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The Heart of It All in Greater Daytona, FL

Investment in the arts makes the region a better and brighter place to live.

By Cheryl Rodewig on May 2, 2023

Nathan Lambrecht

In Greater Daytona, you can start the day catching waves and end it catching a live opera performance.

While the sun and surf culture you may already know, the art scene is just as vibrant. In Volusia County, there are at least eight theaters, a planetarium, more than 30 museums and dozens of art galleries, all serving a population of over 564,000, plus the travelers who pass through the area — close to 10 million a year. But unlike the all-season warm weather and the 47 miles of coastline, the arts don’t just happen. It takes an intentional effort to foster culture in the community, and that’s where Greater Daytona shines.

Growing the Art Scene

When it comes to bolstering the arts, the region supports its own. Case in point is the Cultural Council of Volusia County. Through Community Cultural Grants awarded to over 30 nonprofits every year, the council empowers local visionaries to advance their missions, whether that’s classical ballet, art therapy for veterans or African American heritage.

“Volusia County awards over $600,000 to support and sustain our cultural arts organizations annually,” says Nancy Maddox, council chair. “The programs they offer improve public education for all ages and enhance our community and its quality of life.”

The Gateway Center for the Arts, for example, funded their building in part through the grant. Today, the center is a multidisciplinary powerhouse, featuring a theater, a gallery, pottery kilns and classrooms. On any given day, the center might host jewelry-making, improv comedy, yoga or acrylic pours, and the cultural grants help make all of that possible, says Terri Hoag, executive director.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA), another grant recipient, focuses on outreach, such as hosting monthly art talks, sponsoring a high school exhibition, using art to help kids cope with stress and teaching the public about environmental stewardship.

“This support means we can offer over 250 outward-facing programs free to the entire community. That includes our artist residency program, which attracts the ‘who’s who’ of the contemporary art world and gives locals the chance to meet and talk to internationally renowned artists, including Pulitzer, Grammy and Oscar award winners.”

ACA Executive Director Nancy Lowden Norman

A Return on Investment

Over the decades, this investment has more than paid off in economic development. The grants help finance three of the region’s largest festivals — the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts, the Halifax Art Festival and IMAGES: A Festival of the Arts, each drawing over 50,000 attendees.

“Visitors will make a weekend of it, staying in hotels, dining at restaurants, shopping and supporting local artists,” Maddox says. “Same when we have a performance at the Peabody. People will come. They’ll go to dinner. And they’ll want to come back.”

Beyond tourism, there’s the draw for relocation, both for people moving to the region to be part of a culturally rich community and companies that locate here for the same reason, Maddox says.

And there are the jobs created, many of which go to artists themselves. The Gateway Center, for one, uses the grants to hire artists and art teachers as instructors for their camps, serving hundreds of kids every summer.

Then there are the things you can’t measure in dollars and cents. Maddox says it’s about bringing together people of diverse backgrounds in one place.

Lowden Norman points to the volunteer connections and the importance of nurturing emerging artists. Hoag, an artist herself, says it’s something special about Greater Daytona. She still remembers being new to the region 20 years ago, when a neighbor introduced her to the art league that would later become the Gateway Center.

“That day, I realized the strength and possibility of the arts here. I quickly met many artists with the same goal – bringing arts to the community,” Hoag recalls. “It’s this beautiful combination of the community and the arts and the kindness that’s here. It continues to be the joy on the children’s faces, the opportunities that people get to have that they would not be having. I do believe it makes an impact forever.”

Art from the Museum of Arts & Sciences
Museum of Arts & Sciences

Artful Impact

Speaking of impact, the arts and culture industry is an important economic driver in communities throughout the United States. It is a growth sector that supports jobs, generates government revenue and is a cornerstone of tourism.

For that reason, the Cultural Council of Volusia County has commissioned Stetson University to compile an Economic Impact Study of the Arts in Volusia County, and the report is set to be released in the spring of 2023. Once the information is available to the public, the link will be posted on the Team Volusia website at teamvolusiaedc.com.

The county is already a major advocate of the arts. For example, since 1990, Volusia County has backed an Art in Public Places program that allocates 0.5% of the money from all county capital construction projects to be set aside to acquire artwork for permanent display. To date, more than $1 million has been appropriated to purchase 200+ pieces of art located in cities and towns throughout the region.

In addition, there are several museums that are popular among residents and visitors to the Greater Daytona area. Top museums include the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand, Southeast Museum of Photography on the campus of Daytona State College, ArtHaus in Port Orange, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America at the Daytona International Speedway and the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach.

“Jobs created by area arts and culture industries help to promote economic development and to keep our economy strong and growing,” says Kelly Ferguson, chair for the Cultural Council of Volusia County. “Most importantly, arts, culture and heritage programming ensure a rich and vibrant quality of life for our citizens.”

Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.

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