By Kevin Sheilley

I went Over the Edge! While many have tried to push me over the edge through the years, it was the arts that sent me. To be more precise, it was the Marion Cultural Alliance and their recent fundraiser, Over the Edge – Taking the Arts to New Heights, which saw me and approximately 60 other volunteers help to raise nearly $70,000 by rappelling off of the new 7-story SpringHill Suites hotel. When my mom saw the Facebook post where I was soliciting funds for the event, she called. She was very concerned that “you are going to die.” I assured her that I was planning on “Staying Alive” and thus rappelled in my favorite 70’s disco attire! (Note—while fun, rappelling in Florida in a polyester suit is not recommended).

Why would CEO of the Chamber & Economic Partnership join the Mayor, County Commission Chair, County Administrator, and others in raising funds for the community’s central arts funding organization? It is a fair question and one that is hopefully addressed in this column.

 Big Business

The arts is a big deal in the Ocala Metro. The Marion Cultural Alliance has a creative registry of more than 145 different organization in our community. 145+! These organizations range from the nationally-recognized Ocala Civic Theater to the Magnolia Art Xchange, from the Marion Ballet to the Performing Arts Conservatory to everything in between. Performing arts, visuals arts, professional artists, and amateurs are all afforded incredible opportunities in this community.

Not only are there a lot of arts organizations, but they make a significant contribution to our economy. According to the recent Arts & Economic Prosperity study conducted by Americans for the Arts found that the arts contributed more than $55 million to the local economy. Additionally, for every $1 spent in the arts, it produces a $3 return. This compares to a national average of $1.50 – a doubling of the return!

Additionally, the CEP has partnered with MCA to provide technical assistance for artists to understand business-side of their art. The CEP also served as an advisor to the exciting new Magnolia Art Xchange, an incubator for artists to soon to open in the former rail depot adjacent to the Tuscawilla Art Park.

Quality of Place

As excited as I am about the entrepreneurial opportunities and those economic numbers, it is the role of the arts to help make Ocala uniquely Ocala that most excites me. Recently, we hosted my in-laws from out of state over the Mother’s Day weekend and attended one of my family’s favorite events: FAFO’s (Fine Arts For Ocala) Symphony Under the Stars featuring the Ocala Symphony. My mother-in-law, a violinist and former orchestra member, was impressed by not only the quality the music and but the incredible community spirit around the evening. It is a uniquely Ocala-experience.

Think about it. The art that speaks most clearly, most passionately to us is that which connects us to one another and our community. Horse Fever. Symphony Under the Stars. Ocala Arts Festival. The Reilly Center. Each of these is completely unique to our community. They help to shape us and tell our story. Art makes Ocala Ocala and makes it a great place to Life Life Here.

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