John DeYoung, the 2018 inductee, with Beth Cummings and 2022 inductee Meri Mass at the "Walk Through History Celebration" at the Polk County History Center in Bartow in 2018. | Calvin Knight, Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance

For the first time, The Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance is asking the public for suggestions about who should be inducted into the Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame.

Nominations are being accepted through April 30 for potential 2023 Hall of Fame inductees and for the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance Annual Awards. The organization is also making some major changes, including hosting its first gala to celebrate the inductees and award recipients.

According to Executive Director Daryl Ward, the Hall of Fame is for honorees who have made contributions over a lifetime to the county’s arts and cultural heritage.

“Honorees can be artists who’ve had a significant impact directly here in Polk County or it can be someone from the county who’s gone on to have significant arts and/or cultural success on a national scale,” Ward explained.

The first Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame inductee in 2014 was Richard Powers, a visual artist from the Frostproof area. The 2022 inductee was Meri Mass, the former executive director of the Polk Arts Alliance. She held that position for 12 years and was Ward’s predecessor.

Casting a wider net

Ward, who took on the role as executive director in February 2022, is looking to make other changes to the program. In the past, only one inductee was chosen per year.

 “We are looking to increase the number of inductees this year in an effort to continue to make the Hall of Fame … a robust list of ‘who’s who’ in Polk County’s arts and cultural community,” Ward said. 

He said Polk County has so much depth in the terms of the number and types of artists, and people who support the arts, that at the rate of one person per year, it could take decades to scratch the surface of potential inductees.

Opening the nomination process to the public is one way to cast a wider net. 

“We are fortunate that we have many worthy candidates to choose from so making sure the Class of 2023 is worthy of such recognition is not really a concern for our current committee,” Ward said. “The main reason we’re asking for the public’s input is to promote the idea that this is their county arts and culture Hall of Fame. Additionally, we want to make sure we don’t overlook someone whose credentials merit consideration.”

“We want to pay respect to individuals whose quality of work/art merits it, but we also want to have a Hall of Fame that is representative of all of Polk County. That means making sure the inductees are both a geographically … and racially diverse group,” Ward said. So far, a person of color has not been inducted. 

There are three categories for nominations: Artists, Arts/Cultural Champions, and/or Arts Educators. Artists can be of all disciplines including theater, visual arts, performing arts and music. The nominee must have resided in Polk County for at least five years, according to the alliance’s website. 

 “Arts and cultural champions are the backbone of our arts and cultural communities. They are the individuals who may not have an artistic bone in their bodies but believe in making sure their communities have access to arts and culture,” Ward said. 

“They may be elected officials, community organizers, or philanthropic supporters of arts and culture, yet they play a vital role in a community having a vibrant arts and cultural scene.”

Gala to be held Oct. 17

The gala will be held on Oct. 17, at Bonnet Springs Park, celebrating the nominees and award winners. Tickets will go on sale in August. 

In the past, induction ceremonies were held at a site related to the inductee. Since there will be more than one inductee this year, Ward said the alliance needed to find a central location to host the celebration.

“I think events in the last few years, specifically the pandemic, have reminded us of what we all knew but perhaps forgot: it’s important to recognize and celebrate the things in our lives that bring us joy. When we could no longer go to concerts or to art museums or out to festivals or to local history/cultural events or to children’s museums, we came to realize how necessary they were for our mental and spiritual health,” Ward reflected. 

“Our task now is to not let that be taken for granted again, so we need to make sure to create things like the Hall of Fame gala to celebrate them.”

The selection committee hasn’t been created yet but Ward said it will consist of current Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance board members and a few additional members from the community. The additional members will be those who have supported or have direct involvement with local arts and cultural initiatives, according to Ward.

Previous Hall of Fame inductees are on display on the second floor of the Polk County History Center in Bartow, which is free to enter.

People can also nominate individuals or organizations for the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance Annual Awards. The award categories include Arts/Cultural Organization of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Arts/Cultural Philanthropist of the Year, Arts Educator of the Year, and Rising star.

The annual award winners should have significantly contributed to the arts and cultural community of Polk County in 2022, according to the alliance’s website.  The annual award winners will receive a monetary donation made in their name to the nonprofit for which they were nominated.

For more information on the nomination process, click here

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Stephanie Claytor

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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