Learning to Crawl
The ‘Daring Dozen,’ founders of the Goodland Art Alliance. Front row (l-r): Denise Santos, Margi Fortune, Tara O’Neill and Joan Fuller. Back row (l-r): Judy Wittwer, Darren Clack, Natalie Strom, Julie Gross, Celeste Navara, Sherri Morrison, Dave Fuller and Jim Freeman. PHOTO BY TARA O’NEILL

Learning to Crawl

Artful Life
Tara O’Neill

In November 2012, our community lost a great woman, and I lost a great friend with the passing of Helen Tateo. Helen was an inspiration to me for so many reasons and for so many years, but today, it’s her artful side that brings her into this column.

In the 1960s, she owned the first art gallery on Marco Island. She was also one of the 12 founding members of the Art League of Marco Island (now the Marco Island Center for the Arts). The Center/Art League today, nearing its 45th birthday, is a thriving, multi-faceted cultural non-profit and a considerable asset to this community. She was my hero.

In September 2012, 11 area artists and myself gathered together with the agenda of forming an arts organization in Goodland. My very first step was to contact Helen, bounce our ideas off her and dig for some insights into the PROCESS. The PROCESS, by the way, never ends. Her encouragement and enthusiasm gave me great courage, and I looked forward to her guidance throughout the PROCESS.

By November, the Goodland Arts Alliance was a Florida not-for-profit-organization. It had a motivated membership of perhaps 25, and a dialogue with Collier County about a permanent home for this band of artful dreamers. And Helen Tateo was gone. I would have no one to turn to — or so I thought.

So, what follows are the top five things I’ve learned in the last year and a half that I wish my friend could have stayed to teach me. I’m sure Helen, and her family, would allow me this bit of selfishness.

Number 1: Non-profits come with square wheels. They do not acquire momentum with one, or even two, good shoves. They do not snowball. The sponsors and volunteers at your last event will not seek you out for your second. You must keep pushing the blocks.

Number 2: You best have more than one volunteer who doesn’t retreat into panic mode at the thought of filling out 32 pages of government paperwork — four times — all different. Not that it should be easy, but it surely is intimidating!

Number 3: You’re motives must be in the right place. I thought ours were, but the bigger the picture got, the more clarity we required and acquired. It was no longer just about us.

Number 4: With your eyes on the goal, it will do no good to occupy your brain with the fact that many would-be supporters simply will not get involved until you’ve proven yourself, and that until then the bulk of effort will always come from the same tiny band of faithful. Suck it up, Buttercup; they’ll come on board eventually, and you will be happy to have them.

Number 5: The point of moving along as fast as you can is pointless.

Now, on the “eve” (March 9th) of the its 2nd annual Harbor Arts & Music Festival, the Goodland Arts Alliance has a membership of more than 70, the promise of a festival filled with the best talent, great food, representatives from other noteworthy Florida non-profits, and sublime ambiance. And we are still working with Collier County to procure a permanent home. We are thankful for the support of our community, the opportunity to share our vision and deliver the best cultural experience that Southwest Florida has to offer.

As it turned out, there were many people to turn to: graphic designer Sherri Morrison; attorney Craig Woodward; Collier Commissioner Donna Fiala; CPA Theresa Morgan; Parks and Rec representative Nancy Olson; community organizers Noreen Seegers and Connie Fulmer; and multiple volunteers and sponsors.

The one time we got to speak on the subject, I confided to Helen Tateo that being part of the formation of this organization just may be the most significant endeavor of my life to date. She touched my shoulder and said, “Then be sure to enjoy it — have fun, have faith — do not waste the experience.” My personal rewards are many. I guess I never really did lose her. I just wish…

About The Author

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and is currently represented by Blue Mangrove Gallery on Marco Island. Visit her at 

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