A new leader has taken over the reins of The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, circled round his staff, and forged a collaborative path for its future. Tony Allegretti has a vision, and he wants you to come along and be part of it.
Born in Oshkosh, with stops in Venice, Gulf Breeze, Florida, along the way, Allegretti has long been moving in the spheres of marketing, advocacy and art. Starting out in criminology at FSU, he began to sell ATMs in the Panhandle.Allegretti found himself at home selling and packaging ideas. He dabbled in the trade shows and set up ATM displays out of Fort Walton. It was so successful he was representing them up and down Florida’s East Coast – selling, installing, and learning the business of “the sale” – but it required lots of road travel.Then, Allegretti was recruited for a job in Jacksonville by Derek Mercer from RecruitMax. When one of his freelance gigs, doing the newsletter at Theatre Jacksonville, became steady he was hired by the Theatre to be marketing director, a position he says brought out his love for the arts. He welcomed experience in helping with the props and backstaging, too.“All of us at Theatre Jacksonville are thrilled to see Tony in his new role at the Cultural Council,” says Sarah Boone, president of Theatre Jacksonville. “In his time as marketing director at the theatre, he brought many new ideas to the table in a successful initiative to widen our audience reach. I have no doubt that he’ll bring that same innovation and vibrancy to Jacksonville’s arts and cultural scene.”By 2004, Allegretti had helped start “First Fridays” in Hemming Plaza and the community lens was turning towards reviving Downtown. A white paper was developed for Art Walk, which is now a decade-old institution on the first Wednesday of the month. “People were buying buildings and leasing space. Living Downtown was becoming popular–it was a great time back then,” Allegretti remembers.
“I went to Seattle to visit my sister. The idea of taking what Seattle had done in their urban core and developing a loose central map of Downtown became a discussion – art in trees, music on the street, life back in Downtown. So, in collaboration with Downtown Vision, I made a pitch to the DVI Board in November of 2003 and became a consultant. Soon, Mayor Peyton was on board, and we all developed “Take Me to the River” at the end of Hogan Street, started a farmer’s market, moved more art and art projects Downtown–things were happening.”
Allegretti started getting the Downtown buzz on a more personal level. He and his friend Paul Shockey bought a downtown building to show their up-close-and-personal support of urban core revitalization, of which the Burrito Gallery (BG) restaurant-bar-meeting place became a mainstay and a model for others.
“Tony’s now doing what he loves to do,” says Paul Shockey, one of the four founders of Burrito Gallery, along with Marco Monroy and his cousin Eddie Escriba, who came from Boca Raton. Marco and Eddie drove the restaurant side, and Paul and Tony headed up the the real estate side of the business. They’ve celebrated a decade of success. Together, they are quite a team.
At the time, all four of them lived in Springfield. They wanted a spot for good food, good people and good times–and, as history shows, it was the right time to move. BG was opened in late 2003. The same four also started the UPTOWN Market. “This new position for Tony blends together the art of business in the urban core because it encompasses art and business,” Shockey says.
“Tony’s always talking about ‘the funnel’ – collecting the information, the facts, then putting a spin on it and blending it with his urban interests. He’s always been an ‘out of the box’ thinker, and he will take the Cultural Council in a new direction. Tony’s always been in the middle of things going on Downtown. He’s genuine, too, even though he’s a marketing professional on steroids. He can affect Downtown,” Shockey says.
“With regard to Burrito Gallery and UPTOWN Market, Tony and his partners showed foresight,” states William (Bill) R. Cesery Jr., of The Cesery Companies, a major name in Jacksonville development. “I remember when there was a meeting of Downtown stakeholders – Toney Sleiman, Carlton Jones, Alex Coley, Mike Langton and others,” Cesery says, “Tony rode in on his four-foot skateboard!” Allegretti certainly knows how to make an entrance – he can be the icebreaker and get any meeting focused, quickly.
Allegretti continued on what he calls his “project-based lifestyle”, with one event following the next. One day he got a call – there was an opening for the director of Riverside Arts Market, the community gem founded by Wayne Wood. “I really wanted that job,” Allegretti says. “To me, Riverside Arts Market or RAM was a smash, the ultimate ‘cool’ project I could ever be involved with. It was a dream to be in a community-based start-up and working with such great organizations, such as Riverside Avondale Preservation,” Allegretti rhapsodizes.
