St. Johns County is teeming with artists. Walk down practically any given street in the area and local music will be emanating from bars, restaurants, and venues. Gallery walls are lined with the work of local painters and photographers. Theatre-goers flock to stages on weekend nights to see local actors perform. The artistic culture of the area is vibrant and spirited. And behind these talented local residents is the St. Johns Cultural Council. Though you might be familiar with the St. Johns Cultural Council through the grants that they disperse to area artists, their artistic advocacy goes beyond mere financial support. At the heart of the work of this organization is Hala Laquidara, who serves as the Business Development Director of the SJCC. Hala has lived in St. Augustine for seventeen years, and her background in Business Management, event planning, even grant writing has perfectly prepared her for this hands-on, “boots on the ground” position at the Council. In this role, she works to cultivate skills for artists to become experts in the nitty-gritty business of art and create an environment that encourages this practical learning.
Think of it like this – local artists have a lot of talent in their field. They’re masters of paint or instruments, words or stage. But making a career out of any of these artistic media goes far beyond having those skills. Making a career involves knowing the details of copyrights and marketing, approaching galleries or booking gigs, knowing how to make money with your art. So that’s where Hala and the Council come in.
Since Hala joined the St. Johns Cultural Council more than a year ago, she’s developed and expanded this “teach a man to fish” kind of approach to the Council’s artistic outreach. Much of this expansion has come through hosting regular artistic workshops. “We created the workshops,” says Hala, “to benefit local artists and arts organizations. The individual artists’ and art organizations’ needs and path to success guide our entire process.” The observed needs of the artistic community have translated into workshops in creating resumes, marketing via social media, or even just the basic paperwork involved in having a business – all entirely free and taught by a professional in the field.
“Artists contribute so much creativity and benefits to our community,” Hala says. “It’s important that all kinds of creative people learn how to promote themselves and their work, and that’s the opportunity we provide for them. Art is still a business and the more artists learn how to manage their business, the more successful they can become. This is beyond the creative process but just as important.”
Advocacy comes in all different shapes. The St. Johns Cultural Council offers grants and scholarships, promotion of artists and recognition of artistic success, but Hala Laquidara serves artists through a strategic building of skills, an offering of tools to build their own path to success. The response to the Council’s workshops has been substantial and overwhelmingly positive. “We have had a great response and I think it is because we are engaged and we are listening to the arts and culture community,” says Hala. “Our county is a mecca for this creative energy and people are responding! [The Council] is an amazing nonprofit organization, and I feel honored and empowered to do great this important work for them.”