In Volusia County, the beach is a big attraction, but so too is the arts and culture scene. From the historic Peabody Auditorium to the Daytona Turkey Run – arts and culture is a significant contributor to the County’s economy. With continued “out of the box” thinking from local arts leadership, the arts will continue to be a creative, economic force.
In 1919, a 2,200-seat concert venue opened in Daytona Beach, one of the largest in central Florida. While far from the cultural centers of London, New York and Paris, it attracted some of the world’s greatest artists, including the Russian ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. Destroyed by fire in 1946, it was rebuilt as the Peabody Auditorium, designed after the venerated Carnegie Hall in New York, with the acoustics on par, a lure for musicians and singers. The auditorium reopened in 1949 and was named after Simon J. Peabody, a businessman who lived in Daytona Beach from 1907 to 1933 and founded the original venue on land he donated with the aim of bringing the arts and culture to the beach city.
It has. Elvis Presley, Louie Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, as well as Broadway musicals like Chicago and Hair, have all taken the stage. The venue was the summer home of the London Symphony Orchestra for more than 30 years, and today it continues to pull in famed performers, including symphony orchestras from Havana to Jerusalem and Shanghai.
As rich as the history is and as bustling the program, the auditorium doesn’t sell itself. “Many people don’t even know that it exists, or that it is an option,” said Kathy Berman, executive director of the Peabody Auditorium Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds for the programming. “Or they think it is out of their reach, that arts and culture are only for the rich.”
This is a challenge for not only the Peabody but theaters across the U.S. The 2008-09 economic recession continues to weigh on attendance and grant funding, making it harder to afford marketing or to bring in artists. More venues are running the risk of closure.
In 2010, the Peabody took another hit when the London Symphony Orchestra decided to stop playing the venue, ending an act that had been a mainstay every other year since 1966. This left fans with a deep sense of loss.
“The community and the area is trying to rebuild something that existed, and that is a challenge,” said Berman. “We have to reeducate people that even though the London Symphony Orchestra is not here anymore, there is still great art and culture in the community. You don’t need to get on a plane or go to another community. It is right here.”
REINVENTING THE WHEEL
Is the pitch working? The 2,521-seat auditorium often sells out shows, attracting more than 100,000 residents and visitors a year for its 200 or so performances.
Still, it’s not easy to promote the auditorium when consumers are hard up and public funding is scant.
To contend, the foundation is taking steps to become more agile and diversified in its marketing of the century-old attraction, which is run on an annual budget of $3.4 million.
“You are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of educating people about the Peabody and the importance of arts and culture,” Berman said. “And then you have to try it again.”
Its latest efforts include working closer with Volusia’s bustling tourism industry on promotion and with the city to find out what people want to see so it can adjust its programming accordingly.
“We have to constantly reevaluate the community that we live in,” Berman said. “As things keep changing, it’s important to know who the potential customer base is.”
The feedback has led to improvements to the venue, more family-friendly programming, and a greater focus on marketing the array of ticket prices.
“There is a wide variety of things to do from every single price point,” she said “People need to realize that the arts and culture offered here are not a luxury item.”
KIDS FOR ART
Another push is to encourage youngsters to come to the theater. In 2017, the foundation launched “Youth + Art = Success!” as an annual arts education outreach program for low-income youth. It’s also toying with a summer workshop program such as a theater camp, taking advantage of times when the auditorium is empty.
“If families are not bringing our youth into the theater, we’re at least giving them a first taste,” so that the arts can become an “ongoing” part of their lives, Berman said.
Sandra Gosch, president of the Daytona Beach Symphony Society, which has been bringing world-class acts to the Peabody since 1951, said the youth programs are breaking stereotypes.
On a recent visit by elementary schoolchildren to the Peabody, she said some of them expressed surprise that a pianist was so young — and beautiful, not the old men in tuxedos they may have expected.
“Our biggest goal now is to attract a younger audience,” she said. “We don’t want classical music to fade away. We want children to grow up loving music.”
BOLSTERING THE ECONOMY
The Volusia government is aware of the importance of the arts. Robert Redd, cultural coordinator for Volusia County, said cultivating an arts scene is good for the economy. This not only brings “new businesses, increased opportunities and a richer lifestyle” to Volusia, but the more the attendance, the more vibrant the county and the more people want to call it home, he said.
