CRESTVIEW — When local arts organizations extol the virtues of visual and performing arts in the community, it's easy to dismiss it as culture-vultures tooting their horns. However, when the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council praised the arts community's efforts to enhance the region's cultural life, community leaders took notice.
The Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 establishment of an Arts and Culture Committee, along with increasing outlets of creative expression, has ensured north county residents have cultural influence, which can mean improved quality of life.
During a Florida League of Cities workshop last year, Arts and Culture Committee Chairperson Rae Schwartz and former Crestview City Councilman Charles Baugh learned that businesses seeking a location or to relocate look at the community’s livability, which includes shopping, schools, sports and the arts.
Since its formation, the committee has worked to elevate the arts’ visibility, including having a presence at festivals and other community gatherings. It has welcomed local arts and cultural organizations into its fold, and is finalizing plans to have regional artists exhibit at monthly chamber of commerce breakfasts, generally attended by 200 or more business community leaders.
The community arts center
Through its outreach to the arts community, including offering free exhibition space for artworks, the Crestview Public Library has evolved into the community's de facto arts center. Bi-monthly rotating exhibits on the walls and in lobby display cases include local artists’ works and collections including vintage film posters and World War II artifacts from the Baker Block Museum.
The Music at the Library performance series presents local musicians, while monthly music and poetry jams allow fans to exercise their artistic passions. Regular creative events include children’s crafting classes. Manga art shows allow teens to express their creativity in the popular genre of Japanese comic book graphic art.
Nurturing young artists
Local schools fulfill a vital role in identifying kids’ inherent creative gifts and nurturing these skills. From elementary through high school, instruction in visual and performing arts broadens young minds and, educators say, sharpens their skills in subjects including mathematics and science.
Northwood Elementary School's recent conversion to an arts and sciences academy is a prime example. Its programs will prepare young artists for extended instruction at Davidson and Shoal River Middle Schools, from which they funnel to Crestview High School's state and nationally recognized choral and instrumental music, dramatic arts and visual arts programs.
Spring and fall theatrical productions and concerts by the 130-voice chorus and nearly 300-piece Big Red Machine band demonstrate area students’ performing arts capabilities. The visual arts department's annual spring art show at Crestview High School fills the school library for a week. The school's culinary arts program caters the opening reception.
A performance place
Gigi Allen, whose husband Bob was, at the time, a Crestview City Councilman, formed the Friends of the Arts under the less fancy name of simply “the piano committee.” It would find and procure, at no expense to Crestview taxpayers, a grand piano for Warriors Hall, the auditorium in the then newly acquired Whitehurst Municipal Building.
The piano committee shifted gears, and established a fund to maintain the instrument, still at no cost to taxpayers. The committee chose as its new moniker the Friends of the Arts, indicative of its broad scope of artistic interests, including the addition of a theatrical chair. The Friends’ mission has expanded beyond the piano to include enhancing the hall. Goals include securing funding for theatrical lighting and constructing a backstage area with dressing and green rooms.
Contact News Bulletin Arts & Entertainment Editor Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.