Donna Guzzo is president and executive director of the First Coast Cultural Center, which is a major part of the arts and culture scene in Northeast Florida. She is a dynamic force who always has something interesting in the works. And she is known for her positive, signature phrase: “Success is imminent!”
This has been a busy year for the First Coast Cultural Center. Tell us about the center itself, its new location and how it came to have a new name.
We are now more inclusive of our representation; First Coast Cultural Center is now in two counties. Ninety percent of our service is provided in St. Johns County. Now, having a studio for art classes in Duval has allowed us to expand services to the Beaches area, has attracted new members, donors and grants.
The First Coast Cultural Center has a big role at the link, which opened in Nocatee last summer. Tell us about that relationship.
We serve residents of Nocatee at Care Connect+ inside the Flagler Health+ building. We have started theater classes there that have taken off with Sheri Lahris, former Disney coach!
Tell us about the center’s importance to the area. What does it bring to the community?
First Coast Cultural Center brings the arts into the life of the community. We have 176 annual programs, three events a year and a couple of school programs. We fulfill our mission by providing music therapy for children with disabilities in St. Johns County schools. We continued to fulfill our mission by adding a new program during the pandemic, Kick StART, an after-school enrichment program for children to learn about art, make art and have fun! We have added some virtual art and music classes, some which have attracted students from all over the nation. We are getting ready to launch a women’s empowerment series with Dr. Carla Rodrigues to have you look for the power within you, to encourage women, to focus on our strengths, have a support tribe and plan an international retreat trip that may be involved with the series!
Looking ahead, what’s in the works for the First Coast Cultural Center?
Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts, which is a sold-out event, is next spring! 2022 will be the third year recognizing artists and philanthropists in our community. This is my favorite event because it is not about us. Here’s where we recognize the great people of the First Coast, including our Volunteer of the Year, a recognition I started when I was promoted to executive director four years ago.
What are some of your responsibilities at the center?
As president and executive director, I wear all the hats. I oversee the operations of the center. I fundraise and develop donor relationships. I train others. I develop mentees through St. Johns County schools and Rotaract. I have a dream job, so it is not work for me. It is what I get to do with beautiful people around me.
Tell me about your career.
I’ve had a long career in the nonprofit world, 30-plus years with a combination of finance, education and fundraising/development background. I’ve spoken at many, many conferences around the world, most noticeable Harvard University, Providence University in Taichung, Taiwan, The United Nations in NYC and Geneva and most recently at The Vatican. My next speaking engagement may be in the Dominican Republic.
What do you like most about living here on the First Coast?
Ponte Vedra Beach is where I’ve lived the longest in my life. I enjoy reading and walking at the beaches, the seafood and the people.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I’m way behind on any TV shows. I’ve never liked sitting in front of the TV unless I’m watching a British program like “Miss Fischer” with my dear husband. I’m a multitasker, so I never sit still. I read mystery books, my Rotarian magazine or The Week in which I’m either making notes, trying to solve the mystery or applying an idea to something going on in my life. I get immersed in the stories! I read the Bible almost every day; it is my source of energy and push to make it a great day every day. I meditate and try to find that alone time once a week. I enjoy collecting crystals and reading about their minerals and formations. I’ve done this since age 10.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Success is imminent!
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