Title: Jon Mills
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This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
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Interviewee: Carol MacDonald
Interviewer: Jon Mills
July 1, 1992
UF 208

CM: This is Carol MacDonald recording an interview with Mr. Jon Mills, former speaker of
the [Florida] House of Representatives. This is for the Harn Museum of Art oral
history program. It is July 1, 1992.

You were speaker-designate of the Florida House of Representatives at the time
you discussed the future of art in this area, District 24, right?

JM: Right.

CM: You thought of the total cultural complex for the community. To whom were you
speaking at the time, and where did your idea come from? How did you come up
with the solution?

JM: There were several different conversations. One was [with] a local group of elected
officials. That may have been the first time we started talking about it. LOGIC, it
was called; Local Officials of Government in Cooperation is what the acronym was.
We talked about several things. One of the related issues was the Florida Arts
Celebration, which started about 1983 or so. The Harn at that time was, I guess,
planned for about a $4-million facility (I do not remember the exact number). It was
planned to be on SW 13 Street in that pit area [behind Yulee Hall], not too far from
where the other museum is now, and across from the [Beatty] Towers. It struck me
that at the same time, or in that same general time period, Santa Fe [Community
College] was talking about doing a performing arts center with about 600 to 800
seats on [their] campus. At the same time, the city of Gainesville was talking about
renovating the [Florida] Theater downtown to performing arts space for about 600
people. It struck me that dispersed facilities that were not either together or as
accessible were not going to have a major impact.

I cannot say exactly what generated the specific idea, but it struck me that if we put
those facilities together, including the [new facility for the] natural history museum,
that they would all be greater than the sum of the parts. It would be unique. I do not
think there are many facilities like it or a combination facilities [like it] anywhere.
Already some of the things that I hoped would happen are happening. People are
coming to an event at the Harn and generating interest in the performing arts center
and vice versa. After those discussions started and a couple of people thought it
was a good idea, I talked to Marshall Criser [University of Florida president, 1985-
1990] about moving the Ham.

CM: What was his reaction?


JM: Well, it was pretty open. I knew that just moving it would not be much of an
incentive. The idea would be to change the size of the Ham from a $4-million to a
$9- or $10-million facility. They were already drawings or some other site plans for
putting it [on the UF campus].

CM: Yes, I think at that time there had already been a competition sponsored by the
National Endowment for the Arts [NEA]. They had an architect chosen, and they
had the design.

JM: Yes. I guess it was a little nervy of me to bring it up, but the idea of almost doubling
the size of the facility, I think, appealed to them. All the folks in the Ham family were
really very [excited]. They could have said: "No. That is a bad idea." They did not
say that. They were quite open to expansion. The concept of co-locating also
totally changed the access. Now the access on 34th [Street] has thousands of
parking places during weekends and evenings. I do not know where there would
have been parking places for [visitors to] the Ham where it was being designed.

CM: Yes, it was quite limited.

JM: Marshall Criser was very cooperative.

CM: And Alan Robertson [president, Santa Fe Community College]?

JM: Alan Robertson was willing to say, "Yes, we will take a chance on moving that
facility." That was, I guess, $1.5 million or something. Maybe it was $2 million [that
was proposed to pay for] the original facility that they were looking at at Santa Fe.
Then we said $9 million, and I think it has now ended up at $12 million or something.

CM: Well, from what I have read in some of the news reports and some of the materials I
have gone through, the [Florida] legislature approved $4 million for the Harn (in
addition to the original $4 million), $9.9 million for the performing arts theater, and
$208,000 for planning at the Florida State Museum.

JM: That all makes sense. Yes.

CM: Could you detail the steps that you took to make this possible? What did you do
after you thought of the idea?

JM: Well, I think those were in various phases. The $4 million came first because the
Ham was furthest along. I mean, there was already private money, and it was a lot
easier to persuade legislators that private folks were going to pay for half or more
than half of the Ham. So that was fairly easy. The performing arts center was more
difficult. As a matter of fact, it was vetoed once along the way. That, I am sure, is
somewhere in the records. That is why it was built later.


