By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Donna Guzzo has spent the last 30 years working in the non-profit sector, fueled by the desire to help people and to be around others who share her life philosophy. “To me, it is the donors. Being around people who want to do something good is what attracts me to this industry. It is a donor-driven philosophy — they have skin in the game,” said Guzzo. Becoming the president and executive director of The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach three-and-a-half years ago, Guzzo found herself surrounded by inspiration and an opportunity. “I feel so fulfilled in this position. I am not an artist, but I have always loved art. I am applying my business side to this small non-profit to bring it to the next level,” she said, adding that she loves to fundraise. In the process, Guzzo said she has learned to really “feel” the art, something she accomplished by spending time in the Cultural Center’s galleries early in the morning just to experience the art alone and to hear the artists’ message more clearly. That has shaped her perspective on art more than anything else, and it is a habit that she continues at two new locations that the Cultural Center now calls home: Jacksonville Beach (in the Trader Joe’s shopping complex) and Nocatee (The Link). In January, the Cultural Center opened its new headquarters in Jacksonville Beach as a way to reach more artists, students and art lovers in Northeast Florida. The Nocatee location made sense, she said, because Nocatee residents were responsible for a large percentage of activity at the former Ponte Vedra Beach location.
Q: What is your mission for The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach now that you have studios in both in Jacksonville Beach and Nocatee?
A: I can only see growth and success at both locations. By having a presence in both Duval and St. Johns County, I can apply for grants in both places which means more art programing and outreach programs such as artist openings, music workshops, visual arts classes (“the bread and butter of the cultural center”) and camps for children. The Sound Connections Music Therapy program for children with special needs has expanded from four St. Johns County schools to six, including two Title 1 schools. It is provided at no cost to the school district or parents, and three nationally-board certified music therapists use music experiences to help children reach educational goals. The expansion is supported by the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund and The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Miami with most of my family members being teachers and administrators. My mother was always helping in the community, and I always went with her. That passion grew early on to help others.
Q: Explain the Kick Start program.
A: The Kick Start after school visual arts program kicked off at the beginning of the school year at Palm Valley Academy with two classes and at Osceola Elementary, a Title 1 school in the southern part of St. Johns County. We are going into our second year with Kick Start, and it fits with our mission to bring art into the lives of young people. The kids have loved this program, and they have a great relationship and communication with their art teachers.
Q: What is your educational and work background?
A: I am a Certified Nonprofit Executive, Certified Development Executive and Certified Nonprofit Consultant. I am the founder, president and executive director in charge of operations for the Language Exploration Enrichment, established in 2003 in the St. Johns County School District. This has been an adjunct position all these years.
Q: What saying are you known for at work?
A: “Success is imminent.” This came to pass when I first took over as executive director as we went through some growing pains. No matter how difficult the task was or what we were facing, I would always say that success is imminent. And it was. I like to get straight to the point. Share your dream, and tell me your plan to get there. Give me your complaint, and now let’s solve the issue.
[Author’s Note: For more information about The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, email firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Photo courtesy Donna Guzzo