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Incubating Culture

By Michael Curet
Photos by Kate Gardiner

Build it and they will come.” That’s not just a famous movie line from the 1989 baseball classic, “Field of Dreams.” It also seems to be a perfect fit for the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach. It’s been 25 years since a handful of Ponte Vedra Beach community leaders, led by the late Rhoda McKean, gathered in 1992 to talk about a creation of a cultural center for residents of all ages to exhibit their art, take classes, music lessons, etc. Twentysix years later, it’s a thriving, dynamic part of the North Florida cultural community.

With 173 programs and 8,000 members on board, McKean’s brainchild is a reality — bigger and better than ever. A vivid reminder of her impact, her portrait hangs in the lobby of the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, which was established in 1994 and is currently just off A1A behind Al’s Pizza in the old Ponte Vedra post office building.

The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach is growing at such a rapid rate these days that plans are being discussed for the Center to eventually move to a more visible location in Ponte Vedra Beach and possibly building a new center that would double in size to about 15,000 square feet. There is no timetable for the expansion, according to Cultural Center Director of Development Donna Guzzo, but a feasibility study indicates that the need for such a move clearly exists.

“It’s very exciting,” said Guzzo, who brought a fund-raising background to the position when taking over in May 2017. “We interviewed about 50 key leaders in the community and feedback was very positive. People would like to see us stay here in Ponte Vedra but people want us to get bigger and better. We have outgrown our current location.”

Ponte Vedra Cultural Center

Looking into that potential new home, Guzzo envisions a building that would be able to host weddings or receptions, may include expansive studios, where artists can come and rent the space, a rooftop for parties, a ballet studio, coffee shop, and a lecture hall.

Still, the present location of the Cultural Center, which features about 8,000 square feet, continues to fill up its art exhibitions and sell out many art classes and summer camps. Individuals can become members of The Cultural Center for anywhere to $50 a year to $1000, and there are numerous corporate partners and larger donors. Even though it is a nonprofit, the center receives less than five-percent state or federal money.

“I don’t go asking for money,” said Guzzo, whose relatively small full-time staff of five people work tirelessly to carry out its mission. “It’s truly a cultivation of current relationships and relationship building. If we didn’t care about the donors, we wouldn’t have the Cultural Center.”

Members have access to numerous art workshops and classes, including pottery, theatre, drawing, sewing, lectures, dance, music, as well as children’s summer camps. There are as many as eight exhibitions annually featuring local and nationally-known artists. Outreach programs also exist for seniors with dementia and children with special needs in four St. Johns County elementary schools.

Donna Guzzo in her element

“This is a dream job,” said Guzzo. “We get booked a year in advance in many cases. I observed a lot when I came in and the one thing I absolutely loved when I came in is the art. I’m very proud of that and our director of programming brings artists in from all over the nation. Also, a lot of people think we’re just visual arts. However, through the years, other classes are added with the growth in our county and families in the area. There are now toddler ballet classes, and cello, piano and violin.”

Among the popular events on the busy calendar of The Cultural Center was the Holiday Shoppes event in November, held in 2017 at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall and including over 20 vendors from across the country. Guzzo says she began receiving calls for this event as early as July.

With the “Bag Lady Luncheon” at Sawgrass Country Club on February 21, and the “Love Your Mother ECO Fashion Show” in Marsh Landing on March 31, there is no slowdown on the horizon for Guzzo and her team.

Making dreams a reality. With all their success, you get the feeling if Guzzo and the rest of the people involved with the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra decided to build a ballfield by the center, we’d see Shoeless Joe at the plate once again too.