By Will Brown – Reporter, Jacksonville Business Journal
Diana Donovan is not from Northeast Florida, but the new executive director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville likes to say she is of Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville University alumna remained in the River City after graduating, first working at her alma mater, then transitioning to former Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration. Last fall, she went from serving on the Cultural Council’s board to becoming its interim executive director following the departure of Joy Young. In March, she was promoted to Executive Director.
Donovan discussed her new role with the Business Journal. The conversation was edited for clarity and context.
Your thoughts now that the interim has been shed from your title?
It’s exciting. It’s humbling. I feel deeply honored. I want to make sure the Cultural Council is a trusted community steward for the City of Jacksonville. Our two largest grant functions — the Cultural Services Grantees and the Art in Public Places — comes from the City of Jacksonville.
Our goal and our mission wraps around the quality of life in Jacksonville. How do you enjoy Jacksonville? What enriches your soul? What makes this place home for you? When we think about home, and we think about this city, what attracts people to it?
When (people) come to us, we don’t want them to go to other areas surrounding us. We want them to come into Jacksonville and celebrate. We have (the Museum of Contemporary Art) downtown, which is a Cultural Services Grantee; we have the Cummer (Museum of Art & Gardens) in Brooklyn and we have (the Museum of Science and History) just across the bridge. You have the Florida Theatre. You have all these different things that are happening and are growing. The part that is most exciting for me is the potential that we have as a city. People are starting to unlock that.
Obviously, the pandemic highlighted the ignorance of some people toward the Asian community. How much can culture play a role in eradicating the ignorance toward the Asian community by illuminating the various parts of the Asian culture that are here in Jacksonville?
You have to meet with the stakeholders and be able to sit down with them and say: What is beneficial? How can we help elevate the voice in a way and in the capacity that we have?
One of the things we’re looking to do in May is highlight Asian artists, showcase their work and have them be able to come in and tell their story. Having stakeholders in the community connect and share an understanding. A lot of times hatred grows from a fear, a fear of not being enough, anxiety. Whatever that fear is, and when it comes to battling racism, there is no silver bullet.
There are some cities you instinctively know, or have, a perception of their culture. Memphis is the blues. Nashville is country (music).What would you say is Jacksonville’s cultural reputation?
Right now, we are emerging. We have a lot of leaders who are forward thinking. We have new, fresh representation coming in. You have a new head of MOSH. You have a new head of the Cummer. (Downtown Jacksonville Inc. CEO) Jake Gordon works very hard downtown. You have Lori Boyer at (the Downtown Investment Authority). You have all these different organizations that are helping to have in, collectively, to decide who we want to be as a city.
At the Cultural Council, we want to support that effort by supporting the efforts that help make us what we are. We’re very eclectic. When you look at Riverside, Ortega, Arlington, Town Center and then you go to the beaches, which are just outside of Jacksonville, but are seen as part of the identity of coming to Jacksonville.
There is so much to celebrate here in Jacksonville. One of the biggest challenges I think we have is having people know. Communicating what’s going on, how we’re doing it, what does it look like and leveraging best practices that apply and fit well for our city.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has a number of pieces of public art in its new headquarters. VyStar Credit Union is also incorporating local artists into their campus. The PGA Tour, they opened their headquarters this year. For these entities that are either building or renovating their headquarters here, how enriching is it that they are incorporating art spaces into those headquarters and those spaces are created by local artists?
I think it’s exciting. Our Northeast Florida regional artists talent pool is dynamic, rich, deep and wonderful. I’m encouraged to see them leveraging the talent we have locally. I’m encouraged that corporations are thinking about arts and culture.
When you partner with people, you don’t necessarily think transportation and art. But they really do go hand in hand. Transportation and culture go hand in hand. For (JTA CEO) Nat (Ford) to come in and say ‘No, this is a natural merger and partnership’ he sets and example for other people to see that and say ‘Oh, I see the value in this. I see the value in being reflective of my community. I see the value in investing in the local arts economy.’ It sets a standard.
It’s really encouraging to see people who may not necessarily be in the bubble of what you affiliate with arts and culture really embracing it.
Last year a survey was done about the impact of the pandemic on the local arts community. We are still in a pandemic. As we emerge from it, are there things that can be taken that survey and learned from the pandemic to grow the local arts community?
We have to make sure, above all else, you have to be financially stable and you want to keep your people safe. And then you step into programming and healing. As we gather more information, we’ll have more tools to be able to really see the whole picture of what this pandemic has done and how it has impacted Jacksonville.
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