Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts features award winners, news and live sculpting


As Beethoven’s 5th Symphony built to its thunderous conclusion Sunday, May 7, during the fourth annual Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts, master sculptor Peter Rubino put the final touches on a large clay bust of the famous composer that he created live as attendees looked on.

The performance was the entertainment centerpiece of the event, which also included a dinner, silent auction and award presentation.

Each year, the First Coast Cultural Center presents the celebration to recognize individuals, businesses and organizations who have made a significant impact on the arts in the community. It’s also a fundraiser for the center’s educational programs.

This year, the well-attended event was held at Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant, 691 1st St. North, Jacksonville Beach.

Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach resident, served as this year’s honorary chair, and Jacksonville City Council Member Ken Amaro was emcee. Amaro was an investigative reporter with First Coast News until his retirement. Area residents will remember his “On Your Side” reports.

The event being a celebration of the arts, artwork is always created live onsite during the evening.

This year, Katherine Weaver did an oil painting of a chrysalis based on an image that she took.

“I’ve loved art since I was a really little kid,” she said, adding that she is taking an oil-painting class at the University of North Florida, where she is an art minor. “I definitely enjoy it.”

Clay Composition

Rubino described his portion of the program as a “live, extreme-sculpting presentation, choreographed to music.”

“This is something I originated 30 years ago, and I’m still doing it,” he said.

Clay is his medium of choice, and he usually casts his finished work in bronze. Clay was also the medium during his presentation Sunday, and the resulting sculpture — rendered complete in mere minutes — was a hit with attendees, who watched as a formless lump became a flawless image of Beethoven.

Rubino is internationally known for his 12-foot bronze monument, “Mother of All Life,” commissioned for the Boyko Research Center in Beer Sheva, Israel, and a 35-foot-tall sculpture, “Archangel,” created for Disney International.

He specializes in figure and larger-than-life portrait sculptures. He’s also an author, having written two successful books: “The Portrait in Clay” and “Sculpting the Figure in Clay.”

He has exhibited his work and taught sculpture workshops throughout the U.S. and Italy for more than 50 years. In addition, he’s very active with nonprofits and teaches veterans and those who are visually impaired.

Future Plans

During her address, center President and CEO Donna Guzzo gave attendees an update on the organization’s moves to acquire a new home.

When the center found it’s former Ponte Vedra Beach site inadequate for its needs, it moved to 3972 Third St., Jacksonville Beach, in January 2021. The plan even then was to eventually return to Ponte Vedra.

Guzzo said Sunday that the center had $1.5 million in donations and pledges toward a downpayment on its new home, a $2.2 million property on Sawgrass Village Circle.

“We have an immediate need right now of $500,000 for renovations to the building in Sawgrass,” she said, suggesting that those so-moved see donation cards on the tables.

State Support

Byrd leads the Florida Department of State, which oversees several divisions, including the Division of Arts and Culture.

“Just this time last week I was on a trade mission with the governor,” he told those attending the Beaches event. “We visited Japan, South Korea, Israel and England. So, part of the Department of State’s job is, as we’re promoting Florida’s business-friendly environment, we also promote the arts and culture, because it’s through arts and culture that peoples from around the world connect with each other. And if we have strong bonds, strong ties at the arts-and-cultural level, we have better understanding of who we are as peoples and our nations, and that fosters a better business environment.”

He said that, in the current fiscal year, there were 31 arts-and-culture grants at work in Duval County totaling more than $2.8 million.

“When you include Nassau, St. Johns and Flagler counties, a total of 49 organizations are supported by grants that total up to $3.8 million,” he added.

These grants ultimately deliver a positive economic impact to their communities.

“Last year, the Florida Legislature funded the Division of Arts and Culture’s grants program at a record level,” said Byrd. “Fifty-nine million dollars will be distributed to organizations across the state. That makes Florida a wonderful place to work, live and play.”

He said that, in the most recent cycle, First Coast Cultural Center was awarded $90,000, more than double the amount in the previous award cycle.

In the last five years, First Coast Cultural Center has received nearly $193,000 in grant funding from the state.

Awards Ceremony

Here’s a look at this year’s award winners:

The Art of Giving Award: Scott A. Grant. Presented to a business or individual committed to funding and /or sustaining arts and culture programs in the community. Other nominees were: Connecting Thru Music, Jax BouqCake and RIBI/Jacksonville City Ballet.

Emerging Artist Awards: Jax BouqCake and Phili Bland. Presented to an emerging artist who has displayed great accomplishment with their fine art or craft medium.

The Ron and Hilah Autrey Arts Education and Advocacy Award: Holly Blanton and Heather Blanton. Presented to an artist or arts advocate with a track record of advancing the arts and/or educating others on the fundamental value of the arts in the community. Other nominees were: Antonio Carlos Scott, Jax BouqCake and Scott A. Grant.

Community Impact Award: Juliana Koutouzakis. Presented to an individual, business or organization that has demonstrated a tangible and measurable development of the arts and culture in the community. Other nominees were: Antonio Carlos Scott, Dr. Arun C. Gulani, Beaches Fine Arts Series, Jax BouqCake and Scott A. Grant.

Irene Lazzara’s Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts Award: Beaches Fine Arts Series — Lynn Radcliffe and Aida Ribera. Presented to an individual, business or organization dedicated to ensuring the arts and culture are ingrained in the everyday life of the community. Other nominees were: Jax BouqCake, Scott A. Grant, Jenny Hager and Juliana Koutouzakis.

In addition, two special awards were given. Candice Sirak, manager of the Sound Connections Music Therapy program, and programs manager Callie Johnson were both recognized.

Among those in attendance were First Coast Cultural Center co-founders Janet Wilson and Ellen Diamond, Former Miss Jacksonville 2022 Allison Reade, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Christine Hoffman and Jacksonville Beach City Council Member Greg Sutton.

The Beaches celebration was sponsored by The Lazzara Family Foundation, Ron and Hilah Autrey, Tom Bush Family of Dealerships, Publix Super Markets Charities and Callie’s Collection.