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  • Daryl Ward

Democracy and Arts & Culture

When communities come together to celebrate what makes those communities unique or special, memorable things usually happen. This October at Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland, just such an evening will take place – the 2023 Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame Gala presented by CORE Wealth Advisors. The event will feature live music, great food, and local artwork, but the highlight of the night will be the time spent honoring and celebrating the arts and cultural icons of Polk County by inducting the 2023 Class into the Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame was created in 2014 – its first inductee was visual artist, Richard Powers – with the goal of recognizing Polk County individuals who have made significant contributions to the arts and cultural community in Polk County or who have enhanced Polk’s national or international reputation as a county with a strong and sustained commitment toward the development of cultural excellence. Physically located within the Art & Culture exhibit on the second floor of the Polk County History Center in Bartow, the exhibit gives recognition to Polk’s arts & cultural individuals who have raised awareness of or made significant contributions that have enriched Polk’s arts and cultural community. Currently there are eight members in the Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame, with the most recent being Meri Mass who was inducted last year as a Champion of the Arts for her work serving as the Executive Director of the Polk Arts Alliance. You can see all the members by visiting the website.

This year’s event will also see the return of the annual arts and culture awards that had previously been used to recognize local individuals and organizations for their contributions to the arts and cultural community during the preceding year. These awards are specifically designed to honor the current work being done in our communities while the Hall of Fame designation is a lifetime achievement honor. Jennifer D’hollander, the current president of the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance Board of Directors, is especially excited about the opportunity to pay tribute to those who are making Polk County a thriving arts and cultural destination. “It is so important to recognize outstanding individuals who have been paramount to the development of the arts and cultural field in Polk County and beyond. We are proud to be accepting nominations for both the Hall of Fame and the annual awards and look forward to announcing new inductees and award-winners this fall.”

If the Hall of Fame and the Polk Arts & Culture Awards are to be truly representative of the entirety of Polk County, then the voices of Polk Countians must be heard. This is where the democracy part comes in. Starting on April 1, the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance is asking for community input into both the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 and Polk Arts & Cultural Annual Award honorees.

The nomination process, which starts on April 1, closes on April 20 after which the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance will gather the nominations and then select the award winners. Nominees for the Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame can be nominated in one of three categories:


Artists of all disciplines are eligible: theatre, visual arts, performing arts, music, etc.


Non-artist individuals who through philanthropy, advocacy, leadership, or all three - have championed the arts/cultural opportunities in Polk County.


Individuals whose primary lifelong contribution to arts/culture has been in the realm of arts/cultural education. 

If you are interested in nominating someone for the Hall of Fame, please consider the life-long community impact of the nominee’s work, contributions, leadership, etc. to arts/cultural initiatives in Polk County. Additionally, previous residents of Polk County (for a minimum of five years) who have gone on to make significant contributions to arts and culture on the national or international level are also eligible for nomination.

Community members may also nominate individuals or organizations for the Polk Arts & Culture Awards in the following categories:


Honors an arts/cultural organization for their work in their respective communities AND recognizes outreach efforts that promote Polk as an art and/or cultural destination. Awardees could include nonprofit organizations, creative industry organizations, or local municipalities that meet the expectations of this award.


This award is presented to an organization or individual whose philanthropic support of arts and cultural programming has advanced the status of Polk County as an arts/cultural destination.


Honors an arts/cultural volunteer for their work within a specific organization – especially recognizes work that reaches beyond the specific organization for which they served to assist multiple arts and/or cultural organizations.


This award recognizes a local arts or cultural educator for their work with students. Awardees may be public/private school teachers, higher-ed teachers, or private art teachers.


Honors an individual who works to advance the arts/cultural community – specifically honors those who seek to expand Polk’s reputation as an arts/cultural destination. Awardees may be volunteers or paid staff of local arts and cultural organizations. 

With both recognition programs, it is important to make sure that award recipients represent all regions of our county. This means considering individuals and organizations from a variety of geographic sections of Polk. From Frostproof to Davenport and from Lake Wales to Mulberry, Polk is fortunate to have such vibrant arts and cultural communities throughout the county. Additionally, attention must be given to racial and ethnic factors when considering whom to recognize with these honors. Just like with the geographic diversity of our county, the arts, and cultural work being done by people of color is integral to Polk’s desire to be a “destination for arts and culture.” 

All the information regarding nominating an individual or organization can be found on the Polk Arts & Cultural Alliance’s website,

I’m confident that the citizens of Polk County will provide us with numerous individuals worthy of recognition for their arts and cultural achievements. In fact, we’re so confident of this that we’re keeping the nominations on file for three years – no need to nominate the same individual/organization next year as we’ll already have their info. I also believe that we will see the best of Polk’s arts and culture on display at the Polk Arts & Culture Hall of Fame Gala. It’s my hope that the evening will be both a recognition of fantastic work and a celebration of why Polk is such a hub for arts and culture. More information will come in the following months about the gala itself, but in the meanwhile, please consider nominating someone – we want to hear from you!


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