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LALtoday Q+A series

We’ve loved sitting down with Lakeland’s movers and shakers — from noted artists and muralists to members of the LEDC and small business community. Find their full interviews linked below.

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Wondering where to meet Lakeland’s movers and shakers? Look no further.

Graphic via 6AM City

Table of Contents

Newsflash: Lakeland is full of interesting people making big moves in their respective fields. Keep reading to see who we’ve featured so far in our LALtoday Q+A series.

Tyler Auerbacher — Small business owner

Tyler Auerbacher is a local entrepreneur known for producing engaging digital content while teaching other business owners how to do the same. You may recognize him from Lakeland Business Owners, or his video marketing agency, Thryve Media.

Q: What’s something every new business owner oughta know about?
A: When you go all-in and your back’s against the wall, you’ll be shocked at the new levels of commitment & success you’ll reach.

Ashley Cheek — Lakeland Economic Development Council

We took a peek into the inner workings of the Lakeland Economic Development Council (LEDC) thanks to its then VP of Business Development, Ashley Cheek. Ashley spent her time with the LEDC helping businesses + individuals learn why Lakeland is a great place to live, work, and play.

Q: What do you hope Lakeland is like in 10 years?
A: As you may have heard, the Lakeland/Winter Haven MSA was ranked as one of the fastest-growing MSAs in the country. I can only imagine what this growth will mean for Lakeland’s future. I hope to see continued development, job opportunities, additional housing + multifamily options, revitalization of old spaces, and entrepreneurs opening new businesses. All of these add to our quality of life, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Brian Seeley — Nonprofit founder, Gospel Inc.

As founder + executive director of Gospel, Inc., Brian Seeley has a particularly close relationship with Lakeland’s community of individuals experiencing homelessness. Brian worked to open Gospel Village, a permanent housing project, in 2021.

Q: Do you hope to expand past Gospel Village?
A: I think it would be wonderful if each city in Polk County created similar housing opportunities for people experiencing chronic homelessness and we would love to help other cities establish their villages like what we have here in Lakeland.

Christin Strawbridge — President, Catapult Lakeland

Meet the president of Catapult Lakeland, Christin Strawbridge. In her role as president, Christin serves Lakeland’s entrepreneurial community and works alongside other coworking spaces to support Lakeland’s small business scene.

Q: Why do you think a co-working space works so well in Lakeland?
A: Starting a business or working from home can be lonely. Having the opportunity to connect with others in a vibrant space can increase productivity and lead to a deeper sense of satisfaction in work.

Gillian Fazio — Lakeland muralist

If you’ve seen the side of the Gaines Jewelers building, the Bent’s Cyclery building, or the Yard on Mass, you’ve seen Gillian Fazio’s work. She’s known for beautifying Lakeland with her big, bright, and bold creations, one wall at a time.

Q: Which local leaders are you watching?
A: I’m super interested in Bonnet Springs Park and what everyone involved is building over there. It’s making a great future for Lakeland and generations to come. Also, the whole Lakeland CRA team. They’re always thinking outside the box on how to include arts and keep building while beautifying. My third is David Collins, a Lakeland artist, who taught me about being involved in the community.

Kevin LeVine — Principal, Harrison School for the Arts

As principal at Harrison School for the Arts, Kevin LeVine is familiar with Lakeland’s performing arts scene. We sat down and asked him how Lakeland can continue to support the arts, what leaders he’s following, and why he thinks Harrison continues to produce so many talented individuals.

Q: How do you think Harrison facilitates student success so well? IE: Broadway alumni/actors, etc.
A: We’re giving them a lot of real-world experience. It’s a competitive audition process — that’s what the real world is. Giving them those experiences allows them to see the amount of time, hours, and energy that goes into putting on full-scale productions.

Bump Galletta — Lakeland artist

Known for his unique style of illustrating and frequent collaborations with other local artists, Bump Galletta is the definition of a mover + shaker in the creative community. We sat down with Bump to learn more about his beginnings as an artist, his hopes for the future, and what other Lakeland artists he has his eye on.

Q: What advice would you give to budding artists? What opportunities do Lakeland artists have to connect?
A: Find your voice and your style. Everybody’s looking for something new, something explosive that tells a story and says who you are. When I was first trying to sell my artwork, I was doing watercolor, building furniture out of scrap wood, I tried mixed mediums, murals, and drawings. I narrowed it down to something that defined who I am and that’s how I got my aesthetic. I’m very fortunate to be known for my style. You’re going to grow and change, but be who you are.

Delta Ryan — Nonprofit founder, Take Heart Africa

You’ve likely seen the Take Heart storefront in downtown Lakeland on Kentucky Avenue, but do you know what the store stands for? We interviewed the founder of the non-profit, Delta Ryan, to learn more about what fair trade means, as well as how this local establishment is changing lives around the globe.