According to a 2017 study by Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based group, the nonprofit arts and culture sector generates $48.7 million in total economic activity per year in Volusia, about a quarter of which is spending by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and the rest event-related spending by audiences. The sector supports 1,472 full-time jobs, creating $32.4 million in household income for local residents and $7 million in local and state government revenue, the study found.
The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, for example, employs 12 full-time staff, six part-time workers and 30 artists a year as summer art camp teachers and for community programs on an annual budget of $2 million. More than 90% of its construction spending was done by contractors and vendors from Volusia County, while its programming attracts 80,000 people year.
This is driving tourism, too. The Americans for the Arts study found that of the nonresident tourists at an event, 75% came specifically to attend and 58.4% said they would have gone elsewhere to see that same attraction, a sign of how art can drive tourism. Art also retains dollars that residents would have spent had they traveled to see the same event elsewhere, the study showed.
That’s a driver of the county’s efforts to take art to the community.
“I like to remind people that art is all around us. We just have to open our eyes to it,” Redd said. “It is not, nor should it be, always in stuffy, exclusive galleries. Art is to be shared, enjoyed, and debated.”
An example of this is in DeLand, where the city and the Museum of Art — DeLand teamed up on an initiative to wrap the drab, gray utility boxes with vinyl reproductions of art created by local artists, helping to bring “interest to what is otherwise an unattractive part of daily living,” according to Redd.
A BIG CAR SHOW
It’s not just the arts, but cultural events like Daytona Turkey Run, a biannual car show and swap meet at the Daytona International Speedway, that support a robust economy.
It is an extension of the County’s nearly 100 year-long love of the automobile – think driving on the beach that began in the 1920’s and continued with the opening of the International Speedway in 1959. The Turkey Run draws people to the county to check out collector Cadillacs, hot rods and other old vehicles. At Thanksgiving, nearly 155,000 people participated in the four-day event, up 3% from previous year, according to Jennifer Labonte, director of marketing and public relations for the event.
Turkey Run, the largest combined classic car show and swap meet in the U.S. hires more than 100 people and pulls in a regular crop of food and swap meet vendors to meet the demand.
“Our Car Corral is filled with more than 1,200 cars from all generations for sale and many come just to look for a great deal or that hard to find car for sale,” Labonte said. “Then we have many families that may not necessarily be classic car fans but come just to see what all the buzz is about.”
The event, which includes events for kids as well as a beer festival, is becoming so popular that traffic is becoming an organizational challenge, she said.
Beyond the Box
Remaining relevant and maintaining financial stability requires more than traditional programming. Sandall had that in mind when he took his job in 2012. The Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS) was under renovation at the time, including the construction of a new Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, which houses more than 2,600 paintings of Florida. This gave him a chance to introduce a new concept for the museum when the architects were still around so that it could generate rental income from events, lectures and performances, and offer a wider range of activities.
The timing was good. In the wake of the 2008-09 recession, funding from Florida state started to decline and has dropped below $20,000, or less than 1% of the museum’s $2.9 million annual budget, according to his estimates. While funds come in from Volusia County and other sources, Sandall must run a tight ship.
“We are being left to our own to figure out financing,” he said. “We have to be confident and lean in to what we do, and we can’t take that many risks. We can’t afford for too many of our programs to fail.”
The response? It has turned to the community, creating what he calls social programming: yoga classes, wine tastings, and a craft-and-cocktails series, plus nighttime events with food trucks, music and wine where people can come after work to hang out at the museum. This has changed the concept of the museum from just an educational facility to a focal point for the community.
“We have created a second way of experiencing the museum through our events,” Sandall said.
It’s paying off with a new source of funding for the museum, which employs 45 full-time and part-time staff.
“People are willing to support you if they feel there is something happening,” he said. “We are seeing our attendance rise because we have a vibrant community of people coming to our events.”
Attendance is on track to reach 100,000 this year, up 6.4% from 94,000 in 2017, according to MOAS.
The museum is not alone. “Everybody is starting to do this, everyone is getting out there and finding innovative ways, and thinking a little bit more out of the box,” he said.
And this is bleeding into the community, something that should prove beneficial for the economy.
“Generally, good things happen in communities that have strong art scenes,” Sandall said. “The creative driving force is pushing boundaries, and if boundaries are getting pushed then everyone follows and that increases the quality of everything else that is going on.”