Polk Arts Alliance

Polk Arts Alliance

Destination: “Heart of the Arts”


The cultural heartbeat of the greater Polk County community is strong so it’s almost poetic that the geographical center of Florida is Polk. Pulsing through the county is a rich history of cultural arts – embracing all arts genres.


The Polk Arts Alliance, the arts agency for Polk for the past decade, is the advocate for the promotion of the arts – in all its forms – beyond the borders of a county that is about the size of Rhode Island. “Our mission is to cultivate an environment for the cultural arts in Polk County through advocacy, collaboration, economic development, education and promotion,” said Meri Mass, PAA Executive Director for nearly five years.

“As the arts advocate, our mission this year is to make sure the arts community feels viable and has a secure place at each local policy table as well as state wide,” said Mass, who was instrumental in working to reinstate funding for cultural arts from the area “bed tax” for hotels. “Thank goodness the Polk County Commissioners recognized the importance of cultural tourism.” The more than $400,000 in funding provided by this resource is handled through a grant process for the various groups it supports.

“Polk Arts Alliance is the voice and advocate for the arts in Polk County, each city, and at the Division of Cultural Affairs in Tallahassee, the Florida Cultural Alliance and Americans for the Arts in DC,” said Mass, noting the organization is the publisher of the Art-i-Facts magazine which is distributed locally and is available online at www.polkarts.org.

To that end, PAA has been working to market the arts outside of Polk with a specific brand – “Heart of the Arts” – showcasing Polk as a destination for visitors. “Each city has so much to offer in the arts and they are unique in what they offer. Our goal is to promote each city and their unique arts component to ‘Enjoy Local, Brand Global’ for a county-wide message to take beyond Polk County branding for the arts.”

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“On economic development we look to involve the business community on the ‘business of the arts’ and not just the non-profit. The arts employ people who pay taxes and vote, hire vendors and use local businesses for the manufacturing of their product – the art show or the musical; each event is created (manufactured), and the final product is sold,” said Mass. “No matter what the venue – an art museum show or festival, a theatre performance: all use and hire sign painters, web designers, caterers, advertising, costumes, framers, outdoor vendors, materials etc. This is money directly into our economy and has an economic impact. Companies who are looking to relocate or start up require a community with cultural assets. It all circles back to marketing and that is our mission going forward.”


Developing a “county-wide brand” is the focal point for current PAA President Dave Connor, who has been involved in the organization for the past three years. “The arts have survived for decades in Polk County through its local arts organizations within its individual communities,” said Connor. “But it’s time now for Polk County to promote the unified image of the county as a producer of the arts. Polk County is different than surrounding counties. We have unique offerings and as a community, we need to make ourselves identifiable beyond Polk.”

Part of that image will be celebrated as PAA moves forward with its plans to create a Polk Arts Hall of Fame, according to immediate past President Cindy Rodriguez. “We need to showcase the serious talent we have in our community. We have incredible artists of all genres who are either home-grown or who have chosen to make Polk their home.”

The Polk Arts Hall of Fame is expected to honor its first recipients in September, 2014, and the organization is in the planning stages for an “Oscarstyle induction ceremony event” as it simultaneously is working with Polk State College to develop an on-line “virtual Hall of Fame” to showcase its honorees. The committee working on this initiative includes about a dozen community leaders with a passion for the arts, according to Rodriguez who is spearheading the committee. “These members are people outside the PAA board and will serve as an advisory committee for the board,” said Rodriguez.

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Members of the Polk Arts Alliance to date are: Arts On The Park, Bach Festival of Central Florida, Bartow Art Guild, Bok Tower Gardens, Citrus Lakes Chorus, Davenport School of the Arts, Explorations V Children’s Museum, Florida Air Museum at Sun ‘n Fun, Florida Dance Arts, Inc., Florida Dance Theatre, Florida Southern College, Frostproof Art League & Gallery, Haines City Community Theatre, Harrison School for the Arts, Historical Lake Wales Society, Historical Society of Fort Meade, Imperial Symphony Orchestra, Kids Tag Art, Lake Wales Arts Council. Lake Wales Little Theatre, Lakeland Art Guild, Lakeland Choral Society. Lakeland Community Theatre, Platform Art, Polk County Historical Museum, Polk Museum of Art, Polk State College, Polk Theatre, Ramon Theatre, Ridge Art Association, Ridge Woodcarvers, Ritz Theatre, Southeastern University, Symphony Guild of Winter Haven, The Lakeland Center, Theatre Winter Haven and the Tuesday Music Club.

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