by Jeff Zbar
Updated 2 yearss ago
The interactive Spirit of Fort Lauderdale fountain lights up Huizenga Park. Arts and culture in Broward County contribute $160 million annually to the economy. [Photos: Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau]
Fort Lauderdale has come alive as an arts venue. The '50s-era War Memorial Auditorium that hosted acts like Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis has been joined by top-rated concert and theater venues.
"What has grown up in Fort Lauderdale is a thriving arts and cultural community," says Kelley Shanley, president / CEO of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The center ranks among the top 10 theaters nationally, and its 20th season will host Tony Bennett, Kenny G, Wicked and West Side Story and provide programming to thousands of students from Broward schools who participate in the center's arts and education program.
And the Broward Center has plenty of company. Greater Fort Lauderdale boasts more than two dozen museums.
Just down Las Olas Boulevard along the Riverwalk and Arts and Entertainment District is the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale and the Museum of Discovery and Science. To the north is the Broward County Main Library. To the south is the art house theater, Cinema Paradiso, operated by the Broward County Film Society. Just west is the Artspace artist loft, and farther north is the Flagler Arts and Technology District, with small theaters and creative artists and street festivals. Ringing the New River is Riverwalk — a linear park that book-ends property along Las Olas.
The BankAtlantic Center hosts 200 events and 2 million guests annually, and has been ranked as high as the third-leading arena nationally by PollStar. Its benches and saucer-like lighting are part of CreativeBroward, a countywide, award-winning Public Arts mission.
"These larger venues and little nooks add up to a greater cultural experience," Shanley says. "Those are the things that happen when you create the critical mass of the larger arts institutions. People are trying to do things from the grass roots up."
What made this happen? The public-private partnership, says Mary Becht, director of the Broward County Cultural Division. Cultural investment — a land grant from the Downtown Development Authority for the Broward Center, and money from the National Endowment for the Arts and local philanthropists — led to construction that attracted area businesses. Even today, countywide some $100 million in arts facilities are under construction.
The business community bought in. Corporate offices — like law and professional firms,
For the sports fan, there's Broward's own Florida Panthers NHL franchise.
"Every year that's similar to Broward's share of the Super Bowl," says Becht, who's bullish about the Cultural Division's third 10-year plan, CreativeBroward 2020, which is chaired by Jarrett Levan, CEO of BankAtlantic. "Other communities don't nurture small and mid-sized cultural groups. We ended up with a cultural district by accident."
Giving is equally important in the community.
In anticipation of the city's centennial, Mayor Seiler proclaimed "The Mayor's Challenge." The volunteer effort was to try to amass
100,000 cumulative hours cleaning beaches, reading at the library, mentoring students or generally giving back. Three months before the March 2011 deadline, they'd topped 140,000 hours, he says.
Corporate names grace buildings and causes across the community. From the Huizengas to AutoNation to car distributor JM Family
Enterprises and its philanthropic foundation, comes support for such groups as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the Urban League and others.
"There is significant corporate philanthropy in this community," says Colin Brown, president/ CEO of JM Family Enterprises, a long-time corporate citizen founded in 1968 by automotive pioneer Jim Moran.