Art and Culture

JAN 2018

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36 art&culture How Alex Dreyfoos engineered the framework of Palm Beach County's cultural landscape BY DA P H N E N I KO LO P O U LOS | P H OTO G RA P H Y BY J E R RY RA B I N OW I TZ ALEX DREYFOOS, PHOTO- GRAPHED ON STAGE AT THE KRAVIS CENTER FOR THE PER- FORMING ARTS, SET PALM BEACH COUNTY'S CULTURAL SCENE IN MOTION 40 YEARS AGO. A NOBLE MISSION 8 8 The most successful endeavors often start with serendipity. In the case of Palm Beach County's now-prolific cultural scene, it all began with a series of isolated incidents in the life of one man: Alex Dreyfoos. Although Dreyfoos is credited with setting the county's arts juggernaut in mo- tion 40 years ago, he admits he didn't always have a vision for it. His actions—in the beginning, at least—were propelled by self-interest. Over four decades, his journey in the arts evolved, becoming a passion so strong that even now, at age 85, he con- tinues to imagine what could be—and work toward it. Rewind to 1968. Dreyfoos, a brilliant young engineer, was riding high on the suc- cess of his inventions—electronic equipment for the photographic industry, then marketed worldwide by Eastman Kodak—and decided to focus as much energy on life's pleasures as he did on his work. Five years after establishing Photo Electronics Corporation with business partner George Mergens, he traded in the cold winters of Westchester County, New York, for the perpetual sunshine of Palm Beach Coun- ty. An avid fisherman, scuba diver, sailor, and pilot, he could engage in all those pursuits while continuing to build his company. Life was good. There was only one problem: Very few engineers wanted to join him in what they viewed as a "cultural desert." Looking back, he can't blame them. At the time, Palm Beach Opera, The Society of the Four Arts, and the Norton Museum of Art were the pillars of culture here, with a few smaller organizations in the mix. That's when he realized that culture was a key part of fueling Palm Beach County's eco- nomic engine. But igniting an arts movement was the furthest thing from his mind.

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