The Marion Cultural Alliance salutes hard-working volunteers and their artful contributions

Gerald Ergle, left, receives the MCA Spirit Award for his work on the Horse Fever 20/20 from Laurie Zink during the 14th-annual Marion Cultural Alliance Applaud the Arts awards ceremony at the Ocala Civic Theatre in Ocala, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted October 15, 2021 | By Eadie Sickler

Gerald Ergle, left, receives the MCA Spirit Award for his work on the Horse Fever 20/20 from Laurie Zink during the 14th-annual Marion Cultural Alliance Applaud the Arts awards ceremony at the Ocala Civic Theatre in Ocala on Oct. 10. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

On Sunday, 185 Ocala art and culture enthusiasts gathered to recognize 2021’s standout talents at an awards event hosted by the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA).

The “Applaud the Arts” ceremony recognized individuals who have positively impacted the arts and culture in Marion County throughout the past year. A champagne brunch at the Ocala Civic Theatre on East Silver Springs Boulevard commemorated the honorees’ achievement. Duke Energy, Floyd Hershberger and BJ Trophies presented the event.

ARTS EDUCATOR AWARD recognizes an arts educator who utilizes the arts as a tool to stimulate learning. This award honors Brooke Hutto, nominated by Joanne Crowder, Fine Arts Program Specialist for grades K-12, in the Marion County School District.

Hutto, for the past 15 years, has been teaching music to children of all ages and abilities. She is the K-5 music teacher at Harbourview Elementary School and president of the Marion County Music Association.

She organized two large-scale county events: the Charlie Dixon Music Festival and the Marion County Elementary Honor Choir, involving more than 1,000 students and their parents. These events offer students the experience of performing in public venues like the Reilly Arts Center.

Hutto’s effectiveness in teaching students with special needs led to her becoming a state-wide presenter with Arts4All Florida, an organization whose mission is “to provide, support and champion arts education and cultural experiences for and by people with disabilities.”

“I am shocked, surprised and very honored, and appreciate receiving this award,” Hutto said. She added, “The only thing I would like people to know is the huge impact the fine arts have had on our students of all ages, and the impact the referendum has made for us to be able to continue providing art benefits to our students.”

SERVICE AWARD highlights an individual for their dedicated volunteerism in the arts and contribution to the entire arts community. This year, this award category is a little varied. Nominator Katrina Ploof, Artistic Director of the Ocala Civic Theatre (OCT) —using a unique ABC format—showed why the entire Leppert family was chosen for this award instead of one individual.

The family, including grandmother, Phylis ; father, Philip; mother, Sarah; children David, Rebekah and Jonathan, have all been extremely invested in the operation of the theater.

A for Acting—Philip, David, Rebekah and Jonathan have performed in more than 50 productions; B for Box Office—Phylis and Sarah have logged more than 1,000 hours helping with ticketing, reservations and patron relations; C for Concessions—Phylis, Sarah and Philip have all volunteered in the concession stand for hundreds of hours; D for Dresser—Sarah has volunteered as a dresser backstage for several shows and Rebekah now works part-time in the costume shop as a designer and seamstress; E for Education—David has taught for several years as part of the education team; F for Fund Raisers —The family has sold raffle tickets, including Philip who often makes the curtain speech.

Jumping ahead in the alphabet just a bit, to the letter L, for Light Board Operator—Sarah, David and Jonathan have all run the light board; O for Overtime—the Lepperts are always the last ones to leave the building when there is work to be done; S for Stage Crew—the Lepperts have been on so many stage crews, the theater stopped counting when it reached 50. What dedication!

“My mother and father led by example regarding their public service and commitment to the arts,” Philip Leppert said. “My wife and I have tried to lead in that value so our children will continue to give back to the communities of which they are a part.”

Brooke Hutto, a Harbourview Elementary School Music Educator, center, receives the MCA 2021 Arts Educator Award from Floyd Hershberger, left, and Dorothy Pernu, right, during the 14th-annual Marion Cultural Alliance Applaud the Arts awards ceremony at the Ocala Civic Theatre on Oct. 10. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

VISION AWARD is presented to an individual or organization in Marion County for outstanding advocacy of the arts. Nominated by Margaret Spontak, the award went to Ken Colen, president of On Top of the World Communities. Spontak is also the retired director of Master the Possibilities public learning center at OTOW.

“He (Colen) is so supportive of the arts in Marion County across the board,” Spontak said, adding, “He has a really great vision that art is good for a community and its people.”

Residents of On Top of the World Communities enjoy Colen’s vision of giving people value for their homes, supporting art that strengthen the fabric of thriving communities and offers aesthetic value. Residents and visitors to the community are greeted by two of the “Horse Fever herd” at Circle Square Commons.

Featured on the property is the 930-seat Circle Square Cultural Center, which hosts more than 75 art-related events each year, including concerts, arts and crafts shows, a quilting expo and others. Shalom Park, also located in the vicinity and dedicated to Colen’s parents, provides an outdoor backdrop for a variety of events. His latest all-ages development, Calesa Township, recently commissioned a 130-foot-long pedestrian tunnel with a colorful mural for OTOW residents to enjoy.

The Colen Foundation has funded important cultural programs throughout Marion County for decades. Although Colen’s vision for the arts has impacted hundreds of thousands of people in Marion County and beyond, he never focused on personal recognition.

SPIRIT AWARD highlights an individual and an organization for selfless service to the arts community. The face of Spirit Award winner, Gerald Ergle has represented the giving spirit in Ocala. Ergle has been an integral part of MCA since its inception in 2001, involved in the establishment of the organization and serving on its board of directors for several years.

Laurie Zink and Paula King, both MCA founders and now emeritus board members, originated and co-chaired the first Horse Fever campaign. With Ocala regarded as the “Horse Capital of the World,” this project provided a wonderful visual expression for the arts.

Horse Fever, the placing of artistically painted steeds in various places in Ocala, has had the advantage of Ergle’s expertise in all areas of this movement, from the project portion of the program to moving, installing, building movable platforms, and logistically assisting with the horses from Day One. He has assisted in all auctions and events, and he installs memorial bricks in the MCA courtyard.

Zink nominated Ergle for the Spirit Award. She said 108 horses have been produced by the MCA and about 60 remain in Ocala. The rest have been auctioned for fund-raising purposes and have traveled to other areas.

The MCA reports that Ergle, a long-term Ocala city councilman and former mayor, has never turned in a receipt (unless he was forced to) for all the many expenses he has incurred on behalf of the organization. According to the MCA, there has never been anything he has been asked to do for that he has not fulfilled, no matter the circumstance or the inconvenience to himself.

“I am honored to receive this award,” he said. “I have enjoyed everything I have done.” Ergle noted that Horse Fever has set the public awareness of art, enabling people to enjoy art who might not go to an art gallery or museum.” He also tells the story of a young couple he spoke with who were from St. Augustine who traveled to Ocala on their honeymoon specifically to see all the painted horses.

Although these are just a few awe-inspiring glimpses of volunteers driving the thriving arts community and its mentors in Marion County, there is still more.

The Marion Cultural Alliance has announced six Cultural Grant Foundation recipients for 2021-2022.

Sharing in a $30,000 grant this year are the Appleton Museum of Art, Kingdom of the Sun Concert Band, Marion All-County Choir, Ocala Civic Theatre, Ocala Symphony Orchestra and the Reilly Arts Center, and Marion County Public Schools.

“Since the Cultural Grants Foundation inception in 2001, MCA has granted $415,000 to 38 organizations,” remarked Jaye Baillie, executive director for the MCA at Brick City Center for the Arts.

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