There was an enormous amount of controversy, at least in the legislature, because
they knew that anytime a presiding officer has a project, everyone else tries to hold
that project hostage, realizing that they can get leverage for doing it. All sorts of
things were brought up. A new university in Fort Lauderdale, literally, was one of the
trade-offs suggested for building the complex. [There were] all sorts of things.

Ultimately, within the house it was easy. Then in negotiations with the senate they
were ultimately willing to go along with it. We had cooperation from some parts of
the senate. Of course, it was vetoed once because it was not on the SUS priority
list. I guess the [State] University System at one time [did not list it]. But then it was
put on, and in the next year it was generally supported.

CM: Did you have a lot of calls and letters from your district about it?

JM: Generally, it was supportive. There was some concern from local groups that this
would, by bringing in larger shows, take away from the audience that they had. That
has not been the evidence. Now they seem to be quite happy to be able to use the
facility, too. Internally, or in the University, once it was decided, it was not that
controversial. It was hard to get it done in Tallahassee, but the cooperation here [in
Gainesville] was remarkable. I think the combination of the University and Santa Fe
and then the county being willing to pass the tourist tax as part of the support for
that [made the project seem more viable]. We had a series of meetings involving all
interested parties that my law partner and I organized. Without the meetings and
the goodwill of the people involved, the project would not have happened. I am not
sure if that would be easy to replicate these days. I mean, it was a combination of
cooperation from county [officials], Santa Fe, and the [Alachua County] school board
too, frankly. The University and the private donors [were also instrumental].
Everyone was willing to take a chance to see the vision come together.

CM: I understand that the county approved a tourist development tax that supports the
building operation costs to $200,000 a year. Is that for the Harn, or is that for both
the performing arts center and the Harn?

JM: I think it is principally [for] the performing arts center. A lot of this is mixed because
they are joint facilities. I mean, part of it was able to be described as an advantage,
[such as] the joint parking and the joint utilities and the joint facilities. If you were
going to build in two completely separate facilities, you would probably spend an
extra million dollars separating the facilities.

CM: The state Department of Transportation allocated $1.5 million for a 780-space
parking lot. Was this part of your package for the legislature?

JM: Well, that was an idea that was some combination of Sid Martin [representative,
Florida House] and Al Alsobrook [executive assistant for academic affairs, University


of Florida]. Parking was needed, but parking was also needed at the University. So
this was viewed as an opportunity to use some otherwise unavailable funds. In
other words, if you use those funds for parking [available to University of Florida
staff and students], you could use the amount of money that was allocated for
parking for construction of the actual museum and performing arts facilities.

CM: The state required that a new architect besides Mr. [Thomas] Porter [of Toledo, OH],
who was the winner in the NEA design competition, be chosen. How did they go
about choosing a new architect? He was a UF graduate [Kha Le-Huu].

JM: There was another competition, from what I recall. Budd Bishop [director, Ham
Museum of Art] had a committee, I think, that reviewed various designs.

CM: They changed the Harn in order to move it.

JM: Yes, [they] doubled the size.

CM: So they had to get a new architect.

JM: Yes, they could not use the same design.

CM: Sid Martin suggested the Center for the Performing Arts be named after you. What
happened at that point? How did you feel about that?

JM: Well, someone suggested that I was still living. [laughter] I did not really feel right
about it at the time. There was no reason to add any controversy to it.

CM: What is your impression of the completed complex, and how has it impacted the
area in [terms of] tourism or businesswise?

JM: I think it has changed the nature of the area, and it still is not finished. The third
component is very important. But the combination of the Harn [and the] performing
arts center has changed, I think, the way people think about Gainesville and this
whole region [both among people] from the outside as well as [among] the people
who live in the area.

The good news is that it is more than just a county/city facility. People are coming
here from far away. The Harn has been extremely successful in terms of its traffic.
In the first year--or really half year--the performing arts center virtually broke even,
which is also unheard of. So people are coming.

