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Culture 2 Go

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Gloomy Bear - Jon-Paul Douglass' "Rain Bear," part of Snap Orlando's "Homegrown," at OMA through May 22

Knight, the president and CEO of United Arts, and Weston, board member of the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and McRae Art Studio member, worked together for the past two years (in an initiative they dubbed "Art Means Business") to demonstrate the capacity art has to revitalize the economy. In these efforts, they partnered with House Speaker Dean Cannon, who ultimately nominated the pair for their council appointments. Of the 15 seats on the council, three representatives come from the Orlando area: Knight and Weston join Seminole County's Kathryn Townsend, a former music teacher and president of the Seminole Cultural Arts Council, who was appointed last October.

According to Weston, they want to continue working toward bettering the state's economy through state-funded art programs, and the council will allow them to do just that. Weston, who has taught at Rollins College, the Crealdé School of Art and Full Sail University, has big ideas regarding the decaying arts education model in Florida's schools. As a passionate advocate for what he calls creative education, he hopes to pioneer and bolster virtual art classes that will fill the growing voids in state schools.

"It's a shame that they can't get it in school," Weston says. "Getting your fingers in the paint is very important, but maybe for a period of time we can get through the stage that we're in and bring some sort of online creative education."

Many of the studies that Weston and Knight encountered during their work together demonstrate that arts education keeps people in school longer, improves the learning experience and enhances test performance. In a similar way, arts and cultural events attract creative professionals to the state and bring business to communities. This leads to more dollars being spent and makes it possible for artists to earn a living creating art.

Weston, who has succeeded as a musician, muralist, advertising illustrator, economist and teacher, hopes that by fostering Florida's art scene, everyone benefits directly. That's why he and Knight believe it's important for regions that receive state funding to show a direct return on the taxpayers' investment. They will act as both gatekeepers to funding and protectors of art community integrity, scrutinizing what's working and finding ways to maintain and expand progress at creative organizations throughout the state.

"I see my role as a connector, bringing people together who may not have been able to meet easily before," Weston says. "It's just the fact that I'm old and I know so many different people because I've done so many different things."

- Ashley Belanger

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