Monday, August 29, 2011

In the Spotlight

Passion for the arts began early for Jarett. “I credit my parents for my interest in the arts,” says Levan as he recounts growing up in Miami and having Florida Grand Opera parties in his home. It was his parents who first took him to see Yul Brynner in the “King and I” and to see “Cats”. He frequented iconic art venues in South Florida such as the Coconut Grove Playhouse and the Miracle Theater. As a teenager his leadership in the arts was evident as he headed the Teen Volunteer Organization at the Miami Youth Museum in the former Bakery Center. He asserts that it is important for parents to instill a love for art in kids and he and his wife Dara continue this tradition with their children. He is concerned that many parents are not aware of all the programs (many of them free) that are available to families to expose their children to the arts. He says that the perception is that “I can’t afford the arts….I don’t understand the arts….I’m not creative….and the arts aren’t for me”. It is Levan’s personal mission to dispel this ‘myth’ and he is committed to empowering parents to support their families in cultivating an appreciation for and involvement in the arts. It was a natural transition for Levan to be a staunch art supporter. “Banks are generally not creative,” Jarett smiles as he remarks on BankAtlantic’s unique ‘corporate personality’ which is evident by the creative concepts and campaigns of the bank itself through the years.

BankAtlantic organizes a unique program called “Art in the Workplace”. It is an initiative Levan supports to ensure that there is exposure to art for all employees and their families. Every month the bank brings in various artists to expose employees to an assortment of art disciplines. These programs have included various art workshops, jewelry making classes and musical performances. BankAtlantic even partnered with Young at Art Museum to work with the employee’s children on Bring Your Child to Work Day. Jarett would love to replicate the program and is committed through his chairmanship of the Cultural Foundation of Broward to continue to engage businesses in supporting the arts with such programs.

“Art builds communities,” asserts Levan, “which is why BankAtlantic is committed to the arts.” It makes good business sense as an economic stimulus to invest in the arts. He quotes a 2007 Americans for the Arts study that indicates a 22 to 1 multiplier from monies spent investing in the arts in Broward County to direct expense of patrons. Translated into dollars, this means that a $3 million investment in the Arts yields approximately $66 million in tickets, concessions and merchandising from art and cultural events. In addition, the indirect economic impact of close to $90 million in hotel stays, restaurants, parking and dollars spent in shopping venues within proximity of these art and culture venues and events is signifi cant. As CEO of BankAtlantic, Jarett says, “We write checks, we get involved and we roll up our sleeves”. Since the dramatic decrease in spending for the Arts in public education, BankAtlantic’s commitment to supplanting that is quite evident. As recipients for a matching grant from the Knight Foundation, the bank committed $100,000 for a total of $200,000 for a program called “SmARTS”. The SmARTS program has enabled more than 25,000 children and teens in Dade and Broward County to attend cultural events from bringing busloads to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale to seeing the Wizard of Oz exhibit at the Miami Children’s Museum. They brought a local artist, George Gadson to the schools to create an art project called “Walk in My Shoes” in which school children decorated shoes with personal artifacts and designs reflecting their personalities and life. The program also exposes 3,500 children in the summer SmARTS programs by partnering with various
youth programs and agencies. The Cultural Foundation of Broward, which he chairs, is committed to raising funds and increasing awareness for the arts and culture in Broward County. There has been a 40% decrease in spending in the arts by government entities since 2007 and the foundation is committed to bringing business leaders together to educate, advocate and raise funds for arts in the county.

Despite the dismal economic downturn of the last few years, Levan “would like to credit art institutions for their survivor mentality.” He is proud of venues in Broward that are making investments in the future of Art. “There are lots of exciting projects happening,” says Jarett. Young at Art Children’s Museum is expanding to a renovated 55,000sq ft facility due to open in the Spring of 2012. The Young at Art museum, Levan boasts, is one of only six nationally accredited children’s museums and the only one in Florida. It is the only Gold– LEED Certified children’s museum in Broward County as well. Jarett’s wife, Dara, serves on the board of directors for Young at Art as well as on the board of Funding Arts Broward (FAB!) and the Hollywood Art and Cultural Center Board of Directors. Levan is excited that there are so many museum expansion and renovation projects in the works in Broward County. In addition to Young at Art’s expansion, the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale is opening a new art school at the historic South Side School; the Broward Center is gearing up for a major renovation and expansion; and the Museum of Discovery and Science is expanding with a new EcoDiscovery Center.

Jarett Levan will continue to work tirelessly to further the conversation and action for the expansion of the arts. “BankAtlantic and our people share the passion,” he asserts. “We wish we could do more…. I wish I could do more and that the bank could do more.” We in the arts world are lucky to have Jarett Levan in such an active capacity leading this vision and pledge.

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