Quite Chuffed to Meet with My Mate, Sally Mackay

One of the first things you notice when you meet Sally Mackay is her lilting British accent.  I love a British accent and think that it implies intelligence, education, and refinement, unlike my own accent, (which I share with every guest on Jerry Springer.)  Well, Sally Mackay is intelligent, educated, and refined, but her accent has not always been an asset  More about that in a bit.  

I actually met her for the first time in 2017, and I knew I had met someone special… I just didn’t know how special.  Longtime residents of New Smyrna Beach probably recognize her as the former mayor, serving one term, elected in November 2007.  But there is SO much more to her story.

Recently I had the honor and the delight of sitting down with the mover and shaker from across the pond.

Arriving in the United States in 1973, Mrs. Mackay and her family with three young children immigrated from England.  After much thought and planning, the decision was made to leave family, friends, and country to pursue a better life for the children.  She emphasized the difficulty involved in immigration and expressed great admiration and sympathy for anyone choosing that path for the sake of the children, and even more for those running from famine or violence or similar conditions.  She spoke of leaving a known culture and moving to a land where a different language is spoken, a consideration she was unaware she would encounter.  She expected to understand others and to be understood, but language is deeply rooted from birth and she was not raised speaking “American.”  I had to laugh when she told me that Richard, her American husband of 34 years, still misunderstands her, mistakenly believing that she is angry or being snooty, when she’s just speaking “Brit.”

This NSB transplant was able to advance from the position of having no job and no local friends to being a well-known individual with influence and authority.  When she ran for mayor in 2007, her platform was “Keep the Charm,”  “charming” being the descriptor I would use for New Smyrna Beach and which I hope will always describe my adopted town.

Those years were difficult for the entire country, and New Smyrna Beach was not alone in feeling the effects of a major depression. Main streets in small towns faced special challenges, and New Smyrna Beach had two of them, Canal Street and Flagler Avenue. It would be a huge undertaking. Fortunately, our new mayor was blessed with activist genes and a spirit of advocacy.  (Her grandmother was a suffragette who chained herself to the palace gates to protest women’s lack of voting rights).  She attended conferences and meetings with other mayors and leaders, seeking ideas for overcoming the blight that had overcome our town. After finding the necessary funding (thank goodness for Volusia County and the Community Redevelopment Grants)  cleanup of the two downtowns began.  The empty stores needed new, compatible buildings.  Staff had to work with them, offer the right incentives and ultimately, get rid of the For Sale and For Lease signs, the boarded up windows and the scattered bottles and trash.  According to Mrs. Mackay, “We wanted ‘feet on the street,’ ‘lights on at night,’ and ‘people’…all the while making sure that  we were maintaining the ‘spirit and the feel’ of NSB.”  

Of course all this took time.  Mayor Mackay’s two years were up and the election season loomed.  Her loss in the re-election bid led to what I believe to be New Smyrna Beach’s greatest asset (other than the beach itself). She and her longtime friend, Susan Stern, were meeting for her birthday, and Susan asked her what she was going to do next.  As they celebrated, the concept of a working space for artists and community was born and took flight.  The next day Susan Ellis, another friend, joined the effort and the work was underway. “Without  the extraordinary commitment of these two amazing women,” says Sally, “The Hub would never have come together.”  They worked tirelessly, meeting after meeting, from February 2010 until opening day on March 1st 2012.  

First step, The City had to get on board and they insisted on five things:  community backing, a venue, 75% occupancy, money, and a strategic plan.  This was in 2010. Undaunted, our ladies set forth, getting petitions, helping to get Canal Street designated as a Historic District, raising money, and finding an appropriate venue.  Tasks were divvied up.   Susan Ellis basically in charge of anything financial, Susan Stern addressed the need for artists and teachers, and Sally went to DSC Business School to learn how to write a strategic plan.

(I picture them as the brave pioneers, jumping into their covered wagons and with great ambition and fortitude, setting out to conquer the West). 

