Deborah Kerr Sings the
Praises of Art and Culture
By Leon M. Rubin
From Deborah Kerr’s perspective, there’s much more to art than meets the eye.
“When an artist creates a piece of art or a dance company prepares for its season, it buys in the same fashion that a corporation would with respect to buying supplies, printing brochures, flyers and tickets for an opening, hiring a caterer for the reception, buying gas, buying groceries, doctor bills, paying rent, sending children to school – you get the idea,” explains Kerr, the current chair of the Broward Cultural Council and a member since 2008.
With a professional career spanning retailing, banking and non-profit organizations and a personal commitment to the arts as a volunteer and, more recently, an actual creator of art, Kerr wants everyone to understand the profound impact that arts and culture have in our community.
One aspect of that impact is economic. She cites Americans for the Arts’ recent Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study, which shows that Broward County’s arts and culture industry grew by 50 percent from 2005-2010, generated $230 million in economic activity and is now 575 organizations strong.
Another aspect is experiential. She speaks with pride about the County’s Public Art & Design Program and the impact it has on visitors and residents alike. She is particularly excited about the new work at Young At Art Museum in Davie - I LOVE YOU, by artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt. “It's a great place,” she says. “I envision people having family reunion photos, wedding photos and the like in the arms of this piece of public art - a regional designation for citizens and tourists.”
She also sings the praises of Port Everglades’ Forces of Nature, the 3,000-square-foot terrazzo floor by internationally recognized Michele Oka Doner, and the whimsical flying fish of Cruising School by Larry Kirkland. “Public art makes art accessible to people,” Kerr observes. “It puts you in a whole different place … a place that you’re meant to feel you belong in. There’s comfort there.”
Finally, there’s the impact of art at the individual level. Kerr has always been under its influence. As a child growing up in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, she frequently visited the cultural attractions of New York and Philadelphia with her family. She started taking art classes in high school and has recently reinvigorated those interests – exploring photography, oil painting and cold wax, among other media. She has exhibited at Tom Rossetti Fine Art Gallery in Pompano Beach and participated in the Squared Project at Studio 18 in the Pines.
Her passion for the arts also inspires much of her volunteer work. Since moving to Fort Lauderdale in 1977, she has been involved with the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the Gold Coast Jazz Society, Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre and the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, among other organizations throughout Broward. She invests in the arts as a member of Funding Arts Broward (FAB!). Her efforts have brought her recognition, including being honored by the March of Dimes as one of its Women of Distinction and being named one of the 100 Outstanding Women of Broward County in 2012 by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County.
Kerr is delighted by the way in which Broward County’s arts and cultural community has expanded and evolved in the last 35 years. She remembers the town being a bit sleepy in 1977. The primary cultural venue was Parker Playhouse which, she recalls, was playing touring shows of theater she saw on Broadway as a kid with her parents. Living downtown – which she does now – wouldn’t have been possible.
“Now it’s alive. It’s vibrant. We have the Museum of Art, the Broward Center, the Museum of Discovery and Science; Las Olas Boulevard is shifting to restaurants and galleries. The New River is the energy that runs through the city of Fort Lauderdale for anyone who lives on it, walks along it or rides on it. My husband, Leigh, and I tend to live, work and play downtown,” she says, “when not traveling the County visiting arts organizations.”
Kerr is grateful for the opportunities she’s had as a Cultural Council member to learn about the workings of the cultural community and to help shape its future. She’s proud of her involvement in the development of the CreativeBROWARD 2020 Plan, a ten-year community cultural plan approved by the Board of County Commissioners that focuses on the creative economy, cultural tourism and public art and design.
She is excited about the new Faces of the Arts of Broward campaign, which will allow artists and patrons of the arts alike to tell their stories. She’s also extremely proud of the fact that the County’s online Public Art & Design Tour, which contains detailed information about the County’s public artworks, can now be accessed with smartphones via QR codes in public locations including Broward County Libraries, Parks and the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. “This is an exciting time for the creative industry community in Broward,” she states.
As Kerr likes to say, “The little things add up to BIG results." She praises her colleagues on the Cultural Council, who serve at the pleasure of the County Commission, as “enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers giving of their time and expertise for the betterment of our community.” She points out that the Cultural Division’s staff members are themselves a creative talent pool, adding that, “The Council could not do its job without their support and knowledge.”
Ultimately, Kerr envisions Broward County as a regional leader in promoting arts and culture, with influence extending throughout the southern half of the state. “That will make Broward’s creative community stronger,” she says. The bottom line, she explains – using another of her favorite sayings – is that “Art works!”