For some, Gulf County has it all: beautiful beaches, a friendly community and a charming, small-town feel.
Others feel that the addition of a cultural arts building would be the icing that’s missing from the cake.
A full-time cultural arts building would allow Gulf County to play host to traveling exhibits, local art showcases and evening entertainment including theatre productions or public speaking engagements.
It would also give creative minds a place to converge, meet and share their passions with others.
Former president of the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition Natalie Shoaf spent years examining this cultural void and regularly sought out ways to fill it. After years of scouting locations and holding conversations, she believes she may have found the right place...but she can’t do it alone.
Shoaf said that there are several opportunities available in downtown Port St. Joe, but a building would need to be rented full-time until it could become self-sustaining and those interested in having such a building in the community will need to help out.
“When people visit Gulf County, they want something to do and something for their kids to do,” said Shoaf. “When I travel, I see cultural things and we need to insert that into our community.”
In 2015, the Forgotten Coast Plein Air paint-out event will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Franklin and Gulf County trade hosting duties each year, and while Franklin is home to the Center for History, Culture and Art, Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka do not have a permanent installation.
Shoaf fears that if there’s nowhere to hold the Plein Air event, it won’t be in Gulf County at all.
For the 2013 Plein Air celebration, George Duren donated a storefront on Reid Avenue and during a week in May, the building was packed to the gills with the art, music and cultural appreciation. Now, that same structure sits dark and empty.
Lorinda Gingell works at the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce, and like Shoaf, sees the benefit of a cultural arts building in Port St. Joe.
“We need a cultural art center in order to move the community into a first-class place to live,” said Gingell. “Lots of people who moved here are retired and never got a chance to appreciate art and would love to get involved.”
Shoaf and Gingell are gauging community interest for such a building, especially from those willing to donate funds, those with experience in fundraisers or area residents who may have ideas for cultural events that would benefit both kids and adults within the community.
“There are people here who have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to this stuff,” said Shoaf. “We need them to stand up and help.”
It’s clear that Shoaf and Gingell are passionate about arts and culture awareness within the community, but a step back in time reveals the reason.
Gingell grew up in St. Louis and recalled her elementary school class being taken on field trips to see the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She said that it gave her such an appreciation for music that she tried to go back on her own time whenever possible.
“Children need the opportunity to be touched by art,” Gingell said “This is an opportunity to give a lasting impression…an opportunity to look to the future and give the whole community a venue that will increase the quality of life and spawn additional art.”
Shoaf said that she and her seven siblings were expected to have an appreciation for art and family outings often included tours of Miami’s museums.
“My passion is the fact that we, as a community, have to look long-term,” said Shoaf. “We can change the world for the community and art is one way to do it.
“We have a choice to make this a fabulous place. Fine arts are a pathway but we need knowledge and money that we don’t have.”
Shoaf and Gingell agreed that they didn’t expect one person to step in and help pay for everything, and said that lots of people with a little bit of money can easily have the same effect.
Shoaf said that the Chamber of Commerce, Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency and the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition are already on board; the city simply needs a dedicated facility to get the ball rolling.
Members of the community who may be willing to help finance a cultural arts building can contact Shoaf at email@example.com. With enough interest, a meeting will be scheduled to figure out the next step
“A cultural arts building would raise the quality of life here another notch,” said Gingell. “It’s the perfect anchor for downtown.”