Five Florida public school arts teachers will spend part of their summer on Manasota Key while working on their own artistic endeavors. They are the winners of the 2023 State Teachers Artist Residency program (STARs) – now in its thirteenth year – presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat in partnership with theFlorida Alliance for Arts Education (FAAE). This year’s recipients were selected from dozens of impressive applicants, and the five teachers selected from across the State of Florida include three visual arts educators working in different mediums, a music teacher and electronic musician, and an artist/educator working across disciplines to illustrate an original novel. The five receive a residency at the nationally renowned Hermitage Artist Retreat, where they can focus on their own work as creative artists. These five teaching artists will present a family-friendly showcase of their work on Friday, July 14th starting at 1pm. This special event will be held outdoors at the Hermitage’s beachfront campus on Manasota Key; entrance at 6660 Manasota Key Road, Englewood, FL 34223. The program is presented in partnership with the Englewood YMCA. In addition to the students and families attending from the YMCA, this Hermitage community program will be free and open to the public with a $5/person registration fee. Due to capacity limitations and safety protocols, registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.
The five recipients of this honor, selected among dozens of impressive applicants, include: Jeffrey Brown, a keyboard instructor at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando (Orange County); James Finch, a visual arts instructor at West Shore Jr/Sr High School in Melbourne (Brevard County); Katherine Gebhart, an art instructor at Jerry Thomas Elementary School in Jupiter (Palm Beach County); Omar Otero, a photography and painting instructor at Hagerty High School in Oviedo (Seminole County); and Rachael Pongetti, a visual art instructor at the Escambia High School in Pensacola (Escambia County).
Jeff Brown teaches keyboard at Dr. Phillips High School in Orange County, FL, and serves as Math Interventionist at Chancery Charter HS. His degree is in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University. He was senior consultant for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) before working in music. As a musician, he has held music director, choir director and educator positions, including Teaching Artist in Residence at Santa Fe Opera. Awards include two Helene Wurlitzer Foundation residency grants, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts Residency Award, Banff Centre IWJCM selection, National Hispanic Cultural Center/McCune Foundation Fellowship, and Florida Alliance for Arts Education (Arts Integration Guided Residency). His compositions and performances have been presented in Canada, Europe, South America, and the U.S. He teaches in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
James Finch graduated from the University of Central Florida with a BA degree in Art and specialized in Graphic Design. He has won two international design awards, multiple state awards, and numerous advertising (Addy) awards. Mr. Finch continues to work in the commercial art field as a designer and enjoys drawing and painting in his spare time. He currently teaches at West Shore Jr./Sr. High in the Computer Graphics programs. Many of his students have gone on to further their education and have careers in the arts ranging from animators, creative directors, motion graphic/social media arts, architecture, industrial designers, illustrators, and more. Mr. Finch was a member of the Space Coast Advertising Federation, FAEA and BAEA.
Katherine Gebhart is a life-long visual artist who also creates theater, writing, and poetry. For over 10 years, she has been teaching within the school district of Palm Beach County, where she encourages her students to be their best by striving for innovation and not perfection and to use their most imaginative ideas, incorporating both learned techniques and what makes them personally unique. When she is not in the studio, she is actively engaged in the culture of Jerry Thomas Elementary through many avenues, not the least of which is musical theater.
Omar Otero received his Bachelor of Arts in Photography and Digital Imaging from the Ringling College of Art and Design, one of the most highly recognized and innovative arts colleges in the United States. He has had the privilege to teach photography, sculpture, drawing, and painting nationally and in Central America. After graduating, Otero worked side by side with actors and crew in New York television, including the daytime dramas All My Children, One Life to Live, Guiding Light, and As the World Turns. He has won multiple national honors, including the Ava Video Award. He started his art teaching career as a visual arts instructor at IQ Village School of the Arts in Orlando, Florida. Following that, he started teaching in Tegucigalpa, Honduras during the school year and also at his alma mater, Ringling College of Art and Design, during the summer.
Rachael Pongetti is a Pensacola-based teacher, photographer, and multimedia artist who focuses on the visual culture of her surrounding community and the theme of impermanence. She is the author of Uncovering the Layers, The Pensacola Graffiti Bridge Project, and recipient of the National Book Award for Communication for Freedom of Speech, from the Freedom Foundation in Valley Forge. Her work has appeared in various publications, exhibitions, and private collections. After facing the challenges of teaching through the pandemic, Rachael has turned to more analog-based art forms such as mixed media, collage, and assemblage art.
Since the start of the Hermitage STARs program in 2011, 62 teachers have represented over 30 Florida counties.