Beaches event celebrates arts, area artists

Sold-out gathering raises money for First Coast Cultural Center


The Surf Club at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club took on a tropical Hawaiian character Sunday, May 15, for the third annual Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts event.

The sold-out fundraiser and awards ceremony featured dinner, entertainment, a silent auction for exotic trips and live artist demonstrations. A benefit for the First Coast Cultural Center, it raised more than last year’s $85,000; a preliminary estimate for this year’s event was $90,000.

But at the heart of the event was recognition for those who keep the arts alive in the community despite the familiar challenges artists face.

“Artists always struggle,” said Jorge Rivera, recipient of the Chairman’s Award. “They’ve struggled from early times when the first caveman said, ‘Hey, I like that art in your cave; can you come to my cave and do that?’”

Rivera promotes the arts and culture via his online TV program, the “St. Augustine Tonight Show.”

“I meet so many people who bring me to tears or sometimes leave me gasping for air at how amazing their lives have been, how long they’ve worked at this that they love so much,” he told the audience. “I hope I can keep promoting all these wonderful people who are in our community and make us who we are.”

Entertainment for Sunday night’s event was by Prince Pele’s Polynesian Revue, which featured authentic Pacific Island music and hula dancing, as well as a fire dance and lots of humor.

Featured artists were Eugene J. Quinn and Piedad Camacho.

Quinn took up a spot on the beach and painted a seascape live as guests looked on. With degrees in fine art and art history to his credit, he’s been painting professionally for the past 20 years. He has had galleries in Massachusetts and opened a studio in Jacksonville Beach in 2016. In 2019, he expanded into a beach house at 237 5th Ave. South and 3rd Street, where he paints, teaches and exhibits his work.

Though he does commissions, portraits, abstracts and more, Quinn especially enjoys painting outdoors.

Camacho, who comes from Colombia, is a fashion designer who in 2005 applied her knowledge of fabric and color to creating art. In her own unique style, she works with a natural fiber called fique, which is native to South America and is used in rope and packing.

She is self-taught and has a special interest in nature, often creating images of trees and flowers.

The focal point of Sunday’s event was the awards ceremony.

Volunteer of the Year was Charlotte Chastain, who has offered live art demonstrations, volunteered at events and edited the Cultural Center’s many newsletters and other marketing materials.

The winner of the Emerging Artist Award was Claire Weaver, a high school senior who has set her sights on a career in the arts. Other nominees were painter and clothing designer Teresa Cook, photographer Joe Desiderio and Camacho.

The winner of the Ron & Hilah Autrey Education & Advocacy Award was artist Enrique Mora. Other nominees were painter Ellen Diamond, FemArt Gallery founder Kimberly Miller and Rivera.

The winner of The Art of Giving Award was photographer, painter and writer Steven G. “Jerry” Norton. Other nominees were Art With a Heart in Healthcare and the St. Johns Cultural Council.

The winner of the Community Impact Award was Art With a Heart in Healthcare, which provides personalized fine art experiences that enhance the healing process for patients and their families. Other nominees were Miller, Norton and Rivera.

The winner of Irene Lazzara’s Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts Award was Ellen Diamond. Other nominees were Art With a Heart in Healthcare, Norton and Rivera.

The First Coast Cultural Center, located at 3972 3rd St. South, Jacksonville Beach, offers exhibits, classes, workshops, afterschool art enrichment programs and music therapy to students with disabilities in pre-K through grade five. Music therapy is offered at Valley Ridge Academy, PVPV/Rawlings Elementary, Ocean Palms Elementary, Cunningham Creek Elementary, the Webster School and Osceola Elementary.

Honorary co-chairs for the Beaches event were Drs. Arun and Suparna Gulani. Sponsors included The Lazzara Family Foundation, Ron and Hilah Autrey, Gulani Vision Institute, Pivot, Claude Nolan Cadillac and Tom Bush.