John Melleky is working with a blank canvas. As the Arts and Culture Manager for Collier County’s Tourism Division, a newly created post, Melleky’s job is to enhance arts programming and services. He hit the ground running in February by reaching out to groups that were part of the county’s Arts & Culture Strategic Plan, a blueprint developed from the local arts, culture and creative sectors, patrons and residents.
“My role is working with the arts organizations, providing outreach, working on the [Tourist Development Council] grant program and implementing the plan,” Melleky says of meeting with organizations, including the United Arts Council. “The strategic plan is excellent and really has a wide breadth of opportunities.”
His priority will be to strengthen, adapt and diversify programs to address the community’s changing needs, while encouraging a rich arts and cultural environment that will strengthen the community and boost tourism.
Among ideas Melleky is working on are arts and cultural festivals; public art, such as murals and sculptures; educational arts workshops; promoting the county’s five museums; and working closely with artists, arts groups, the Naples Arts District, Bayshore Arts District and Naples Design District.
“We need to look at the different neighborhoods as these arts districts grow and really help them to see what they need assistance with, because those are some of the next areas of growth, especially for artists,” Melleky says, adding that affordable housing and whether artists can afford to live and work here is a concern.
He’s looking at areas where the county is growing, such as East Naples and Immokalee, and how to bring more arts education to children and adults, as well as augmenting what schools offer. And he’s visiting Everglades City, the former county seat, knowing the county’s 100th anniversary is approaching on May 8, 2023.
He’s also met with artists and groups to discuss how Zoom and other virtual platforms played a part in sustaining creativity during the pandemic and how virtual platforms can continue being part of their outreach efforts.
Melleky, who lives in Bonita Springs, was the senior development officer at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, The State Art Museum of Florida, in Sarasota, and the principal at FiG Solutions in Bonita Springs, where he directed fundraising and partnership efforts for the Edison Festival of Lights. His 20 years of cultural and arts experience ranges from development, fundraising and strategic planning to organizing events and festivals.
When he was chief executive officer for the Fiesta San Antonio Commission, one of the nation’s largest cultural festivals at over 3.6 million attendees, he grew it from 90 to 110 groups. In Collier County, he’s working on a Latin and Hispanic arts and culture festival.
“Arts and culture organizations want to feel they’re a part of the messaging, and that’s important because it’s such a rich and diverse arts culture,” he says. “There’s a lot people can choose from, and they need to get involved, so I’m helping tell the story for locals and tourists so more tourists will come.”
He’s also working on the Tourism Development Council grant program. This year, it grew to $900,000 after ranging from $600,000-$800,000 in past years. The increase came from reserves, he says, noting that the TDC wanted to help support organizations that were trying to do more and grow, especially after the pandemic. He hopes to boost that amount more in the future, although that depends on tourism tax revenues.
Melleky will create a public art plan and is working with a public art committee that will consider sculptures, murals and other art on public lands. “I used to live in Richmond, Virginia, and they had a great mural program, so I’m looking at what they do,” he says.
He’s also researching best practices in other communities, such as Sarasota, which has a strong arts-grant program, and Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which are known for their arts websites, outreach and promotions.
Paula Brody, who operates Inspirations Artists and Design Gallery and is president of the Naples Art District, a neighborhood of 95 artists north of Pine Ridge Road, said she is looking forward to applying for grants and working with Melleky and other arts organizations on upcoming events.
“Together, we can promote cultural-arts tourism in Collier County, so that people will not only trade in white snow for white sandy beaches, but the opportunity to enhance the awareness of the arts,” Brody says, echoing a Paradise Coast TV commercial. “And tourists can meet the 95 artists who work to create their art in this neighborhood.”