Limited funds ($22,000) led to limited possibilities.  One of the first properties examined, for example, was  the present Corkscrew.  An architect advised them that a minimum of $500,000, would be required to convert the building into what they needed, AFTER they paid the purchase price. Holy moly!

After an extensive search, a Godsend!  The art show “Images” was being held downtown and their headquarters was the two-story building on the corner of Canal and Magnolia.  Owned by a group of Texas businessmen, it had been occupied by software developers, but for five years had been boarded up with a “For Sale or Rent” sign.   It was a beautiful building, already subdivided into small offices that would make perfect studios.  And at around $6000 a month for three years, it was within reason monetarily.

Almost immediately, artists stepped in, claiming spaces:  Oralba, Gail Bokor, Beau Wilde, Yolanda Pelz, and Toni Slick, among others.  Many are still there. To transform this building into a usable space, the only thing that had to be done was to change the locks! 

Music, too, became an integral part of The Hub on Canal.  Classes are offered as well as regular entertainment.  In fact, Sally teaches both ukulele and guitar.  Her introduction to, and love for, music she attributes to two specific and emotional memories.  Mrs. Mackay was born the year England entered the war. Her father, being a doctor, served at the front and the family went to live with the grandparents in Swansea,  Wales.  Because it was such an important port, the town was heavily bombed.  She remembers being in shelters with, in particular, American soldiers and they would sing.  Two songs she remembered them singing were “You Are My Sunshine” and “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball,” which she was forbidden to sing. The end of the war provided the young Sally Mackay the second musical memory.  In her grandparents’ home, the family sat listening to the radio as bells tolled from Coventry, Liverpool, London,  and all across Britain.  She has never forgotten the effect the music had on her.  Her recount of this moment brought tears to her eyes and goosebumps to my skin.  

As much as music and art are woven into the fabric of the Hub on Canal, the underlying purpose for the endeavor was community outreach.  The name was coined by Susan Stern’s son.  It is indeed a hub of the town, offering up not only incredible art, but entertainment, classes in language, writing, yoga, and providing services for veterans, Alzheimer’s patients, underprivileged students, as well as summer camp for youth, among many, many other programs. Mrs. MacKay states that The Hub is a microcosm of New Smyrna Beach, which is a microcosm of society.  She says change should be “trickle-up.”  

This passion, empathy, and tenacity fuel Sally Mackay. When I mentioned to her  that a line in Hamilton, “Immigrants: we get the job done!” made me immediately think of her, she instantly disclaimed, “Oh, no…it’s community: we get the job done!”  She continued, “It’s all about the countless hours that board members, volunteers, and our artists have put into what The Hub is.  It’s all about working together.”  How fortunate are we, that a British immigrant, who came to the US to make a better life for her children, spurred a movement that changed our little town forever, while keeping the charm.
For more Sally, you can view a taped interview https://richesmi.cah.ucf.edu/omeka/items/show/4385

Written by Donna Bradley

Meet My Cousin, Cindy Burkett

Okay, we’re not actually cousins, but we do have someone in common. My grandmother’s sister’s son, Reuben Hale, was one of Cindy’s art professors.  Reuben was a painter, sculptor, and inventor, and was very well known in the art field. I have always considered him the most interesting of my relatives. His work revolved around a repetitive theme: his belief that “the changing status of the female in society now and in the future will be one of the most significant changes of our time.”

If Cindy were my real cousin, Reuben would be competing with her for most interesting. And she certainly exemplifies the “emerging woman” that he was continually portraying in his art.

Cindy is a collage artist with a studio at The Hub on Canal. However, this hasn’t always been the case; she began as a painter at The Hub…but I’m getting years ahead of myself.

Collage from Recycled Magazines with Cindy Burkett

Practically an artist in the womb, Cindy has always had art in her life, beginning while living in rural Lantana with a non-driving mom. Imagination and art were her playmates. In elementary school, she was assigned the task of illustrating stories on the chalkboard. Ever supportive, her father spent weekends with her, shopping in art supply stores and encouraging her talent. Her high school years found her illustrating publications and doing commissions for her parent’s friends. Influenced by many teachers and artists, but very significantly at Florida State, she was mentored by an instructor who recently worked for a Chicago ad agency and recognized her talent.