“Tony has many talents that have shown themselves in different enterprises he has led in the past, such as RAM, Community 1st Saturdays and ArtWalk,” says Wayne Wood, community agitator, historian, author, retired optometrist and founder of Riverside Arts Market, now recognized nationwide as a destination when coming to Jacksonville.
“He’s adept at social media and always at the forefront of new trends and ideas. He foresees and conveys a sense of excitement. Tony is a great communicator, and he has ‘contagious enthusiasm’. He is a creative innovator, like P.T. Barnum and The Music Man – people want to follow him because he’s a swirling vortex of energy that people are drawn to. Jacksonville is greatly enriched in having a personality like Tony, and the Cultural Council is blessed to have him as their pied piper.”
Of course, never one to let any grass grow under his feet, Tony was working pro bono with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce on a project, which led then-president Wally Lee to offer him the position of Director of Downtown Engagement. While there for nearly two years, Allegretti put together the “Community 1st Saturdays” by engaging the credit union to brand with this Downtown initiative, which has continued to be a great success, since getting started in 2012.
Working towards Downtown engagement and bringing about awareness of the great arts and cultural activities available in Jacksonville are all things Allegretti has been doing for a long time. When the position of executive director of the Cultural Council came up, it seemed obvious this might be a great next step, one to really call home for a long-term career.
Tony brings focus on what the Cultural Council does, and will do, and how anyone can become involved and make it part of their own experience. He has a three-legged approach to this: advocacy, wherein the Cultural Council gives and defends grants to local organizations; the Spark District, focusing within defined streets/blocks of Downtown Jacksonville; and art in public places. Says Tony, “Our goal is to make this effort sustainable and continue to support artists who can bring about visual change through their work while engaging generations in our community.”
“The seat of my three-legged stool is to strengthen the direct connection between the private sector and patrons of the arts directly to our local artists. We will raise dollars to fund artists – this is a very important part of the equation. Artists represent and express what we are all about in Jacksonville,” Tony says.
“We will be an excellent steward of taxpayer dollars, which will be re-granted to our cultural services’ grantees. Our vision is to work even more closely with the private sector – such as Florida Blue, Prudential and individual donors, as we intend to begin to fundraise throughout the year to have important dollars to fund new and exciting projects now being developed.”
The process the Cultural Council must go through to distribute these dollars is defined by ordinance; however, they do have options outside the CIP, or Capital Improvement Projects, such as collaborations with the DIA, or Downtown Investment Authority, Urban Streetscape Façade Program, and JTA Transit programs.
Soon, the Cultural Council will open a benefit-based membership drive for corporations and private citizens to fund goals and objectives – artist memberships will be complimentary. So if you’d like to, you can a part of a driving force in Jacksonville arts and culture. “We invite every resident, organization, and others who have an interest, to come along with us,” says Allegretti.
“We are all about education,” Allegretti continues. “[The Cultural Council is] participating with MOCA’s “Any Given Child – Jacksonville” (AGC) in February, which is an important partnership to help augment the schools with art and cultural activities and needed supplies. I would not be where I am or the person I am today without art and music in my school. It was important to me then, important to me now, and important to me to ensure my children have the same experience – every year is a lost year without the arts in school.”Reverend Kimberly Hyatt of St. Johns Cathedral and CAP Kids, agrees. She says, “It’s important to have leaders from all sectors represented on the Steering Committee for AGC-Jacksonville, so Tony was a natural choice given the Cultural Council’s focus on public art. Tony’s history of working for our city to be rich with arts opportunities for everyone will help us continue to think of new and innovative ways that arts education can be expanded in Jacksonville. We are very fortunate to have his insights included in the Steering Committee discussions currently underway.”
Special events are on the work board of the Cultural Council and will increase as the Cultural Council begins to network into the community for support and awareness of its programs and educational initiatives.
“I want us to realize Jacksonville is a world-class city of culture – and we intend to communicate it, envision it, and make it happen through support of, for instance, our area museums, the Zoo, libraries, music venues, such as the Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra" and Jacksonville Children’s Choir.”
“Members of my staff are like comic book heroes. They are on the front line of one of the most important parts of our community. We are responsible and accountable for the communication of arts and cultural activities, so we can make Jacksonville a better place – this is a heavy burden.”
Despite that burden, Allegretti and his staff have some great support from so many people in the community. Plans for 2015 are already underway, and Allegretti says we should see a big announcement soon: look for it on the Cultural Council’s Facebook or on their website at www.culturalcouncil.org