for the bus. The day's forecast called for mostly cloudy skies with a high of around 80. I spot a few clouds, but thankfully no rain.

10.32 We climb aboard the bus. Next stop: the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jupiter. I take a seat in the fourth row, next to Becky Macaluso. She comments on Dramaworks’ theatre seating, which appears to wrap around the stage, “It really makes you feel like you’re a part of the play!” I agree. In fact, I agree so much that I ask her to slow down and repeat that comment so that I can scribble it onto my notepad.

11:02: Thirty minutes later, our bus driver wheels us into a parking lot right in front of the Thirsty Turtle in Jupiter. My heart skips a beat, as this is quite possibly THE MOST AWESOME WRONG TURN EVER!!!

11:03: Alas, the bus driver maneuvers us through a side exit in the parking lot and we continue on to the MarineLife Center. “Wrong turn, folks!” Goodbye cold beer, hot wings, friendly bartenders…

11:04: Back on track, we arrive at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

11:09: The class is guided to a large meeting room and introduced to Deborah Jaffe. Deb serves as the Center’s Director of Development, managing both marketing and fundraising efforts. As she gives us the history of the center, I note that her smile never leaves her face. The woman must really love what she does. 

11:15: Did you know that the Center is 29 years old, and was the brainchild of Eleanor Fletcher? The facility covers 12,000 square feet, and features educational exhibits, sea turtle holding tanks, a treatment facility for sick and injured turtles, meeting space, and a gift shop. The facility is FREE to the public, and focuses on three core competencies: Education, Research, and Rehab. It hosted 215,000 visitors just last year alone.

11:34: We head off on a brief tour of the Center’s interactive exhibits. Did you know that there are seven species of sea turtles in the wild, and that FIVE  of those species nest on the beaches of Southeast Florida? They include the Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley varieties.

11:50: After a quick stroll outside, we are introduced to the Center’s sea turtle guests, all of whom are held in their individual holding tanks: Pandora, Ellie, Snowflake, Sinkey, Kahuna, Donovan, JP, Boomer, Frosty, Binx, Stella, and Nigel.  All residents are wild turtles that are receiving temporary treatment at the Center for injuries they received in the wild. Camera phones are out in force!

11:45: One note to our Leadership class: the Center will be selling tickets to its June and July Beach Tours starting on May 1. They offer the opportunity for a unique, up-close encounter with real nesting sea turtles on the beach immediately behind the Center. Each class is limited to 25 people and starts at 9pm. Deb suggests purchasing tickets for a weeknight excursion, as the lack of beach/boat traffic during the week is more accommodating to the turtles. There were only five classes last season (over a two month period) when classes didn’t see nesting turtles. How cool is that?!

11:50: Back in our meeting room, lunch is served. On the menu: Cuban sandwiches and salads, with a pair of cookie plates placed at each table. Lunch tastes excellent. I return to help myself to a second sandwich, and I’m not sorry about it.

12:45: Our afternoon activity, the Festival of Festivals, features a series of 16 booths spread around a small conference room at the Center. At each table, representatives from a different county cultural festival pass out info and answer questions.

1:00: Among the highlights, a gentleman named Miles Coon raps to me about the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, held January 22-26 at Old School Square in Delray Beach. Pulitzer Prize winners, workshops, performances, US Poet Laureates – it’ll all be there. Thousands will attend the nine year old conference, and 90% of its guests travel from out of town.

1:50: Back on the bus, we head off to our last stop, the Loxahatchee River Historical Society and Jupiter Lighthouse. I take a seat next to Patricia. As much of the class is aware, Patricia is a self-professed DIE. HARD. SPORTS. FANATIC. As I quickly learn, the woman loves her some Buffalo Bills and Miami Heat. At one time she even had Heat season tickets (“Before they got Bosh.”). She recounts a story to me in which she met NBA player Rasheed Wallace at a Cheesecake Factory in Las Vegas. Pretty sure I’ve made a new best friend…

2:15: We arrive at our last stop of the day, the Loxahatchee River Historical Society and Jupiter Lighthouse. We are greeted by Jamie Stuve, who has served for 11 years as the President and Executive Director of the LRHS.

2:20: Jamie leads us on a small hike to a hill at the base of the Jupiter Lighthouse. We chomp on some Kashi bars and take several group photos under an enormous banyan tree, which she explains was planted in 1937 by Roy Rood of Rood Landscaping fame. The lighthouse, itself, was commissioned to be built in 1853 and was first lit in 1860. Jamie shoots off historical facts about the lighthouse at a rapid-fire pace (much more quickly than this reporter can write down). The woman is spilling knowledge, and as she details the Society’s future plans for this property, it quickly becomes apparent that she really enjoys playing a part in preserving its history. She explains that the lighthouse and its surrounding environs are a true national monument, and that we are fortunate to have them here in our backyard. Cool lady.

2:30: From the tree, the class splits off into two tour groups. My team marches off into the scrubby, deforested piece of land located just behind the lighthouse on the Jupiter Inlet. Our tour guide, Steve Kruspe, explains that this particular piece of land where the Loxahatchee and Indian Rivers meets has been occupied by humans for over 5,000 years. As a result, it carries with it a significant historic and archaeological significance (It’s chock-full of artifacts!!!). A major part of Steve’s work involves preserving this natural wonder. That includes protecting it from erosion. Steve’s team does this by chopping down and removing the invasive plant life in the area (Australian Pine, Mother in Law Tongue, Brazilian Pepper) and re-introducing the more native flora (Wild Coffee, Palmetto, Gumbo Limbo, Live Oak, and Sabal Palm). By restoring this area back to its natural habitat, natural fauna will return, erosion of the area’s natural dunes will be slowed, and a piece of land of tremendous cultural significance will be restored and preserved for future generations of Palm Beach County to enjoy.

3:15: Switching gears, our tour group hikes off to climb the Jupiter Lighthouse. The tower itself scales 108 feet, and rests atop a 46-foot hill serving as its base. As one of our tour guides reminds us, our ascent includes 34 steps to the base of the lighthouse, plus an additional 105 to the observation deck. No turning back!

3:20: Slightly winded, our group reaches the summit.

3:21: That.

3:21: View.

3:21: WOW!

3.23: From our perch high above Jupiter, our guide is quick to point out the major landmarks below us. Twenty miles to our south, the buildings of downtown West Palm Beach rise in the distance. Camera phones click approvingly. He also motions down below to the banks of the Loxahatchee River, where the Square Grouper Tiki Bar sits in momentary silence. The calm before the five o’clock storm.

3:58: Our tour of the property concludes with a brief stop at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum Gift Shop. One of the friendly shop associates hands us all a parting gift bag, which includes a pictorial history of the Jupiter Lighthouse. A few class members sneak in some early holiday shopping. Wes lowers his voice and announces that the shop sells “Some of the best hot sauce anywhere.” Eric concurs.

4:25: Back on the bus, a bit fatigued, we head back for Lake Worth.

5:22: Arriving back where we started, all classmates are invited to stick around and participate in the Leadership Plus event at the Cultural Council. The event features complementary food, drinks, and networking.

5:24: A well-deserved hat tip to our bus driver, David Fuller, as we exit the bus. He was extremely friendly, generous with the bottled water after every stop, and an all-around professional. The guy was in his element all day and it showed.

On our Art and Culture Day, the Leadership Class of 2013 visited the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach Dramaworks, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and the Loxahatchee River Historical Society.

Special thanks is due to all of the talented individuals involved with the arts that we met with throughout the day. Your contributions make Palm Beach County a much more rich place to live, to work, and to play.