Awards came early for Cindy, although she is not one to pursue them. I am exceedingly proud of my “cuz” for a national ADDY award, the advertising industry’s version of the Academy Awards, placing first in her category with more than 60,000 entries. And…drumroll…at only age 27! At the time she was working for a small ad agency in Winter Park, Fl, but her life was about to change. Her agency won an international account, which required setting up an office in New York City and she was off! From small town to the big city, Cindy became the creative director and co-manager of that office at the corner of Madison Avenue and 49th Street. Her apartment was across the street from Katherine Hepburn’s (one of my all-time favorite celebrities). This girl was “on fire,” one of the few women at the top in the advertising field at that time. (She said it wasn’t Mad Men, but she did learn to smoke and drink Scotch…at least temporarily! I am entranced with this image.)

Common sense soon prevailed, and Cindy headed back to a warmer climate. After working for others for a few years, she decided to be in charge of her own firm. There she did it all, which  involved aspects of the field she was never trained for. Stepping out of her comfort zone led to a very rewarding life, but one with little time for fine art. 

A New Smyrna Beach lover since the 70s, Cindy had traded work for hotel stays at the Riverview so often that the top floor room overlooking the river was referred to, laughingly, as “The Burkett Suite.” Disenchantment with the urban atmosphere of Orlando and a longing to return to the coast led her and her husband to a spur of the moment decision to sell off belongings and downsize to a cozy home on the river.  

In my opinion, fate stepped in. An artist friend told her about The Hub on Canal before it even opened, and when she saw it, she knew it was perfect. After persuading Sally Mackay and the review board to accept her into The Hub as a painter, Cindy soon evolved into the collage artist she is today. Sally encouraged that artistic detour, since Cindy’s collages were so different and she was so talented!

I fell in love with Cindy’s work and was thrilled to find out she taught workshops, which, of course, I took and had a blast and learned so much. I wish that everyone would step into Cindy’s studio and examine her creations. What looks like an eyebrow may be a photograph of a fern; what looks like a painting is actually hundreds of tiny pieces of paper torn from magazines and carefully pieced together to create a delightful image.

Her work has been seen in many places: the Ormond Museum of Art for a three-person show, the signature image for the Brevard Symphony, a one-woman show at Parrish Medical Center, among others. Three of her pieces are on permanent display in Titusville at Parrish Medical Center. Others are in homes across the country and in England and Canada.

I am excited to see what paths Cindy’s “retirement” will take; I’m so glad she now has the time to create and teach. And  she says, when someone loves her work enough “to take it home to become part of their life, that’s better than any award ribbon to me.”  

Emerging woman, indeed!  Nice going, “Cuz.”   

Written by Donna Bradley

Jack and David: On the Road (Canal Street) Together

Did you get to experience David McElroy’s A Christmas Carol? I stand in awe of his ability to represent 37 characters and make the audience differentiate between them. Spellbound, we were!

For those of you who saw the one man show, A Christmas Carol, at The Hub on Canal in December, you’ll be delighted to know that you will have the opportunity for another mesmerizing performance by David McElroy on Feb 9. For those of you who missed the show, you’re in luck! You have the good fortune to catch him in another one-man play, End of the Road-an Evening with Jack Kerouac, written by Steve A Rowell and the actor. 

Jack Kerouac, credited with naming the “Beat Generation” and author of the iconic On the Road, was a fascinating, influential and tragic man. This play is based on the moments that he spent in the Green Room before being interviewed by William F. Buckley on Firing Line, his last television appearance before his death a few months later. (Buckley actually stopped the show, berated him for being drunk, and then went ahead with the interview, which you can view on YouTube.) Kerouac was an alcoholic and died at the age of 47. 

