Fresh, new faces at FAFO
Several new appointees are getting to work planning two of the area’s signature events.
Charlita Whitehead, FAFO secretary and co-chair of Symphony Under The Stars; Ashley Morgan, FAFO administrative coordinator; Billye Mallory, FAFO president; Teddy Sykes, chair of the Ocala Arts Festival; and Ryan Neumann, co-chair of the festival, pose in front of a mural painted by Justin Alsedek in the courtyard by the Brick City Center For The Arts on Southwest Broadway Street in Ocala on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Fine Arts For Ocala’s (FAFO) new President Billye Mallory said she believes art is “important for self-expression and societal reflection” and that she wants to do her part “to ensure Ocala’s art community always feels appreciated and prioritized.”
Mallory is among a number of new faces at FAFO, a local nonprofit organization that organizes the annual Ocala Arts Festival and the Symphony Under the Stars event. She and new Administrative Coordinator Ashley Morgan signed on earlier this year, along with some new board members.
A University of Florida graduate and fourth-generation Ocala native, Mallory said civic involvement runs in her genes. Her grandparents, Frank and Pamela Stafford, “have been super involved in Ocala,” she said. “I feel like I got that from them.”
For her day job, Mallory works at Renstar, a medical research facility, recruiting patients for studies, and helping out with marketing and promotions.
Through the sponsorship of the David and Lisa Midgett Foundation, FAFO’s Emerging Artists program, which is part of the Ocala Arts Festival that takes place in the fall, has recognized local artists on the rise over the past few years. The artists show and sell their work alongside established artists, and they participate in the juried competition and work with mentors to advance their careers.
Two new FAFO appointees have shown their work as emerging artists in the festival: Teddy Sykes, the new chair of the Ocala Arts Festival, and Ryan Neumann, his co-chair.
“Teddy Sykes is an artist himself, as is Ryan Neumann. We’re understandably excited to see their vision for the festival come to life this fall,” Mallory said.
Charlita Whitehead will serve as the new Symphony Under the Stars chair, and Neumann’s wife, Kat Neumann, will be co-chair of the symphony event, which is held each year on Mother’s Day in partnership with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra.
According to Sykes, the 2023 Ocala Arts Festival event map and parking will stay the same. The festival is spread out on streets around the downtown square.
“We’re looking to add additional seating options in various locations throughout the event grounds,” he said. “We’re also going to see what options we have to add more shaded areas, so visitors aren’t always in direct sunlight.”
Sykes said the festival committee will likely partner with other local arts organizations to custom-paint several picnic tables “to be both on display and be available for visitors to sit down at and use.” The tables may or may not be auctioned off to raise money after the event. That’s still to be determined.
Also, there’s been discussion about potential art installations that will be set up throughout the festival for photo ops and a likely addition of street performers, entertainers, and interactive games. There are also plans under way for interactive art to engage attendees.
“Open container rules are in effect this year again,” Sykes added. “We are going to encourage each business downtown to participate in selling to-go food and drink items.
“Downtown businesses will be able to set up outside their entrances if they wish, if they are not blocking foot traffic or causing problems,” he said. “We have our first meeting with the city coming up at the end of the month, so around that time we’ll definitely start getting a solid yes or no on many of these topics.”
Morgan is the only new FAFO appointee who has a paid position, Mallory explained.
“The rest of us are volunteers. So, as you can imagine, that’s quite a hefty role,” she said.
Mallory praised Morgan’s organizational skills, which, according to the new president, makes her the ideal replacement for Maggie Weakley, who was a well-known, highly regarded driving force at FAFO since 2014 and a noted artist in her own right.
“We’ve been in transition, switching everything to Ashley, and it’s been a lot over the past year for sure, but everything has been so smooth between the two of them,” Mallory said of Morgan and Weakley.
“They’re both so organized and efficient,” Mallory effused, “and, of course, we were very saddened to see Maggie go, but we’re excited to see what’s to come from her as an artist.”
Morgan, who has a bachelor’s degree in business management with a minor in marketing and accounting, and a master’s in education leadership, wrote on Instagram that her most inspiring moments at the Ocala Arts Festival came to her as a child walking around downtown and seeing all the artwork from elementary students.
“Especially when it was my own art on display with world-renowned artists,” she added.
Another cherished, more recent memory took place a few years ago when she attended Symphony Under the Stars for the first time.
“It was my first Mother’s Day the year I had my son,” she said.
In between its big events, FAFO supports art education through scholarships and various community programs, and local art-based organizations.
“As a local artist and collector, I have been truly honored to be involved with FAFO. My fellow board members are a great group of humans who really care,” said Ryan Neumann. “The upcoming festival will continue a long tradition of celebrating the arts here in Marion County. Everyone on our team is genuinely dedicated to bringing positive experiences to the people.”
To learn more about Fine Arts For Ocala, visit fafo.org.