Arts and culture make for a vibrant community for local residents and visitors alike and that’s why Christina Parrish Stone, executive director of the St. Johns Cultural Council, sees expansion of the Art in Public Spaces program as a coup.
County commissioners on Jan. 21 approved Stone’s proposal to increase funding for the program which provides public access to free visual and performing arts in St. Augustine and the surrounding areas.
The expenditure is for $5,000 for the year, and another $5,000 for events related to the 200th anniversary of the founding of St. Johns County, which will allow for stipends for artists and matching funds for grants the council has submitted to supplement that funding.
While the dollar amount is not great, Stone said, it goes a long way toward helping defray the costs of artists who present here, including arts exhibitions at the county’s governmental building (which were put on hold last year due to COVID-19), as well as marketing those events.
Established in 2007, the Cultural Council serves as the designated local arts agency to program and promote arts and culture in the county. It also contributes toward destination marketing for cultural tourists and administers the county’s arts, culture and heritage grant programs.
At a presentation before county commissioners last Tuesday, Stone said: “The ultimate goal of all of this work is to ensure that St. Johns County’s cultural scene is thriving, because arts, culture and heritage is a huge economic driver with a tremendous impact on our quality of life.
Our visitors — who bring billions of dollars in revenue to local businesses each year, providing the source of income for many of our residents — tell us that they come, and keep coming back, to St. Johns County because of our rich cultural assets.”
Stone added that recent surveys conducted by county organizations find that residents and tourists are looking for more ways to engage with arts in the streets.
The only regular program the council sponsors is what used to be quarterly-annual exhibitions in the rotunda of the main governmental building within the county complex at 200 San Sebastian View, but those hours are limited to weekdays.
The series picks up with a mounted display by artists with the Art Box Gallery on King Street in St. Augustine on Feb. 16. But with the county’s approval to expand the Art in Public Spaces program, those hours will increase to weekends and evenings, beginning with an ambitious celebration of the arts the council is planning to commemorate the county’s 200th anniversary this summer.
Because of the short planning window, Stone said the council has chosen a photographic theme and will soon solicit proposals from local artists to showcase subjects related to significant places and events in county history.
The additional funding requested for that initiative will provide for guided tours; security for the building at off-peak hours; exhibition signage; paid performances by local musicians for exhibition receptions; among other things.
In addition, the St. Johns Cultural Council is seeking to expand the opportunities to present more performing arts, including live music, drama and readings, at public venues across the county.
Stone, who took over the leadership position with the council in December 2019, said she was focused on finding other ways to invest in cultural assets; for example, by exploring more public-private partnerships.
“We feel that this program must eventually grow beyond the walls of the county administration building, to include art in other public buildings, in our parks, and other public spaces,” said Stone.
In her interview with The Record Friday, Stone added, “It’s an investment we know will pay off.”