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Photo credit Devin Rodino

Phillip Dunlap

Our New Broward County Cultural Division Director

By Denny Patterson

South Florida is pleased to welcome Phillip Dunlap, as the new Broward County Cultural Division Director. Coming to South Florida from St. Louis, MO, Dunlap is a staunch advocate for arts and cultural diversity in communities. While in St. Louis, he served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including Jazz St. Louis, Missouri Citizens for the Arts, the LGBTQ youth-oriented group, and Growing American Youth. Additionally, Dunlap served as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Webster University, and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, teaching jazz history and music business. Dunlap is more than excited to start his journey in Broward County. I had the pleasure of chatting with him about his new position and what he hopes to accomplish.

What is the Broward County Cultural Division and its purpose?
The Broward County Cultural Division is Broward County’s arts agency. Typically, local arts agencies manage the public’s investments in arts and culture. That generally comes in the forms of grant making, public art, and other programs like arts education. So, in Broward County, that’s what we do. We have a grant making program giving approximately $4.5 million a year in various grant categories like individual artists and arts and culture organizations. We also have various arts education and cultural tourism programs that we do as well. The public part comes because the funding comes from tax dollars, and it’s different in different areas. For example in St. Louis, the Regional Arts Commission comes from a hotel and motel tax. Here in Broward County, a small portion comes from a hotel/motel tax but we call it a tourist development tax. The rest of it is a general appropriation fund during the budget process, but it’s all tax money.

Can you tell me more about your position as the new director?
I am the director of the division. It’s not unique, but the cultural division is an actual division of the county government. So, I am a county and government employee and my job is to handle just about everything arts and cultural related in Broward County. Broward County is huge. 1.9 million people, 31 different cities. And in addition to dealing with the county on a large scale, each city has their own commission and elected officials and some of them have their own public art programs and things like that. So, there’s a lot of looking at ways to bring the community together around arts and culture. We are sort of at that 30,000 ft level and supporting the entirety of Broward County, not just making it about Fort Lauderdale.

As the new director, what are some top goals you would like to accomplish?
One of my main goals is to closely look at the county’s strategy and how the county has historically given grants, and really rethink the process. I have noticed a lot of equity gaps in the process, even in the short time I’ve been here. What that means is, examining where the money is going and where the money’s not going. Does the process that we have make space for smaller, midsize non-profit arts and cultural organizations and individual artists? Do we have aspects of our process that put some of the burden or less majority of the financial burden on the applicant? That might be easier to do for those larger, big budget organizations that have a fundraising machine behind them, but for smaller organizations, that might be one or two people. Maybe not even one actual full-time person. That burden on raising those funds can exclude people from the process. So, we are about to embark on a listening tour. I have been meeting all our grantees and listening to them. Asking a simple question, how can we better meet the needs of the arts and culture community here in Broward County? That’s one of my top goals.

Photo credit R.J. Hartbeck

Has the diversity in arts and culture always been a passion of yours? How did it start?
Yes! But it has evolved. When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be a concert pianist. Then in high school, I got more interested in jazz, so I started studying jazz piano and decided that’s what I wanted to do in college. I did my bachelors and masters in jazz performance, and towards the end of my masters I decided, ‘I don’t think I’m cut out for this.’ I didn’t want that performance life. I always wanted performing to be a part of who I was and what I did. But in the jazz world, you move to New York and starve until you find whatever it is. So, I gravitated more towards the arts administration side of things, and that’s what I did in St. Louis for 12 years. Towards the end of my tenure, I started to get interested in the public funding side of things and the role that municipal, county, city, and state governments play. Helping the arts ecosystem grow and take root. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find out you came to Broward County from St. Louis. I am a St. Louis boy myself. Why did you decide to make the move to South Florida?
Well, quite honestly, it was the job. I had never spent any time in Fort Lauderdale before my interview, so I am really enjoying getting to know the area. I am an explorer and I love to travel and explore different areas. So, relocating down here was kind of an extension of what I like to do. Learning new areas where the coffee shops are, what kind of restaurants I should check out, the location of plays and concerts, and where things happen. So, it’s been really fun to learn about the area. South Florida wasn’t really in my mind as a place I was going to look at until I got the job.

Would you say the arts and culture in Broward County are relatively the same or the opposite of St. Louis?
You know, there are lots of similarities. Broward County has a lot of the same types of arts organizations. One of the big differences I’ve noticed, and one of the reasons why I talked about wanting to really bring the arts and culture community together is because there’s not a lot of that happening. People want to work together here, and they want to collaborate and there’s a desire to move in the same direction, but there are not a lot of organizations doing it. One of the things St. Louis did well was work together, and maybe because it was somewhat of a smaller scene, a smaller ecosystem. Not to say that St. Louis is better than Broward County, but St. Louis is a city over 250 years old. Broward, as a county, is 104 years old, maybe. So, there are cultural differences in each community. 

Why are arts and culture so important?
You know, it’s the soul of our community. I think we get bogged down in the day to day of the job and the bills to pay and we don’t stop and look at what makes us human. It’s not the job that we have, but the culture that we have, the shared culture of the community, our individual culture related to our heritage and backgrounds. And it’s those intangible things, like the food, songs, stories, plays, composers, musicians, and artists that makes us unique. That brings us humanity, and that allows us to connect to each other on a much deeper level than just the mechanical everydayness of the routines of our lives. When we look at ancient cultures, it’s the architecture, the arts, the plays, and the music where you really get the depth of what a culture is. And it’s all through the arts.

Photo credit R.J. Hartbeck

Art and cultural programs are constantly being cut and losing funding. Is that a problem in Broward County?
It’s endemic of what’s happening across the country, but Broward has such a rich history in the arts, and you can look no further than Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. The high school has one of the top jazz bands in the country. I’ve seen them perform on the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage for years before I even knew Dillard High School was in Fort Lauderdale. I just knew Dillard High School and its reputation for the great jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley who was in Miles Davis’ Quintet for “Kind of Blue” which is the best-selling jazz album of all time. He was the band director of Dillard High School back in the 40s and 50s. There’s a culture and a legacy here of excellence in the arts, and I think a lot of the communities make a commitment to it. At the same time, we cannot put the full burden on the schools to do it. What we’re here to do as arts and cultural organizations is add to what’s going on in the school. We need to build on those solid foundations. The cuts happen, and it’s unfortunate, but we are here as arts organizations, not only to support but also to help advocate about why it is important for schools to keep these programs.

What are you looking forward to the most about taking on this new position?
I like a challenge, and this job is a challenge, but I really see an opportunity to make a difference. I think I can help lead this community through some great changes that will impact generations of people. It’s an amazing opportunity, and a huge weight on my shoulders at some level, but it’s not something I have to do alone. I get to work with a fabulous arts community that at every turn says we want to support what you want to do, and they’re waiting for the county to be a leader in this space. So, I am looking forward to connecting with the community and bringing the cultural division to the people that it serves. If we do it right, I think it will seriously impact the lives of almost two million people here. At the end of the day, if I can look back on my time here and know that I helped make the world a better place, then that’s something I want to be a part of. I’m not in it for me. I’m in it for what we can do together. 

For those who want to be more involved with the arts and cultural division in Broward County, how can they?
They should follow the division on social media at @BrowardArts or visit to get involved. Or reach out to me. Call me. Email me. I will make myself available to anyone and everyone who wants to talk about our county’s arts and culture and how we can work together and make it better.