Fair winds of change at Cultural Council

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

When it comes to powerful Jacksonville advocates of the arts and culture, two names rise to the top repeatedly: Robert Arleigh White and Tony Allegretti. Each of these men is an icon of the arts community, each having taken major leadership roles in promoting and enhancing creativity on the First Coast. So, with Tony Allegretti now the new Executive Director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, following a 13-year stint of outstanding leadership of the Council by Robert Arleigh White (2000 to 2013), it is a win-win scenario for all concerned.

Allegretti

Allegretti

White

White

“The conditions are brilliant,” commented Allegretti as to his May 1, 2014 transition into the leadership role at the Cultural Council. “I’m so lucky to come on at this time and I want to keep and expand upon the excellent work Bob and his staff have done as grant-makers. The Council’s investments in the 20-plus art institutions in this city have garnered such a good return that I’m going to continue working closely with those institutions in addition to building new programs.”

Among the new programs mentioned by Allegretti are the SPARK District, The Looking Lab, Jacksonville Songwriters Residency, Swamp Radio and a new sculpture installation in the Main Street Park coming in September. And, just as their devotion to the City of Jacksonville and the arts and culture of Northeast Florida have created parallel paths in the past, Allegretti and White will continue working in many of the same arenas going forward.

Parallel paths past and present

For example, White has been a segment producer, writer and performer with Swamp Radio since its first live performance in July of 2013.

“Swamp Radio is a podcast that can be heard from time to time on WJCT,” explained White. “It is akin to a Prairie Home Companion, but instead of focusing on a fictional place, it is about Northeast Florida. White notes that Swamp Radio creator Ian Mairs is most generous and regularly features local talent such as storyteller Derek Coughlin, musicians Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, historian Emily Lisska, the Willow Waks (a young couple from St. Augustine), and more.

White and long-time collaborator Charlotte Mabry (principal percussionist with the JSO) recently participated in a performance for Swamp Radio podcasts at the Florida Theater. White and Mabry have also performed at the Lazarra Hall at UNF, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the University of Florida at Gainesville.

Another parallel between the current and former Executive Directors of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville is their connection with Theatre Jacksonville; White having served as executive and artistic director for 10 years and Allegretti serving as marketing director thereafter for several years. During White’s years at Theatre Jacksonville, he was directly responsible for the artistic direction of 50 plays and worked to produce dozens more, increasing annual attendance from 16,000 to 84,000.

As head of the Cultural Council, White advanced the success of arts organizations in Northeast Florida through vigorous advocacy at local, state and national levels. Under his leadership, the Council maintained funding for dozens of partner organizations during one of the nation’s most challenging economic downturns. In addition to promoting myriad arts initiatives, and being actively involved in Leadership Jacksonville, White, with the help of his staff, created a first-ever “economic impact statement” for arts and culture which is now emulated by arts organizations throughout the state.

White’s successful decades-long legislative and community advocacy have garnered him a Mayoral Proclamation, a City Council Resolution and, most recently, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville has named its most prestigious award The Robert Arleigh White Award for Arts Advocacy.

“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to put my skills and talents to work for these fine organizations,” said White, adding that he is excited his friend, Tony Allegretti, now has the opportunity to use his experience, energy, imagination and unlimited capacity on behalf of the Cultural Council.

Impressive résumé

Allegretti most certainly has vast experience in the arts community of Jacksonville.  Since 2001, he has racked up an amazing portfolio of projects and events in which he was integrally involved. These include the magazine Springfield Arts and Living, a charitable event called Art & Bill’s, a productive stint as marketing director of Theatre Jax, producing the soundtrack for Hamlet at the last Shakespeare at the Met in 2001 with Lester Shane, Culturati (art event) in 2001, 100 Windows of Art with Downtown Vision, Art Walk (10  years beginning in November 2003), helping launch David Luckin’s Electro Lounge on NPR, first director of RAM (Riverside Arts Market), Community First Saturdays, Downtown Perspective Series, Skyway Report, and most recently, as a creator at One Spark.

A partner in Burrito Gallery and Uptown Market, Tony Allegretti is also Chair of the Experience Committee and a member of the Bold City Brigade. In his “spare” time away from the arts and cultural community, Allegretti was also a consultant for Hospice, meeting to talk with families about the benefit.

With the reputation of being the acknowledged “Downtown Jacksonville Aficionado,” Allegretti is passionate about the “collective creativity” of Jacksonville’s arts community and the general camaraderie of the people on the First Coast. And, speaking of collective creativity, the combined talent and energy of former executive director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, Robert Arleigh White, and current executive director, Tony Allegretti, is phenomenal.

For future reference, a few decades from now when a new generation of creators takes the helm in the cultural and arts scene of Jacksonville, it is helpful to contemplate what inspired these two Jacksonville icons of creativity.

Robert Arleigh White’s first taste of theatre occurred when he was 14, attending high school in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his father, Navy Commander Robert White, was stationed.  “My best friend there, Leonard Thiesen, said, ‘Hey, they’re having auditions after school today.  We should do that.’ And we did.  The rest is history.  By the way, small world, Leonard lives in Avondale today, half a mile away from where I live.”

For San Marco resident Tony Allegretti, the daily inspiration comes from the encouragement of his wife Tammy and two young children, as well as memories of his mother’s tenacious “can-do” attitude while raising her children, working full-time, volunteering and being creative.

Currently, as Allegretti takes the leadership role at the Cultural Council, White is busy as principal at Robert Arleigh White and Associates, advising clients on legislative strategy, fundraising and organizational development. “There’s something different every day now. It’s an exciting time for Jacksonville and for me,” says White. “The possibilities are limitless.”

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