The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach (CCPVB) is on a mission to reinvent itself, and new Executive Director Donna Guzzo isn’t wasting any time to initiate that transformation.
“We’re hitting the ground fast,” said Guzzo, who was appointed to her leadership role Jan. 29. “There’s no time to sit around and think about it.”
Just two months into her tenure, Guzzo has changed the structure of the Cultural Center’s sponsorships. No longer does the Ponte Vedra institution seek sponsorships for single events. Instead, CCPVB offers yearlong sponsorships that incorporate several events, programming, exhibitions and the organization’s Sound Connections music therapy outreach program for children with special needs. As a result, Guzzo said donors are now receiving more benefits, and loving it.
“I listen to their (the donors’) objectives,” said Guzzo, who was previously the Cultural Center’s director of development and has 25 years of experience working in nonprofits. “At the end of the day, it’s a business transaction, and they want a return on investment. I run this like a business.”
The new executive director is additionally leading the charge to reconstruct the organization’s programming. The Cultural Center’s board of directors, she said, hired an Atlanta-based company to conduct a feasibility study on the organization in November/December, and that study revealed challenges in the programming department. Guzzo explained that the center is mostly seen as a place for infants, toddlers and seniors, with a considerable gap in between those generations.
As a result, Guzzo has hired a new program manager, Catherine Tatem, to address the age gap and expand the Cultural Center’s arts offerings. Guzzo said the organization is looking into providing more culinary arts, wine tastings, meditation and yoga to do so.
As the Cultural Center’s programming expands, Guzzo also has her eye on another expansion. She’s leading the organization as it embarks on a multimillion-dollar capital campaign for construction of a larger headquarters.
As of now, the Cultural Center is planning to build a 15,000 square-foot building with two stories and 135 parking spaces on the land along A1A between Sawgrass Village and the Summer House condos, said Guzzo. That location, however, is currently a parcel of the Oak Bridge Club, and its development is contingent upon the St. Johns County Commission’s final vote on development plans slated for a portion of the club’s property, which is expected within the next few months.
“Right now, we’re waiting for the commissioners’ vote,” said Guzzo, who expressed optimism about the plans ultimately being supported by the commission. “As soon as that vote happens, it will open the doors for us to move forward.”
In the meantime, Guzzo said the Cultural Center’s architect has designed a rendering of the building, which would also feature a rooftop for parties, studios that artists can rent and enough space for the center to double its programming.
“This is what the elite residents of Ponte Vedra need,” said Guzzo.
If the county votes to support development of the Oak Bridge Club property, Guzzo said construction would begin by the end of this year, with completion estimated for 2020. She noted that the organization has already gained significant traction with donors for the project, which Guzzo said would cost about $7 million.
Establishing a clear identity
Through the organization’s changes, however, Guzzo simultaneously wants to ensure the identity of the Cultural Center is clear. She said questions have been raised about the organization’s focus, and one of her primary goals is to refine that scope.
“This is an arts education center,” said Guzzo. “The focus is on education, and of course with that, our outreach program (Sound Connections) that is already in four schools.”
In clarifying the organization’s identity, Guzzo said it must always tie back to the center’s mission to “bring the arts into the life of the community” through arts education, exhibits and outreach, and with a donor driven philosophy.
For Guzzo, the opportunity to lead the Cultural Center through this overall process and its upcoming changes is an honor, as well as a joy.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “It’s fun for me, and I tell everybody it’s a dream job.”