Ardath Prendergast/GUEST COLUMN to the Chronicle
In many communities, it seems art and culture are the last items people focus on when determining what is most important among the many priorities they must choose from.
But think about it: When communities DO choose the arts, they thrive. The arts open the door to beauty, creativity, critical thinking, mental and physical health, and a sense of well-being. Communities that welcome the essential role that arts and culture play in the community are more vibrant to live in and to visit.
Since the Citrus 20/20 plan was developed 25 years ago, Citrus County has made strides in the arts. Lecanto High School boasts a strong School of Art, Citrus High has its Drama Club, the Art Center in Hernando stays busy hosting art exhibits, workshops, plays and music. The elegant Valerie Theatre is a showpiece in downtown Inverness, and the Old Courthouse Museum has exhibited stellar works from the Smithsonian and other museums. Public murals are sprouting up in Crystal River, Inverness, Floral City and Homosassa.
And yet, it is still difficult for many to see the economic and educational value of the arts.
I recently had a conversation with Rachel Winsler, the artistic director and owner of the School of Dance Arts. Rachel began dancing at the age of 5. At 10, her family moved to Inverness where she continued her training at Step ‘N Time School of Dance Arts.
She worked as a teacher’s assistant through high school before her college career took her to the University of Florida.
Although she majored in advertising, her love of dance continued, and she amassed enough credits for a dance minor. Rachel returned to Citrus County where she continued dancing and teaching and directed The Nutcracker Ballet in 2011. In 2017, she purchased the studio, School of Dance Arts, to continue to educate students on the technical and artistic aspects of dance. Rachel’s continued dedication to dance in Citrus County has given her strong perspectives on the value of arts in education.
There is little doubt, Rachel has observed, that the arts and culture are a backbone of learning and that dance shapes young minds and bodies. Think about the math involved in counting music, or the physics involved in movement. Think also of the geometry and spatial relations involved in painting, the chemistry in metalworking or jewelry making, the literary skills of poetry, the oratory and stage presence skills in acting, carpentry skills of set building, creative design skills of costume making, and on and on. Study after study have shown that students who participate in the arts develop fundamental skills on many levels, including creativity, improved academic performance, motor skills, confidence, visual learning, decision making, perseverance, focus, collaboration and accountability.
The arts have also served as a tool for social activism that goes back hundreds of years. Art provides a safer place for the exploration and expression of ideas that help to humanize emotions or fears, or sometimes shock us into action. Even when it is hard to say what art is for or against, it provides perspective and new ways of visioning our world. Think of the AIDS quilts, the peace symbol, even the classic Rosie the Riveter poster. Whether you agree with the premises or not, viewing them inspires you to do something.
Rachel is determined to share the discipline, technique and love of dance to a continuing generation of Citrus County students. While she admits that it is not easy to make a living in the arts, she is proud to have a studio that shares the value of the arts with the community and has for 30 years. My hope is that Citrus County continues to evolve as a place where the arts — and artists — can thrive.
On Oct. 5, our community will have the opportunity to add your voice to directing the future of our local arts and culture as part of the Citrus 2030 Vision Fest at the College of Central Florida. Are the arts important to you? What goals would you like to see us aim for during the next ten years?
To contribute your assessment of Citrus County’s positioning for the future, please visit the Citrus 2030 website at www.citrus2030.org and click on SURVEY. If you would like to be a participant in the Citrus 2030 Vision Check on Oct. 5 at the College of Central Florida Citrus Campus Conference Center in Lecanto, please complete Question No. 20 of the survey.
Ardath Prendergast is the Vice President of Operations and BRE for the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce. A member of the Citrus 2030 Steering Committee, she co-chairs the Arts and Culture Aspiration Subcommittee.