Beaches gala an evening of elegance, arts


The First Coast Cultural Center’s fifth annual Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts gala took on an enhanced level of elegance Sunday, April 28, with an Audrey Hepburn/“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” theme. Sparkling with faux diamonds, pearls and crystal and featuring Sinatra-era music, the well-attended event took place at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse.

Guests, dressed to the nines, mingled among the many silent auction items before retiring to the main dining area for dinner.

During the festivities, artists created live works onsite. This year, the event featured ceramic artist Catherine Lynn, painter and charcoal artist Claire Weaver and oil painter Katherine Weaver. Music was provided in part by violinist Alyssa Albert and Candice Sirak, Sound Designs Music Therapy manager who invited guests to collaborate on short songs.

The keynote speaker was Aundra Wallace, president of JAXUSA Partnership, an economic development agency that oversees efforts in seven Northeast Florida counties. According to Wallace, the agency has helped create more than 133,000 jobs and attract $12 billion in capital investment to the region.

To that end, according to Wallace, “the arts play a very pivotal role in fostering economic development.”

Companies, he said, are drawn to areas where they can find the needed talent. And those individuals tend to gravitate toward places of pronounced culture.

“Regions that invest in arts gain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining the skilled talent that these companies are looking for,” said Wallace. “Creatives are drawn to communities with vibrant cultural scenes where they can find inspiration, collaboration and opportunities for personal and professional growth.”

Cultural nonprofits generate $166 billion annually in economic activity across the nation, supporting 4.6 million jobs and generating $27.5 billion in government revenue, Wallace said.

“The arts also stimulate tourism,” he said. “Cultural institutions, galleries, theaters and festivals draw tourists from near and far, injecting revenue into our local economies and supporting small businesses.”

The annual event is also a fundraiser for the First Coast Cultural Center. This year, it raised a record amount of funds with $786,000 in donations from patrons throughout Northeast Florida. The amount of funds raised includes pledges made now until January 2025.

One of the highlights of the annual gala is the awards ceremony. Here’s a look at this year’s nominees and winners:

The Ron & Hilah Autrey Arts Education & Advocacy Award

Winner: Jim Draper, whose art can be seen in hundreds of collections and at the Jacksonville International Airport, Baptist Medical Center and Cowford Chophouse.

Other nominees: Joseph P. Bryant, Ellen Diamond, Allison Reade, Audrey and Jack Romberg, Monica Sevlever and Jessie Shipe

Emerging Artist Award

Winner: Cole Shapiro, whose art has been featured in several local exhibitions. Runner-up: Katherine Weaver

Other nominees: Ella Fullerton, Allison Reade, Milu Rodriguez

#Gulanism Award

This is a new award founded by Dr. Arun Gulani. It goes to a young person who exhibits positivity and is known for consistently sharing affirmations.

Winner: Allison Reade

Other nominees: Dawn Alexander, Brice Schaefer, Cole Shapiro, Katherine Weaver and Baylee Weidner.

The Art of Giving Award

Winner: Zena Groover, known for her community involvement. She was also recognized for making a major donation to the First Coast Cultural Center. Runner-up: Ellen Diamond

Other nominees: Joseph P. Bryant, Loretta Leto, Venezuela Marka Foundation, Audrey and Jack Romberg and In Memory of Cary Hart.

Community Impact Award (Members’ Choice)

Winner: Joseph P. Bryant. Runner-up: Venezuela Marka Foundation

Other nominees: Ellen Diamond, Chelsea Leonard, Milu Rodriguez and Diana Patterson

Irene Lazzara’s Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts Award

Winner: Janet Wilson

Other nominees: Joseph P. Bryant, Lourdes McGuire, Milu Rodriguez, Allison Reade, Marlene Scheer and Venezuela Marka Foundation

Volunteer of the Year: Marlene Scheer

Employee of the Year: Kimberly Sheridan