Known as “Mother Music” for her gracious musical influence on several generations of Lakelanders, Beth Mason is a long-time champion of Polk County’s entire arts community. “If there is an art event in Polk County, Beth Mason will attend it,” says Rob Tate, Vice-President of External Relations at Florida Southern College. Friend Patti Foster echoes “She goes to everything and loves every minute.”
Mason is well-known locally for her arts advocacy as a board member and executive director of the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, board member of the Polk Museum of Art and president of Friends of the Museum, member of the Florida Southern College Fine Arts committee, and supporter of the Harrison School for the Arts. When former State Representative Seth McKeel was a Lakeland city commissioner, he recalls turning to “Miss Beth” for help determining how the City should invest in the arts.
Over the years, Mason has stepped into the executive director and development role at the ISO when needed, and she continues to be a strong supporter. McKeel notes he agreed to take on the ISO presidency – twice – when asked by Mason. As Foster said, “Beth exudes a special passion for music, which draws others in.” Mason’s advocacy extended to the statewide level when, in 1999, she was appointed to the Florida Arts Council to advise the Secretary of State on arts spending and cultural affairs. In 2002, she was elected chairman of the Council. During her tenure, Mason hosted a regional meeting of the Florida Arts Council in Polk County, which was not an easy task, according to Foster, who had previously served on the Council. “Beth got them to Lakeland and wowed them with visits to Bok Tower, FSC, and other gems in our community,” she noted.
In 2015, Lakeland’s Harrison School for the Arts recognized Mason as an inaugural inductee in their Hall of Fame for her passionate support of the school. She is known to have helped many students pursue college scholarships. But without fail, Mason’s friends point to her years of teaching piano lessons to Lakeland’s youth as her most direct and lasting impact on the arts. “She instilled a love of music in so many children and in their parents and grandparents,” said Foster. One of those students was Seth McKeel, and he fondly recalls her lessons in piano, gentlemanly behavior, and life. While Mason is often called “Mother Music,” he says “To me, she’s ‘Miss Beth’ and my dear friend and mentor.”
“The arts in our community, the arts in the State of Florida, and frankly, generations of ladies and gentlemen in Lakeland owe their successes to the investment made in them by Beth Mason,” said McKeel. “We are right to honor her commitment to the arts and her love for people.”
Since 1965, the ISO has been a driving force for music education and accessibility, and few have championed music as much as Beth Mason. As an educator and civic leader, “Miss Beth’s” commitment to providing musical education and experience for youth has led to countless opportunities for children and youth to succeed.
On April 11, the Imperial Symphony Orchestra joined with the Polk Arts Alliance to present Mason with the 2017 Polk Artist Hall of Fame Award. To recognize this honor, the ISO board of directors, and Beth’s close friends partnered to create an additional honor – the Beth Mason Young Artists Endowment Fund.
Family, friends and colleagues surprised Beth with the fund during a reception held prior to the Hall of Fame Award presentation. Earnings from the endowment will provide scholarship support for the ISO’s annual Young Artist Competition, and with new contributions, the fund will grow to encompass even more necessary and inspirational programs for youth.
You can be part of the success of the community’s young artists with your generous support of the Beth Mason Young Artists Endowment Fund within GiveWell Community Foundation. Donations may be made directly to GiveWell, noting the Beth Mason Young Artists Endowment Fund.