Jazz Musician and self-professed nerd, Andrew Allen may be new to the Executive Director position at the Lake Wales Arts Council, but the arts council has almost always been a part of his life. A third-generation Lake Wales resident, Andrew attended Spook Hill Elementary and McLaughlin Middle School. He went to Lake Wales High School where he switched his musical focus from piano and trumpet to drums and classical percussion during his sophomore year.
He was the Drum Major during his senior year of high school and later enrolled at the University of South Florida for classical percussion.
When a timpanist from a local orchestra spoke to his class about the limited number of jobs in their field (only twelve full-time paid timpanist positions at the time, in 2007), Andrew said, “I realized at that point that maybe I should re-adjust,” he laughed, “and explore other career fields that were in music.”
He took a jazz piano class and fell in love with it. “When I took that class I realized that I could either play Chopin my whole life, or I can try to be Chopin,” he said regarding his inclination toward composition. He switched his degree to jazz studies which was a difficult transition for the musician. From age five to 18, Allen played classical music, so he had to work twice as hard to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Studies in the three remaining years of college in order to graduate on time.
In 2011, after graduating, Andrew signed to a record label. From there he went on to record multiple jazz albums doing renditions of themes from Star Trek, Star Wars, Nintendo, Blizzard, and Marvel Comics. “I’m a huge nerd, that’s just the way it is,” he said with a smile.
Fast forward to last year when he and his wife, Brooke Allen, moved to Tallahassee. She had a job with Keller Williams and he was writing music for CBSI, Discovery, and radio station 104.1 in Orlando.
In January 2018, Andrew was told about a possible job opening at the LWAC and he knew he wanted to apply for it. “I used these services for a long time when I was growing up, I did the summer arts camp here in the early 90’s,” he said. More recently, in 2016, Andrew headlined their Jazz Festival.
He explained, “Through all those experiences, I knew this was my best opportunity to affect change in the Lake Wales area for all of the students that need the arts – that don’t just want them, but for their lives, they have to have them.”
Andrew went above and beyond when submitting his resume, including a 30-page plan for their upcoming season. He programmed all of their exhibits, concert series, and classes, even writing a curriculum for all their classes. “I wanted to prove that I was serious about it,” he said.
And LWAC did take him seriously. He was announced as the new Executive Director during the last week in February at the Arts Festival.
That original plan he submitted though ambitious, is almost exactly what they’re doing now with 40 programs including ten education programs servicing almost 200 students, a nine-part concert series, and five-part exhibit series. They’ve also created partnerships with local programs like the Family Literacy Academy where they send teachers once a month to work with parents and students.
Cultivating the arts in students is especially important to the Executive Director. He spent a year and a half as a band director which he says was one of the most fulfilling and stressful times of his life. “That’s when I realized that if I wanted to do a service to these kids, that I had to go get my Master’s Degree and I had to become a better version of myself,” he said. Which he earned about seven months prior to starting with the arts council.
“By offering these programs we’re keeping kids out of trouble and giving them an opportunity to better themselves creatively,” he said. “I think that fine arts with kids teaches them about respect, it teaches them about discipline and expectations. There’s a lot of life lessons happening in our classes maybe these kids aren’t getting anywhere else.”
Where would Andrew Allen like to see LWAC in five, ten years down the road? Something he’s put plenty of thought into, he named off programs he envisions – youth symphony, youth chorale, youth jazz band ensemble, adult brass choir, adult woodwind choir, and a community band.
“I would love for our exhibit series to grow, I would love for our concert series to really take off and to sell out season tickets months ahead of time,” he expressed.
Andrew would also like to start an accredited program like the Straz Center has in which students that are homeschooled or in Florida Virtual School, or as a supplement for public and charter school students can earn fine arts credits.
Check out next month’s issue to read more about Andrew Allen’s nerdier side like his favorite Star Wars movie to exactly what went into his uniquely themed jazz albums.
Lake Wales Arts Council
1099 State Rd. 60 E.,
Lake Wales, FL 33853