Q: Can you talk to us about the fair trade bit of the business?
A: Fair trade means it’s made mainly by artisans in the Third World — you sit down directly with an artisan group and come up with a fair wage. The trade is giving them a fair sum of money for what you’re getting in return in a safe environment. They get the money they earned and don’t wait for us to sell it on this side. I have vetted it extensively because it makes a difference in women’s lives, especially around the world.

Kerry Falwell — CEO, Florida Children’s Museum

If you’ve stepped foot inside Florida Children’s Museum (formerly Explorations V Children’s Museum), you can thank museum CEO Kerry Falwell. The museum is relocating over the summer to its new digs at Bonnet Springs Park. With doors opening on Fri., Nov. 4, we wanted to ask Kerry a few questions about what Lakelanders can expect from the state-of-the-art facilities.

Q: What impact do you think the museum is going to have on children?
A: This exhibit is opening right as a significant body of research is being published. Research is showing that guided play has the greatest impact on a child’s ability to retain knowledge. When you introduce a children’s museum environment and guided play, a child’s ability to understand a concept increases exponentially. I’m concerned with getting them interested in staying curious. We want them to continually ask questions, and we want those questions to elevate.

Brian Rewis — LCRA

Are you a fan of the murals throughout Dixieland, meeting Downtown for dinner, or attending events in the Midtown district? Much of the progress in these districts is thanks to Brian Rewis and the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). We sat down with the Director of Community & Economic Development for the City of Lakeland to learn how CRAs work and what’s next for the agency.

Q: What project are you working on now that you’re most excited about?
A: The CRA is working on a strategic master plan for what has been called the East Main district. The area adjacent to downtown on the east is a part of the Midtown CRA, where we’re seeing interest and the kind of downtown excitement and vibe starting to move east and west — and we’re working west as well. But east, with a predominance of industrial uses, has become super enticing to a number of investors that want to see that area revitalized as a bit more inclusive and a bit more artistic.

Nate Fleming — Founder, Swan City Improv

Nate Fleming is a local entrepreneur perhaps best known as the founder of comedy group Swan City Improv. We sat down with Nate to find out how he got involved in comedy, what’s next for the team, and the surprising way he would improve Lakeland.

Q: Tell us how someone can get involved with the team.
A: Classes. That way we can make sure that you’re ready to perform with us if that’s what you want to do. Right now, there are only three levels you have to get through so it’s quick and painless. I mean, aside from the fact that you have to donate two toes in each class

Phillip Walker — Former City Commissioner

After nearly 13 years on the Lakeland City Commission, Phillip Walker’s term came to a close in November 2022. We sat down with the longest-standing member of the commission to ask about his hopes for Lakeland’s future and his work on the Florida League of Cities.

Q: As the longest-tenured member of the Commission, what would you share with our readers?
A: One of the pillars of Lakeland city government is diversity. It is making sure we’re an inclusive community. If you want to help the community, you have to make sure people who are like all of us are not just at the table, but in leadership as well.

Diana Cortes Blanquicet — Owner, DOU Bakehouse

We asked pastry chef Diana Cortes Blanquicet about how she got DOU Bakehouse off the ground, the bakery’s growth, and the bakers’ current pastry obsession.

The bakehouse specializes in European-style pastries, including cookies, French macarons, chocolates, and entremets. DOU is currently obsessed with financier pops — small cakes made with almond flour and brown butter, dipped in chocolate, and topped with ganache.

Dr. Diana Álvarez-Hughes — Owner, Orange Blossom Poems

Local poet Dr. Diana Álvarez-Hughes of Orange Blossom Poems sat down with us to talk all things creativity and poetry at Pressed Lakeland.

Q: What do you think is a common misconception about poetry? What would you tell people to help them understand it more fully?
A: Get away from the idea that you have to rhyme. If you can do it, go for it, but if that’s holding you up, let it go. The other thing is the idea that you have to be good. As soon as we tell ourselves we have to be good at something, we are prohibiting ourselves from being real about it. You don’t have to be good to say things that are important.

Ahmad H. Taylor — Lakeland native artist

Taylor grew up in Lakeland, honing his art style in media like illustration, murals, and more before moving to Georgia. With his work being featured in an exhibit at the Polk Museum of Art, we talked with “The Atlanta Illustrator” about how Lakeland continues to inspire him.

Q: You painted the “Greetings from Lakeland,” “Roaring 20s,” and “DixieLand Now!” murals found across Lakeland. What’s your dream location to paint a mural?
A: I know the CRA is doing a lot down the South Florida Avenue corridor, but I envision the whole corridor streamlined with some consistency. I would love to have all the buildings uniform with something that represents Lakeland. I just want to paint the town, I guess you could say.

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