| Andy Glogower Photography

The Polk Arts Alliance has hired former Harrison School of the Arts Principal Daryl Ward to serve as the nonprofit organization’s next executive director.

The 56-year-old Lakeland resident succeeds Meri Mass, who retired as the organization’s director on Jan. 31 after serving for 12 years. He starts Wednesday.

“I’m excited for this opportunity to continue  things that I’m passionate about, which are our communities and the arts and certainly even to a degree education … I’m grateful to the board for this opportunity, and Meri Mass laid a tremendous foundation and has a wonderful legacy and I just hope to honor and build on that,” Ward said.

After serving as principal for Harrison School of the Arts for six years, he became creative lead at Southeastern University’s College of Arts and Media in 2019, and then served as an adjunct professor of education at Florida Southern College, a position he hopes to maintain while leading the Polk Arts Alliance.

Amy Wiggins, president of the Polk Arts Alliance, said in a news release Ward’s experience as an educator, strategic business leader and artist are what led the board to hiring him.

“We are thrilled that he has accepted this role and are looking forward to tapping into his creativity to advance arts and culture countywide,” Wiggins said.

Ward is a Mulberry High School graduate and has been a Polk County resident for more than 40 years. He holds several degrees including a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Florida.

He has served on the Lakeland Mayor’s Council for the Arts, and the boards of the Florida Dance Theatre, Arts4All Florida, the Florida Alliance for Arts Education, and the Lakeland Community Theatre. Ward wrote the script and lyrics for the mini-musical, “When you Dream,” about the philanthropic legacy of Publix founder George Jenkins.

“When [the] Polk Arts Alliance opportunity came on board, it really checked a lot of boxes for me. It was about the arts that I am passionate about. It was about our community … and it was a flexible-hours position, so the job seemed to be right what I was looking for at this time in my life,” Ward said.

Ward wants to bring more awareness to the art programs in some of the county’s rural communities, increase the alliance’s social media presence and create a hub where people can find out about arts events happening all over the county.

He is also considering creating a podcast for the non-profit. He believes that would “continue to put the arts and cultural opportunities in Polk County at the forefront of people’s minds.” He looks forward to meeting with the board to see what their priorities are.

“Culturally there’s a lot going on. I used to jokingly tell people if you can’t find something to do in Polk County, you live under a rock because there’s a variety of cultural opportunities that exist throughout this county. I think it’s there and it’s continuing to advocate for and support those arts and cultural organizations within this county,” Ward said.

Ward also wants to see if the alliance’s members are interested in participating in continuing education opportunities where they could learn more about how they could improve running their businesses.

The Polk Arts Alliance is the designated local arts agency for Polk County. Its membership includes 52 non-profit arts organizations. The alliance helps distribute grants to arts and cultural organizations through funding provided by a percentage of county tourism bed tax dollars. The agency also publishes the magazine, Art-i-Facts, and advocates for the various arts organization in the county.

“What I hope to do is build upon what the previous executive director, Meri Mass, did. The legacy that she’s created which is bringing the arts to the forefront of Polk County,” Ward said.

According to a 2015 economic impact study, the cultural arts sector in Polk County generated more than $46.6 million in economic impact and close to 1,500 jobs.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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  1. Great choice for this position …. he said in the article that the position checks a lot of boxes for him… and he certainly checks a lot of boxes for the position. Congratulations, Daryl.

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