Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. – May 20, 2024 – This year’s First Coast Cultural Center Beaches – A Celebration of the Arts annual fundraising event was held on Sunday, April 28 at the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The gala raised a record amount of funds with $786,000 in donations from patrons throughout Northeast Florida. The amount of funds raised includes pledges made now until January 2025.

The event featured keynote speaker and Honorary Chair Aundra Wallace, President of JAXUSA Partnership. Local media celebrity and marketing executive Charlene Shirk served as the evening’s emcee.

During the non-profit’s largest fundraiser of the year, First Coast Cultural Center recognized individuals, businesses, and organizations who have made a significant impact on the arts in Northeast Florida.

Highlights of the evening included the prestigious Irene Lazzara – Beaches, A Celebration of the Arts Award which was presented to Janet Wilson, local painter and fine artist. Wilson is an individual who is dedicated to ensuring that arts and culture are ingrained into the everyday life in the Beaches community. She is one of the original co-founders of the Cultural Center.

Additional awards include the Emerging Artist Award bestowed to Cole Shapiro, whose art has been featured in several local exhibitions.

The Ron and Hilah Autrey Arts Education and Advocacy Award was given to Jim Draper, whose art can be seen in hundreds of collections and at the Jacksonville International Airport, Baptist Medical Center and Cowford Chophouse. Draper is an artist with a track record of advancing the arts and educating the public, business leaders, elected officials, and students on the fundamental value of arts in the Beaches community.

Additionally, the Community Impact Award (Member’s Choice) was awarded to Joseph P. Bryant, a renowned local philanthropist and individual who has demonstrated a tangible and measurable development of the arts and culture in the Beaches community.

The Art of Giving Award was presented to Zena Groover by Donna Guzzo, President and CEO of First Coast Cultural Center.

The Art of Giving Award was presented to Zena Groover, known for her community involvement. She was recognized for making a major donation to First Coast Cultural Center. Groover is committed to funding and sustaining arts and culture programs in the Beaches community.

New this year was the #Gulanism Award from Dr. Arun Gulani of Gulani Vision Institute and was given to Allison Reade. Reade is a young person who exhibits positivity and is known for consistently sharing affirmations personally and professionally.

First Coast Cultural Center awarded its Employee of the Year honor to Kimberly Sheridan, the Cultural Center’s Events and Program Coordinator, and its Volunteer of the Year award to local painter and artist Marlene Scheer.

The event featured music with Alyssa Albert, violinist, and Sabrina Krisberg, cellist. Live artists included Catherine Lynn, ceramic artist, Claire Weaver, charcoal artist, and Katherine Weaver, oil painter. Candice Sirak, MT-BC, National Board-Certified Music Therapist and Sound Connections® Music Therapy Manager hosted an interactive booth featuring music therapy.

Honors were presented to individuals, businesses, and organizations within the coastal counties of Nassau, Duval, and St. Johns, between Amelia Island and St. Augustine Beach and honorees who go above and beyond to enhance the arts and culture in the region. Award winners were chosen by a committee of judges who are unaffiliated with the Cultural Center, with the exception of the Community Impact Award which will be a Cultural Center member’s Choice Award.

According to Donna Guzzo, President and CEO of First Coast Cultural Center, award recipients have dedicated their expertise, philanthropy, and services to the nonprofit and in the region. “We are honored to announce the record amount of funds raised this year which will greatly help us complete much needed renovations at our new building in Ponte Vedra Beach,” she said. “Our keynote speaker and honorary chair Aundra Wallace, President of JAXUSA Partnership, raised awareness about the importance of the arts in our community in the seven counties of Northeast Florida.”

Event funds will support the nonprofit through ticket sales, sponsorships, program and signage opportunities, and leaders in arts and culture. “We are pleased to recognize statewide and local leaders, professionals, artists, and volunteers who generously share their time and knowledge to help the Cultural Center, and our First Coast community residents, visitors, and students throughout our community,” said Guzzo. Sponsors of this year’s event include Lazzara Family Foundation, Ron and Hilah Autrey, Gulani Vision Institute, Tom Bush Family Dealership, PNC Bank, Publix Super Markets Charities, bestbet St. Augustine, and Instituto NAUTA.

First Coast Cultural Center’s new building is formally opened with arts, culture, community activities, and a gift shop at 6000B Sawgrass Village Circle in Ponte Vedra Beach. The two-story, 6,000-square-foot space was funded in part by local donors and an additional support campaign is currently in place with the Beaches gala and numerous events.

First Coast Cultural Center is a place to create, understand, and experience the arts. The organization accomplishes its goals through exhibitions of local, regional and national artists in a variety of media through educational and enlivening events, quality arts classes, lectures, and workshops. Key programs include Sound Connections® Music Therapy for children with disabilities which is offered free of charge to students at St. Johns County schools including Title I schools which provide additional resources to economically disadvantaged students. Also, Kick StART after school arts enrichment programs and services are available and include Title 1 schools with the help of grant funding. Summer camps are available with online registration along with additional seasonal children’s camps, and adult programs. Visit the website at https://firstcoastculturalcenter.org.