A chain of events led to the production of this play. David McElroy was doing A Christmas Carol (coming up on its 23rd year) at a now-closed restaurant called Chapters in Winter Park. The owner of the restaurant, Marty Cummins, was also a board member of the Kerouac House. After seeing (and being dazzled by, I’m sure) McElroy’s performance, he suggested that a play should be written about Kerouac. Steve Rowell, a friend of the actor, heard Cummins, and said, “I’ll write it with you.” This was McElroy’s introduction to Kerouac’s writing…and Kerouac became his favorite author, along with Oscar Wilde.

Kerouac pose with chair

The show has seen more than eight productions, including the Orlando Fringe Festival (which is a fabulous festival that must be experienced to understand why I can’t describe it adequately in this space). A recording of part of the play was aired on WMFE at the Kerouac House (which is where the photo of McElroy in Kerouac’s chair was taken).

McElroy says that he was always interested in writing, beginning with poetry in high school and adding plays in college. As a junior in high school, he performed a poem called The Mountain Whippoorwill by Stephen Vincent Benet, and his teacher asked him to be in the school play. When he heard the applause, he was “hooked,” he said. He credits his English teacher, Mrs. Wiser, with encouraging both creative endeavors.

He attended high school and college in Oklahoma City and got his master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. It wasn’t until college that he began writing plays—the first was produced in 1980. His A Christmas Carol is the favorite of all his creations, although The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is his favorite play (in which he has been in two productions). His favorite book is Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maughan. Obviously, McElroy is an intellectual and has a deep respect for the classics, which is why his answer to my question about his favorite movie surprised and tickled me. Animal House was his response—which is certainly a classic in its field—and I still recollect certain scenes and laugh aloud. However, I think I was expecting something more esoteric.

Kerouac, too, was an intellectual. His On the Road influenced an entire generation when it was first published in 1957, and that only happened with a streak of luck. The reviewer for The New York Times was out, and the substitute reviewer raved about On the Road: “The most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.” When the regular reviewer returned, he was livid. He hated the book and the substitute was never allowed to review again. More than 60 years later, Kerouac’s influence continues.

When I asked McElroy what he liked most about doing his rendition of the book, he responded, “Feeling the ‘beat’ of the words we have written.” I can’t wait to hear and feel the words and the beat of this production.

Written by Donna Bradley

A Moment in Time: 70s Chicago Club Scene—A Photographic Exhibition

The 1970s, particularly the middle 1970s, were a uniquely influential era in American cultural history.  It was the culminating period for changes that had taken root in the 1960s: rock and roll; the sexual revolution; the protest movement—against the Vietnam war, for women’s equality, against racism and the early stirrings of acceptance of homosexuality.

Change happens when voices grow loud enough to compel it.  But it’s not just the volume of those voices.  Numbers matter more, and particularly when those demanding change have at their backs the energy and feelings of invincibility of the young.

In 2011 we were all told that beginning that year ten thousand baby boomers were turning 65 every day, and that this surge of elders would last until 2039.  That “fact” was not true.  Ten thousand was a per day average over the whole boomer generation.  The truth is that 1955-1961 saw many more babies born than any other baby boomer birth years.  At another milestone moment, that of course meant that more young people became adults between 1973 and 1979 than in any other six-year period in our history.

Michael Abramson - Three at a Table 150

We shouldn’t be surprised then that so much of the status quo faced challenge in this short window.  And with the foundation for that change having been laid down in the prior ten years, the scales tipped and change was set in motion.  The cultural shifts were not entirely predictable and they certainly weren’t always enduring, but they were profound.  Most of all, they were memorable.  The middle 1970s were truly “A Moment in Time.”

During that iconic era, documentary photographer Michael Abramson (1948-2011) began to frequent the music and dance clubs on the South Side of Chicago.  Given Abramson’s style, he was interested in telling the story of the people and places that he found.  This project became Abramson’s Master’s thesis and he threw himself into his research.  There’s no question that he was inspired by Hungarian-French photographer Brassei, who catalogued the club scene in 1920s Paris.