It is going to change the way the University of Florida thinks of itself. President
Lombardi has already said that we now have major, unique, and excellent facilities,
[and this has changed] the way residents here generally think of themselves and the


way, I suppose, anyone thinking of moving here would feel about this area of
Florida. Even though it still is not finished, it has still had its impact.

The fact that it is accessible, the fact that the community can get there relatively
easily, and [the fact that] there is a lot of educational use, too--which is one of the
principal purposes [of the center]--[has made it very popular]. High school students
and junior high and elementary school students from the entire region are filtering
through this, and that will happen even more when the natural history museum [is

CM: I was reading the 1984 proposed Florida state plan. It said that Florida ranked forty-
ninth in art-grant spending out of fifty-six states and territories. What do you think
the cultural prognosis is now? Certainly from what you have just said this has
impacted it.

JM: Some of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you do not have anything to spend it on
and no one has had an opportunity to experience some of the exhibits and the types
of performances that are available, people do not spend money on it. When you
start being exposed to cultural opportunities and art and enjoying it and [begin]
thinking that it is part of life, then it becomes a greater priority to a whole geographic
area and society in the state. So simply having the available facilities so that there
is something to spend that money on will change that, I think. And viewing art as
part of education or viewing the development of culture as part of thinking and part
of life is what those facilities are about. It is not solely a marginal recreational
activity. It is the way people think about themselves and society and the way people

CM: You have been president of the Florida Arts Celebration Board of Directors since
1988. Could you tell me about this organization and how it relates to our arts

JM: I was president when it started. Now they have other folks. I am still on the board.
Other people [serve as officers]. It requires a lot more time [than I have]. The
Florida Arts Celebration was created at the same time as the idea for the cultural
complex (I guess [in] 1983 or 1984), with a goal that we could bring major art
performances and exhibits here and integrate those presentations into the schools.
That has happened. The Florida Arts Celebration has been incredibly successful in
terms of raising money from the business community and bringing new types of
performances into the area. They were intended to dovetail. I mean, it is like the
Florida Arts Celebration existed and was able to bring the Cleveland Symphony
[Orchestra], albeit into the O'Connell Center, [which] showed that we could at least
acquire those folks. All we really needed was a place to put them.

CM: And now it is an ongoing organization.


JM: Now it is ongoing, and it is totally integrated into the performing art center. The
director--you might talk to her; it is Phyllis Bleiweis--was involved with the Florida
Arts Celebration and the transition to the performing arts center.

CM: The Hippodrome [State Theater] became designated as a state theater due to your
efforts. What early experiences do you have in the arts that made you so supportive
and [willing to] take so many actions in this area?

JM: My mother taught theater and English.

CM: That makes a big impact.

JM: Oh, yes. I have seen my mother in a number of plays. She is still highly active. I
used to go watch her rehearse and so forth. She placed a very high value on the
arts as a component of education. I guess that is the most direct [influence]. And
there were folks, I guess in the early 1980s, around here that [were talented, and] I
thought the Hippodrome was remarkably good. I spent a lot of time watching them.
Mike Doyle, who was an actor and the Hippodrome, [was one]. Greg von Hausch,
who is no longer around here, [was another]. You know, Mike died last year; they
named the main stage after him. There was just some really tremendous talent, and
they deserved it.

CM: OK. You have such a wide range of experiences internationally. Would you mind if
I asked your opinion based on some of your personal experience? For instance,
how do you feel the University of Florida compares culturally and educationally to
the countries where you have studied? I have a long list here: Poland, Taiwan,
Sweden, France, England, West Germany, Japan, [and] Israel.

JM: The University of Florida? Well, we are not Strasbourg yet. I think that under the
leadership of the last several [University] presidents there is a recognition of the
importance [of the arts]. And there is a cultural issue. Some of those cultures place
a higher importance on the arts than we do. [They] recognize it as an ongoing part
of their history: who they are and how they define their society. Part of the ability of
any great university to have significant arts components has to do with how
important the culture makes that issue. We seem to think it pretty important to have
a winning football team. [laughter] If we placed as much money and importance [on
art as we do] on that, we would probably be, internationally, pretty prominent.

