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Viva Florida! In 2013, Florida celebrates 500 years

Viva Florida
The official poster, by artist Christopher Still, for next year's commemoration.

In 1513, according to popular legend, the dream of eternal youth lured Juan Ponce de Leon to Florida. In 2013, Florida leaders hope their yearlong celebration of the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's discovery of "La Florida" will lure tourists and attract business investment to the state.

"It has huge economic impact potential," says Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, which is planning to weave the Viva Florida 500 celebration into its marketing activities to expand Florida's image as a cultural heritage destination. "Our ability to expand people's perceptions of the Florida destination — not replace or change — but to expand them beyond beaches and attractions is an extraordinarily powerful opportunity."

Historical commemorations, however, have a mixed financial track record. A study of Jamestown's 400th anniversary in 2007 found that the celebration generated $1.2 billion in sales, created 20,621 jobs and provided $22 million in tax revenue for Virginia. According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commemoration, which included 15 events from Virginia to Oregon between 2003 and 2006, was an economic flop. Tepid interest resulted in poor attendance at many events and left one small city in Montana $535,000 in debt.

Teachable Moment

Janine Farver

In an effort to incorporate Florida's quincentennial celebration into the state's educational curriculum, the Florida Humanities Council has been sponsoring summer workshops for teachers to learn more about the state's Spanish colonial history. "We think it really gives us the opportunity to recast Florida history beyond just the past 50 or 60 or 70 years, back to 1513, when Europeans first set foot on our soil," says Janine Farver, executive director of the Florida Humanities Council. Additionally, the council is launching a website — TeachingFlorida.org — that will provide materials about Florida's Spanish colonial past, as well as about early people and tribes who lived here before the Spanish arrived.

While Florida's Department of State is leading the statewide celebration, the success of the initiative will depend largely on the willingness of individual cities, counties, businesses and non-profits to create and fund compelling events that capture the public's interest.

Emilio Sanchez

Janine Farver, executive director of the Florida Humanities Council, which is working on the educational component of the commemoration, says economic constraints dictated a "decentralized" effort. The state, she says, is simply "not in the position to put the kind of money and resources into the commemoration that it might have 10 to 15 years ago." As a result, the Florida Humanities Council has been appealing online for donations to help fund a variety of programs — including teacher workshops, public radio and television history moments and a "Great Floridians" traveling chautauqua tour — that it has been planning.

Emilio Sanchez, president and CEO of the Spain-Florida Foundation, which is playing a key role in planning a number of events around the state, says fundraising is "tough," but he is hopeful that his non-profit can raise enough money to fund a variety of events, which will include a visit by the king and queen of Spain and a parade of ships from Puerto Rico to Florida's coastline. "I think this commemoration really is going to be an opportunity to highlight the importance of the Hispanic presence and influence in Florida and reinforce the cultural and trade relationship between Spain and Florida," says Sanchez.

Queen Sofia
The Spain-Florida Foundation hosted a visit by Queen Sofia of Spain in Miami last year.
The queen, along with King Juan Carlos, is planning to return to Florida for the 500 celebration.


David Taylor

In May, David Taylor, the subject of the Tallahassee Trend March column "Tech Tangle," resigned as executive director of the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology after the Legislature declined to fund the 4-year-old agency. Taylor has moved over to the Department of Children and Families, where he is chief information officer.

Events and Exhibits Around the State

» Florida's Hispanic Heritage Conference
When: Oct. 17-20, 2012
Where: Several locations, including the University of South Florida, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Centro Asturiano and the Cuban Club of Tampa

The academic conference will be held in conjunction with a weeklong series of community events and a teacher training workshop on Florida's Hispanic Heritage.

» Artistic Representation of Florida Throughout 500 Years
When: September 2012 through April 2013
Where: 22nd floor of Capitol Gallery, Tallahassee

Organized by the Florida Humanities Council and the University of South Florida, the art exhibit sponsored by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs will include works by Christopher Still, Theodore Morris and Xavier Cortada.

» Great Floridians Traveling Chautauqua Tour
When: 2013 (dates to be announced)
Where: 30 to 40 locations around the state to be announced

The free, traveling road show will feature re-enactments of a host of Florida historical figures, including Seminole warrior Osceola, Cypress Gardens founder Dick Pope and Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

» Imagining La Florida: Ponce De Leon & the Quest for the Fountain of Youth
When: March
Where: Frost Museum at Florida International University (will later travel to Tampa and Palm Beach)

The exhibit will display a unique blend of art, artifacts and technology that re-create the cultural and literal landscape of the Florida that 16th-century Spanish explorers encountered when they arrived here.

» La Florida, Myth and Fantasy, 1513-1565, the Quest for the Fountain of Youth
When: 2013
Where: St. Augustine

This historical narrative documentary, which is being filmed by Universal Views TV Productions, will bring to life Ponce de León, Menéndez de Avilés and Escalante Fontaneda by re-enacting their respective arrivals in Florida.

» Tall Ship Parade
When: May
Where: San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miami, Jacksonville

The parade of ships, which is being organized by the Spain-Florida Foundation, will retrace Ponce de Leon's journey from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami, ending in Jacksonville. The ships will not travel to the St. Augustine port because it is too shallow.

» Charting the Land of Flowers: 500 Years of Florida Maps
When: September 2013 through February 2014
Where: Tampa Bay History Center

This temporary exhibition will feature more than 100 maps, the earliest dating to 1493, and will be the largest collection of rare and antiquarian Florida maps ever exhibited.

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