Only the rare snapshot is photographic art.  Art in the form of a photograph requires that the artist connect with the subject.  Only then can a story be told.  Abramson spent three years regularly visiting the South Side clubs and getting to know the people who would become not just his subjects, but many, as well, his friends.  He laughed, drank and socialized with them on a regular basis.  Abramson said in 2008: “I realize that I have been to every part of the planet…..but I have never been as far away as I was when I was on the South Side of Chicago.  Not because it was exotic, in the misused sense of that word, but because it was so exhilarating.”

Ballroom Bouffant 150

The patrons of the South Side clubs were mostly black, mostly younger and of course, urban.  In many ways they represented the cultural change that was sweeping the country.

In a follow up project, Abramson also came to know and chronicle a very different club scene.  These were the dance halls, popular at the time, on the North Side of Chicago.  By contrast, the North Side clubs were mostly white, mostly older and very much suburban.  Other than the leakage of a few newer fashion trends into this world, you could say that the North Side clubs represented the status quo that all that Abramson captured on the South Side was pushing against.

A Moment in Time: 70s Chicago Club Scene is an extraordinary collection of photographs.  Abramson’s effort and commitment allow the viewer of this exhibition to be there and witness this profoundly unique time. This is particularly true of the larger group of images from the South Side clubs.

The first thing you notice about Abramson’s photos is their intimacy.  In nearly every case, the photographic subject seems to invite you into the scene.  That’s a hard-to-see, but easy-to-feel, characteristic.  Abramson earned that closeness and intimacy and it is conveyed in his work.

A trend that paralleled all of the mid-70s cultural change was the growing popularity of “clubbing.”  As humans we crave shared experiences and this need is likely multiplied in the presence of such change.  New York and the “beautiful people” had Studio 54.  The South Side of Chicago had Perv’s House, Pepper’s Hideout and the High Chaparral.  These were the places to be at that time in that place.  The clubs allowed the like-minded to openly express themselves and bend the rules and norms, even if just a bit.

The South Side clubs were not places to drop in and have a drink.  You went there and stayed until closing.  Abramson captured both the sheer joy of the peak of the evening and the sheer exhaustion of the end of the night.  You’ll notice the tables littered with empty glasses and full ashtrays.  Cigarettes and ashtrays are everywhere in these photographs—it was a different time.

You can’t hear the music in the photographs but Abramson manages to allow you to see and feel it.  You’ll feel the energy in the group dance shots.  You’ll see it in the beads of sweat on individual dancers.  And you can most certainly sense the aching feet of those whose night is coming to an end.

One of the most observable (but dare I say regrettable) trends of the mid-70s involved fashion and hairstyles.  Every generation has some memorable fashion trends but no half dozen years ever produced so much never-to-be-repeated (at least I hope not) couture.  Lapels and men’s ties grew to absurd widths (this is clearly visible in both the South Side and North Side photographs).  Shoes achieved extreme heights and hair was big—really big.

Michael Abramson - Scarf Tie 150

A curious feature of the fashion of the day was a blurring of dress for men and women.  Club goers often adopted an androgynous look.  This mirrored what we were seeing in the entertainment industry at the time. The general silhouette was long and lean with jumpsuits and high-waisted pants, each with wide legs.  Men and women shared common styles in shoes and hair as well. 

The androgynous look is evident in another way too.  The club scene of the mid-70s was one of the early venues where homosexuality was able to cross over into heterosexual society.  Since this was change craved first by the young, you’ll find it in the South Side photographs but not the North Side.

In some of Abramson’s photographs you’ll question whether you’re looking at a man or a woman—and that was the point.  The mostly young people were there to have a good time—which they certainly seemed to do—and the fact that some were transgender or openly homosexual appears to not have made any difference to what was likely a largely heterosexual crowd.

These few short years in the mid-70s stand out for the magnitude and diversity of change we experienced.  Young people were at the leading edge of all that change.  

