FWB's Enlightened Studios launches nonprofit to give free music lessons, video marketing

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Growing up, Cole Huffer was discouraged from making music his profession.

Keep it a hobby; don’t waste your time, he was told.

That’s why when Huffer opened Enlightened Studios in downtown Fort Walton Beach, he made it his mission to turn no artist away. And he hasn’t.

If they want to place to hang their artwork on the wall, a table to sign their book, a spot behind the microphone or a slot on the stage, Huffer gives it to them. That’s why the music venue and café/video and audio marketing studio stays so busy with everything from patio concerts to drag shows to even a meet-and-greet with pro wrestler Jeff Hardy, he said.

More on the studio:Enlightened Studios owner Cole Huffer can enlighten you on his vision for downtown Fort Walton Beach

Huffer wanted to apply the same open-minded principle to a nonprofit. He was recently approved to launch Enlightened Outreach Inc., a program that will offer free music instruction to the community and free video marketing for local small businesses.

“It just made sense to me that we were doing so many good things already, why not develop a way to do more and create the nonprofit to do so?” Huffer said. “Enlightened Outreach, the whole mission is to, through the generation of funding from not only grants but also charitable donations from the community, build up a pot that we can open the doors to the community and say, ‘Hey, free music instruction.’ So no more if you can't afford it or your parents don't want to do it for you. We're going to give you the instruction that you need to learn what it is that you want to learn.”

For more information and to donate visit, EnlightenedFWB.com/Enlightened-Outreach/.

Cole Huffer and Johnny Wise have started a nonprofit associated with Huffer's Enlightened Studios in downtown Fort Walton Beach to make free music lessons available for those who otherwise couldn't afford it.

Because of Huffer’s background booking shows at the venue and studying at Northwest Florida State College, he knows many performers who are also music teachers. The lessons won’t be limited to genre or instrument.

“As long as there's an instructor out there,” Huffer said. “I feel like when we open these doors to the community to say, ‘Hey, this is what we're offering,’ we'll probably never have no people on the list. There should always be people that want to take free music lessons.”

He thinks it will lead Enlightened Studios to host more performers and record more musicians. Many artists have already found a place there, he said.

“Because it's such a non-judgment zone with a lot of really, really just loving and supportive people, they have learned and they've played shows here,” Huffer said. “This is a great spot for first-timers who've never played in front of people to show up on our open mic and let loose. So I imagine it's gonna open a lot more doors.”

The concept will benefit instructors, too.

“The funding is going to go directly to the local musicians that are already seasoned, so it’s a win-win,” Huffer said. “We get to build up not only the current art and culture, but bring in a new wave of that as well by giving an opportunity.”

Related:Q&A: Santa Rosa Beach rock band Chat Holley talks quarantine, new EP 'Homegrown'

The second aspect of the nonprofit, which provides free video marketing to small local businesses has a similar “win-win” effect. Video ads can be expensive, Huffer said.

“It gives us the opportunity to not only help build that business up, but people like myself and other videographers and photographers and editors in the area get an opportunity to create this content, build their portfolio and get paid to do the work,” Huffer said. “I've seen how much video marketing has helped our business, and we have such great access to it because of our facility right here that to be able to offer that to any local business areas should only boost our economy.”

The third tier of the nonprofit is where Johnny Wise, a retired U.S. Army soldier, comes into play, Huffer said. They want the organization to incorporate music therapy.

Cole Huffer and Johnny Wise have started a nonprofit associated with Huffers Enlightened Studios to make free music lessons available for this you otherwise couldn't afford them.

Wise struggled with transitioning from military to civilian life.

“Lots of change going from this to this; 20 years ago I’d been very busy,” Wise said. “Compared to other generations, we've been a very busy, busy generation of soldiers and airmen, but just having some emotional struggle I didn't really know how to express or deal with.”

Wise found himself writing things down and singing. He later went to a music retreat for veterans and got to see firsthand how uniting people through music can work.

“They had some local songwriters and performers that were some level of professionalism,” Wise said. “I played and sang a couple of songs with the guy that I was lined up with. He was a good guitarist; we hung out. All the other attendees, they all just told their story and hung out together throughout the two days. It was really cool for everyone.”

Art therapy:Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation’s Warrior Arts program 'Not your classic art therapy'

Music and art therapy has grown in the last decade, he said.

“Music and art are two of the things that they have been giving at the TBI (traumatic brain injury) clinic for all kinds of different reasons, traditional combat-related,” Wise said. “That helps people just express and get that pent up, whatever it is that's keeping them up at night, get it out onto something else that they can talk about. Let it be behind and not in the future.”

Huffer thinks Wise’s insight will help others.

“To be able to take that, this walking true story of how music really can help heal and help you find an outlet to go from one lifestyle to another,” Huffer said. “This doesn’t just apply the military. It could be anybody who's just really gone through the trenches of life and have come out on the other side looking for something different.”

Cole Huffer, owner of The Sound Cafe + Enlightened Studios, sees great potential in downtown Fort Walton Beach.

Music and art are powerful tools, Huffer said.

He is excited to see Enlightened Outreach Inc. already listed in Facebook’s database of nonprofits to which people can donate to through social media. Because of it’s unique mission for art, music and philanthropy, he wasn’t even sure the nonprofit would be approved.

“It's a blessing to be a business wrapped around arts and music to still have survived a pandemic when there were so many businesses that didn't,” Huffer said. “We have the support. People want us to be here. We're doing a lot for the community. So yeah, this is gonna be a really, really fun and just a beautiful thing to introduce and to build up a lot of the local creatives and entrepreneurs in the area to really just make for all the more beautiful than it already is.

It's just got good vibes written all over it.”