This is goodbye.
As of March 5, my position at the Northwest Florida Daily News has been eliminated, and I no longer work there.
Since announcing my departure on Facebook, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming and humbling. Thank you.
I had a great run, 39 years-plus doing a job I loved. Most of that time — nearly 30 years — it included the special joy of writing about the amazing Emerald Coast arts community. I was already passionate about the arts, and getting to cover them was close to a career dream come true.
In saying farewell, I want to share a few moments I had the privilege of witnessing. Time is short, and I’m sure to overlook something important in the rush. Please forgive.
When I took over the Daily News’ weekly entertainment magazine in the summer of 1990, it was named TGIF. For most of its life, the magazine was called Showcase, and some people still refer to it by that name. Then it became DN and, now, Entertainer.
Even back then the tri-county area – Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa – had a small, but thriving, arts community.
Stage Crafters Community Theatre, which is beginning its 48th season, stole the show with its productions, and still does. The Northwest Florida Ballet, marking its 50th anniversary this year, kept everyone on their toes. The Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra performed in a "gymatorium" at what was then Okaloosa-Walton Junior College.
To see a touring Broadway show or a big-name performer, you had to go to Pensacola or Panama City until 1997, when the Mattie Kelly Arts Center opened in Niceville at the college.
I took a hard-hat tour while it was under construction, and I was there for the grand opening with Ben Vereen and Leslie Uggams. We finally had a world-class stage in Okaloosa County. I’ve seen countless shows there since, some of the best the college’s own summer musicals.
The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation dreamed of creating an event venue in Destin on property the arts benefactor had set aside for that purpose. The Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village was born through much persistence and intense labor. A stunning sculpture at the entrance and a signature "sail" canopy over the stage herald its presence.
MKAF is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and I can’t wait to see what else is planned. Being added to the 2017 Okaloosa County Women’s Hall of Fame as the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts inductee is an honor I will always cherish.
Some arts groups faded away during my tenure -- the Emerald Coast Concert Association and the Okaloosa Symphony Orchestra for example -- but so many more new ones have blossomed.
Two that jump to mind are Sinfonia Gulf Coast, founded in 2005, and Emerald Coast Theatre Co., now in its seventh season. Both of these organizations have strong education components to nurture young future artists, which is so important.
The Florida Council on Arts and Culture works hard with the Division of Cultural Affairs to nurture community arts organizations. During my four years on the council, as the first and only person from Okaloosa County to serve, I tried to report information I thought would be useful to local arts organizations. It was a revelatory experience.
I don’t know what’s next for me or for Entertainer. What I do know is that arts and entertainment are essential to a thriving community, and because of the efforts of countless arts advocates, they will go on in Northwest Florida.
Thank you to everyone who allowed me the honor of sharing your talents with readers, and thank you, dear readers, for making this journey with me.