Take a walk on the cultural side of the Sunshine State this summer--from the fine arts in Jacksonville to the film culture of Orlando to the literary scene in Key West--with the help of Boca Raton's annual "Florida Explorer" section.

[Mick Hales, View of Italian Fountain at Dusk or Dawn, April 2004. Photograph courtesy of Mick Hales, Greenworld Pictures Inc.]

The Fine (and Fun) Arts of Jacksonville

Drive time from Boca: Five hours

What’s the draw: Four major arts entities have helped Jacksonville emerge as a cultural hot spot in northern Florida. It starts with The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens (829 Riverside Ave., 904/356-6857), the city’s graceful old dowager of a museum—dignified, surrounded by stately gardens in the city’s historic Riverside neighborhood on the wide St. Johns River. Despite its dignified lineage, the Cummer has a wildly exciting collection (nearly 5,000 works of art), representing a comprehensive timeline and heavyweights like Peter Paul Rubens, Winslow Homer and Norman Rockwell. The gardens also are a draw, with rare horticulture blooming under a romantic canopy of live oaks, with a formal English garden, an Italian garden, reflecting pools, fountains, arbors, antique ornaments, and sculptures.

The Ritz Theatre and Museum (829 N. Davis St., 904/632-5555), a 1929 Art Deco structure in downtown Jacksonville, got its start the pre-integration days of the 1930s with artists who worked the “Chitlin Circuit,” names like Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Dorothy Dandridge, Billie Holiday. Back then, The Ritz was a thriving theater on the circuit and a center of entertainment for African-American Jacksonville. Its museum is named after the African-American settlement at that time, La Villa, which was known as the “Harlem of the South.” Today, the 400-seat theater, which was renovated in the 1990s, hosts concerts, lectures, theater, dance and movies. The adjacent museum offers historical exhibits commemorating African-American history with photos, artifacts and traveling exhibits. “Amateur Night,” on the first Friday of every month, is modeled after the famous Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in New York.

For years, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (333 North Laura Street, 904/366-6911) has been the city’s fun, hip museum. Located in a groovy Art Deco building at Hemming Plaza downtown, the former Jacksonville Art Museum has refined its collection to represent work from the 1960s onward, which also adds to its groove factor. Artists represented include Alexander Calder, Alex Katz, Robert Rauschenberg, Paul Jenkins, Jules Olitski, James Rosenquist and Joan Mitchell. There is also a “hands-on, interactive center Art Explorium” loft for families, which makes this more than a shuffle-and-stare kind of art museum...

To continue reading, pick up the May/June issue of Boca Raton magazine.