In only 15 minutes next Thursday, Amara Cocilovo Nash hopes to convince a pool of potential donors to help shore up $67,000 in start-up capital funds to start a folk school dedicated to preserving the Old Florida charm found in Manatee County’s Cortez Fishing Village for tourists and locals alike.
“About 70 percent of villagers still make their living from some aspect of commercial fishing, and they have this knowledge and these skills to pass along,” said Nash, supervisor at the Florida Maritime Museum. But the passage of those skills to future generations is threatened by modern life and encroaching development.
“And really, the loss Cortez is facing isn't just to Cortez,” she said. “People — visitors, residents — are drawn to Florida and specifically to this area of Florida because of this authentic charm, this Old Florida, this authenticity of history. So what does one do to help preserve this history, preserve these skills, preserve this knowledge and this way of life? If you're the Florida Maritime Museum, you open a folk school.”
The folk school will be home to classes that teach skills “people would need to create a community before there was the convenience of Publix and Aldi and Walmart,” including canning, pickling, quilting, sewing, woodworking, net mending, fish filleting and mast making.
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For Karen Bell, board member and owner of AP Bell Fish Co. and Star Fish Co. Market and Restaurant, the folk school classes bring a heavy dose of nostalgia. Bell grew up in a Cortez fishing family, then left to attend Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Soon, Cortez was calling her back.
I don't think a day goes by either at AP Bell or at Star that people don't walk up to me that are newcomers to here and they say when they walk into the village it's like stepping back in time and how at home they feel
Karen Bell, Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum board member and owner of AP Bell Fish Co., Star Fish Co. Restaurant and Market
“I went away and then realized how much I did miss it,” Bell said. “I came back and now I want to go to some of these classes because I don't know how to do them. And I think it's an amazing opportunity to share what does make Cortez so unique.”
The classes will preserve Cortesian history and tradition while providing the community a space to make new connections and memories. The project has received financial support from the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and the Manatee County Commission. University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee business graduate students will help the folk school develop a marketing plan, and Nash said they’re working with the Manatee County Tourist Development Council to “help build brand awareness and dovetail it in with their efforts to bring tourism to the area.”
$40,000 projected net profit of Florida Maritime Museum Folk School by 2019. In 2017, the school will operate at a loss of more than $25,000 but will reap estimated net profits of more than $13,000 in 2018.
The folk school project began in March as part of the Patterson Foundation’s Margin & Mission Ignition initiative. The initiative is geared toward helping nonprofits make money to sustain their mission. Nash and her team from the nonprofit Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum board think the folk school project is a perfect fit for Margin & Mission.
A large group of nonprofits was whittled by the Patterson Foundation to 13 finalists and then to the final five, including the Florida Maritime Museum. Other groups who will participate in the Nov. 3 “fast pitch” include the Charlotte Players Inc., the Gulf Coast Heritage Association, the Literacy Council of Sarasota and the Manatee Players Inc. On Thursday, each nonprofit will bring its own group of potential donors and pitch their ideas.
The “fast pitch” event is semi-open to the public; anyone interested in attending and hearing the Florida Maritime Museum pitch should call Nash at 941-708-6121 ahead of time to arrange a spot. Anyone interested in donating to the project can also call Nash to make arrangements.
No matter if the $67,000 goal is met, the folk school will continue its mission, albeit a bit more slowly if the funding goal is not met, Bell said. A January class schedule is beginning to come together, and anyone interested in taking a session can call the Florida Maritime Museum, 941-708-6120.