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Meet Pensacola's new cultural affairs coordinator

Sydney Robinson at Pensacola City Hall
Bob Barrett
WUWF Public Media
Sydney Robinson at Pensacola City Hall

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson returned from a vacation on July 11 and held his usual Monday morning meeting with the press. He started by announcing that the city of Pensacola has created a new position to coordinate arts and culture.

“In this role, (Sydney) Robinson will assess community needs for cultural programs and coordinate with other community leaders and organizations to develop events," he said at the meeting.

Sydney Robinson, who is no relation to the mayor, was most recently the executive director of Gallery Nightand has experience dealing with vendors and sponsors as well as the city government. Now she is taking on a new challenge: creating and building a new city department.

“One of the exciting parts about this is that I get to work with all of these different departments of the city and get to figure out how this position can best serve the community," she said. "So yeah, it’s really an exciting opportunity to be creating something brand new.”

The city used money from the American Rescue Plan to make a cultural affairs assessment and concluded the area needed more cultural opportunities.

“We realized one of the things we didn’t have was somebody who was really coordinating overall between many of the entities across the community and trying to coordinate that, as well as trying to also support those initiatives,” Robinson said at his press conference.

The search for that coordinator drew about 15 candidates. The mayor said that Sydney Robinson’s involvement with Gallery Night helped raise her to the top of the list. She sees her new department collaborating with arts organizations in the city.

“We have amazing people in Pensacola doing awesome things," she said. "(So we want to make sure) that people know about those events — that we’re supporting them and that we’re connecting Pensacola with the things (these organizations) are doing to make it such a cool place to live.”

Throughout the year, there are many cultural events going on in Pensacola, such as the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival and JazzFest. Robinson plans to get involved in as many of these events as she can.

“I would like to be as plugged in as possible," she said. "I’m looking as potentially joining some different boards, serving as a city liaison so that I make sure I know everything that’s going on. "In the job description for this (position), they mentioned ACE (Art, Culture, and Entertainment Inc.) which helps connect organizations with grants. So hopefully I can serve there.

"One thing I want to focus on is ensuring that the events and the organizations that we are amplifying are from a diverse range of groups," she said. "So that’s something I can help with. And yes, the arts festival is already such a fantastic event. That’s associated with Foo Foo Fest, which is associated with ACE. So it all gets mixed (together).

"Visit Pensacola is another organization that I hope to be a part of and just getting my eyes and ears on everything that’s going on.”

Robinson has started doing research on what other municipalities, both nearby and nationwide, have been doing with their cultural affairs departments.

“This is not something that we are totally inventing. We have so many other great arts organizations that we can be influenced by and draw inspiration from," Robinson said.

An important part of Pensacola’s culture is its history. The city is taking steps to further highlight that history.

“The city is hiring another cultural affairs coordinator to focus more on historic preservation," Sydney Robinson said. "So I’ll be more on the art and events side of things, but I have a deep love and respect for Pensacola’s history and I think that there is a lot of opportunity in the coming years to work with all of our local museums. So yes, definitely seeing the intersection of history, art, and culture.”

Robinson’s first day on the job was July 11. Right now she is a department of one, but the city is taking steps to create a board to whom she will eventually report.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.