I think the future of that is pretty bright. Florida is a big state. The arts have been
able to attract private donors, which are essential. You cannot do these cultural
activities without private donors. You mentioned the Richardsons [Dr. James and
Caroline]. Tremendous! We could not have done any of what was done at the Ham
without the Richardsons. We are still a relatively young state and a relatively young
country. The prospects for Florida are good.


CM: You received an award for Japanese-American relations in 1988. I would like to
know [about the arts in Japan]. Right now we are so conscious of Japanese
accomplishments. Do universities in Japan compare, culturally, with our facilities?

JM: Japan, generally, recognizes or feels that higher education is better in the United
States for many purposes, and a lot of Japanese come to the United States for
training. Culture is a whole separate chapter. Culture in Japanese society is so
much a part of the society and, really, is so different. You go to a Kabuki play, [and
it] lasts for a day. You know, they are a sort of homogeneous culture, [and] we are
so diverse, it is sort of hard to compare. One of the components, I think, that is very
interesting is the respect that they have for our higher education system, [which is]
probably a lot more than they have for our industrial system.

CM: As director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility, what is your position on
government support of art and cultural programs (you have touched on it quite a bit)
such as [the] NEA and public TV and facilities such as ours?

JM: It is viewed as part of society and part of education, and I think it is essential. When
you look at the level of spending as a percentage of the overall budget, it is so small.
You can have a performing arts center or you can have a B-1 bomber. I mean,
some of those tradeoffs will become easier, I suppose, [and] we hope in the future
[there will be a] lessening need for military expenditures.

But if one of the goals of society is an educated electorate and one that has some
context of history and who they are and who the world is, a major part of that
education is museums and cultural activities and performances. The performances
we have are not just the Vienna Symphony; a lot are current cultural activities, too.
Jazz is part of American society and expresses the way our people feel. So it is
really an essential component of our culture. It is part of an overall education, and
there is not any more important function of government than education. You have to
keep the peace, internal order, provide education, and provide some basis for
members of society [to] understand themselves and who they are and who they
might be.

CM: How do you describe what is happening, for instance, today and yesterday in the
legislature and state government [concerning what is being done] to the budget and
the decisions as far as the lottery and the way the lottery is being used?

JM: Well, a lot of the problems existed in the legislature in 1992, having viewed some of
that from a pretty close perspective. It looks horrible; it looks like the end of
democracy in the state.

CM: Yes. It seems like the arts jobs are the ones that go [first] in the school system.


JM: Well, they do. I think the state is going through a bad time economically [and] a bad
time politically because the priorities are so mixed. There is a group of folks saying:
"Government is a bad thing, and, therefore, the less government we have, the fewer
taxes we pay. And the less we spend, the better off we will all be." Well, that just
has not proven to be the case. But there is support for that, and there has been
enough national support of that viewpoint that it is okay to say it. The jobs that get
cut first are frequently related to arts. If they are cutting a department at a
university, they will cut the music or the art department before they will cut the
engineering department.

CM: It seems that way.

JM: But I am not a gloomy about the legislature. I think we are in a bad economic period
of time and a political transition, and I tend to think it will swing back the other way.

Maybe it was just a remarkable experience of people working together in a
community and from different points of view and from different interests unselfishly
thinking that, if everybody came together, the vision would work to the benefit of the
community, the state, and folks that are not around yet. That is a very unusual
circumstance. The real definition of vision is to help those that are not able to vote
on it and thank you for it at the moment. I think that everybody chipped in on that
basis. So it was just a fortuitous period of time.

CM: We were lucky to have you up there at the time a speaker, too.

JM: Well, thanks. I was lucky that the folks up there sort of put me in a position where I
could help.


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