Now in its 49th season, the Florida State College Foundation of Jacksonville Artist Series plays a vital role in Northeast Florida’s performing arts scene, bringing the best of Broadway and cultural arts performances to our region. From its inception, Milton Russos has been serving as the man behind the curtain.
What first brought you to Jacksonville?
Florida Junior College at Jacksonville (currently Florida State College at Jacksonville) offered me a job as an American History professor. I came to Jacksonville because the college was brand new, and I felt the opportunities would be greater in a new institution. Jacksonville is where I met my wife and, subsequently, where our children grew up and went to school. We found it to be a wonderful place to raise a family.
Tell me about your transition from history professor to the man behind the Artist Series.
I was young, single, and willing to put the extra effort in to make an impression. It worked. In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I was asked to join one of my colleagues and assist in developing the college’s Student Life program, which required programming and scheduling concerts, speakers, dances, etc. Within a few months of the first academic term, my colleague and I were called into the first president’s office and told to put together a program for the new theater (the Civic Auditorium) downtown on the river. He said that no one was using it and felt the college could utilize it for some of its programs. In effect, that was the beginning of the Artist Series. My colleague left the college early in its history, and I have had this wonderful opportunity ever since.
What does the Artist Series’ upcoming 50th anniversary say about our community and its relation to the performing arts?
The Artist Series is unique in that we are part of both the college and the community. The continued support of the community has been amazing, but we could not have done it without the encouragement of the college administration and the support of our local media partners.
The performing arts scene has grown over the years. We began in an era when arts groups avoided scheduling events on the same night, and now, multiple events occur simultaneously. The Artist Series has matured, and the First Coast has done the same. I have a great deal of pride in reaching this milestone and contributing to North Florida’s quality of life.
What hopes do you have for the Artist Series over the next 50 years?
I see the Artist Series continuing to grow, entertaining audiences and, at times, challenging and educating audiences with new and innovative programming.