Cultural Contributions

Awards celebrate support for arts and culture in Jacksonville


The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s 2023 Arts Awards ceremony was festive and high-spirited, but LOL JAX Film Festival creator Adam Madrid stole the show with his energetic acceptance speech, concluding it with a hearty “Duuuval!”

The Sept. 21 event, hosted by the council in partnership with Downtown Vision Inc., honored eight individuals, businesses and artists for their contributions to the cultural community. The festivities were held at Venue 841 on the Southbank of the St. Johns River.

This was the 46th annual celebration of the arts for the regranting agency currently marking its 50th anniversary.

“A city like ours is bursting at the seams with creative talent, so support for the arts is so important to our quality of life,” said Melissa Ross, director of strategic initiatives and liaison to the press for the Jacksonville Office of the Mayor.

In fact, the city has demonstrated its commitment to culture by allocating an increase in funding. City Council member Terrance Freeman told the assembly that Jacksonville will fund the Cultural Council at $9 million during the coming fiscal year, a 50% increase over last year.

This year’s winners received an award created by sculptor Aisling Millar McDonald and were honored in a poem written and read by Taryn “LoveReigns” Wharwood.

Here’s a look at the award winners:

Helen Lane Founders Award

This award goes to someone who demonstrates commitment, sets an example and advocates for inclusion of arts and culture into everyday life. The winner was Toni Smailagic, creator of Cre8jax, which highlights arts and culture in the city with an emphasis on the urban core.

Art of Giving Award

This award goes to someone who stewards their resources to fund, support and sustain arts and culture programs, among other things. The winners were Richard and Kimberly Sisisky, who in 2018 gifted an outdoor sculpture made from a solid block of red granite titled “The Circle” to Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Art Educator Award

This award goes to a teacher who, among other things, uses the arts as a vehicle to educate, incorporates the arts into teaching methods and uses the arts to develop students’ other skills. The winner was Laura Hammock, who has been an educator for 25 years at Pine Forest School of the Arts.

Corporate Business of the Year Award

This award goes to a business with more than 250 employees that supports arts and cultural programs and organizations, among other things. The winner was Miller Electric, which financially supports The Cathedral Arts Project, Jacksonville Historical Society, The Florida Theatre, MOSH, Downtown Vision Alliance and more.

Small Business of the Year Award

This award goes to a business with fewer than 250 employees that supports arts and cultural programs and organizations, among other things. The winner was Indigo Art Therapy Studio, which is dedicated to making the healing power of art safe and accessible.

Robert Arleigh White Award

This award recognizes those who build and maintain relationships with the public, business leaders and elected officials to benefit the arts and culture community and advocate on its behalf. Mari Kuraishi, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, accepted the award. The fund works with local donors and the city to seed and support arts and cultural initiatives.

Art Innovator Award

This award goes to someone who creates new and innovative ideas to benefit the community and infuses them into the arts and culture sector, among other things. The winner was Madrid whose festival allows people to showcase their skills. His film company, Argyle Forest Films, used local actors, actresses, cinematographers, musicians and others in producing his first feature film, “Let Me Be Corey,” which is set to be released soon.

Community Impact Award

This award goes to someone with a record of visible transformational results and measurable community impacts. Recognizing the “Reclaiming the Light: A Survivor’s Journey” art installation, it went to the Molly Curry Educational Art Legacy Project, the mosaic art team RouxArt, muralist Nico and Rethreaded, whose Delores Barr Weaver Campus of Hope serves as the location for the piece.

In addition, the 2023 Arts Awards shined its community spotlight on the North Florida School of Special Education and VyStar Credit Union. These two organizations have invested in cultural programs and infrastructure, quality of life and creative impact downtown and throughout the greater Jacksonville area.