What we see in these photographs didn’t happen only in the clubs of Chicago, but we’re lucky that Michael Abramson was able to capture it all so poignantly.  Rarely are we able to see so clearly into the past, particularly when so much was happening.  The Chicago club scene of the mid-70s is not a complete visual history of that period, but Abramson provides us with a clear view of much of the cultural change of the day.  It truly is A Moment in Time

Will the Real Debbie Moser Please Stand Up

My jewelry instructor and mentor is an onion, a sweet one, but an onion, nonetheless.  You’ll see.

Debbie is quite petite, She has a soft voice and a timid air about her.  Her long salt & pepper hair is pinned up under the ever-present visor.  Her glasses have a slight tint of color. 

But Debbie’s work is exquisite.  In many of her pieces of art, she uses numerous natural elements, frequently has multiple metals, does symmetrical and asymmetrical equally well, planning and re-planning designs until they are “right”, and uses her nimble fingers to caress her creation to her satisfaction. Now peel away layer one.  

After two life-threatening, debilitating accidents.  Debbie has limited vision.  Her visor and tinted glasses protect her eyes from the light.  Threading tiny pearls with thin wire is a task that most of us, particularly “of a certain age”, find challenging.  Because she has lost depth perception, it is even more difficult for this lady, but she manages to accomplish it, often more quickly than those without her disability.

Debbie Moser

Peeling away another layer,  I discovered that Debbie is an animal lover extraordinaire.  She has had her  yellows-nape parrot, Jo-Jo for 44 years.  This bird is its own story.  Because she got her at Christmas time, the bird knows Christmas carols, and when she covers her cage for the night, Jo-Jo hums “Silent Night” to herself.  And cats…this lady has such a passion and compassion for felines.  One of her kitties lived happily for  27 years with her care and the help of a holistic veterinarian.

In an earlier life, Debbie worked with developmentally disabled students.  I’m sure she was fabulous.  In her jewelry classes, she works patiently with every skill level; many times everyone will be working on a different project, and each gets her individual help. Almost diffidently, she apologizes for not getting to every student first, certainly an impossible undertaking.  I can picture her doing this in an academic setting, with each special needs child needing her “right now.”  

Off with layer three.  While discussing LGBQT issues, Debbie revealed that she had worked for the rights of LGBQT developmentally disabled people in Pennsylvania.  Further peeling of the layers uncovered extensive work for the marginalized and/or underrepresented, long before it was recognized as a critical need. She has worked on many committees in Pennsylvania and Canada concerning issues that dealt with mental health and sexuality issues.  She did staff training in Pennsylvania, New York and Canada concerning sexuality issues and persons with disabilities. She also did group and individual counseling.

Debbie Moser Necklace 3

Another layer off.  She is imminently qualified to fight for and with a wide range of individuals.  She has master’s degrees in special education, habilitative services, blindness and visual services, orientation and mobility services and a M.Ed in sexuality education and counseling services.  She is a certified rape crisis counselor and is certified to work with sexual predators.  She has worked in all of the above areas.  One of the above-mentioned accidents halted her Ph.D dissertation, or I would be calling her Dr. Moser!

After retirement, Debbie received certification in jewelry repair, jewelry design, and metal-smithing.  She currently has a studio at The Hub on Canal in New Smyrna Beach, FL and teaches jewelry classes there (where I was lucky enough to meet her!). She has received awards in pottery, watercolor, sculpture, and jewelry.  
Still one more layer:  I didn’t know this until two days ago.  My sweet teacher and friend is working on a book entitled The Loves of My Life which will tell the stories of all the cats she has loved, starting with her first love, at age one.

Of course, every individual has layers that don’t appear on the surface.  It takes time and interest, and sometimes a bit of probing, to uncover people’s passions and history.  I plan to spend a little more effort getting past the top layers of people I associate with, but don’t really know.  I’m just glad I have had the opportunity to spend many hours with, and to get to know, at least partially, Debbie Moser.

Written by Donna Bradley
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