The Unstoppable Katie Deits, CEO of Florida CraftArt
In the heart of the downtown business district, nestled in a historic building that was once known as Rutland’s Department Store, stands Florida CraftArt. As a statewide, nonprofit organization, Florida CraftArt’s mission is to grow Florida’s creative economy by engaging the community and advancing fine craft artists with their works. It’s a big mission, and the woman behind it is Chief Executive Officer Katie Deits.
“The best part of my position as CEO is feeling like I am making a difference in the lives of artists and bringing the joy of art to the community with the gallery, exhibitions, and educational programming,” she says. But “bringing the joy of art” to people requires boundless energy and a keen business acumen. “I work with board members to establish and monitor fiscal goals, fundraise, and write grants, and engage donors and artists. I create marketing, public relations, and social media. Exhibition planning and programming are also my responsibility, with input from the staff and committee, and I also oversee the Florida CraftArt Festival.”
Business aside, however, creativity is a huge part of Deits’s life. “When I’m not at Florida CraftArt working, I am probably at an art opening, an art workshop, visiting an artist, a gallery, or a museum, and writing and posting about the experience,” she says. “Or I’m in my home studio working on my art, writing, or studying about art history or techniques.”
Art is quite literally a part of her heritage. Her father, Willis Deits, was a professional photographer. He settled with Katie, an only child, and her mother, Eloise, in Palm Beach in 1960. Here, she gained recognition for her art skills and before she graduated high school, one of her works – a painting of “a six-foot-tall girl in a bikini standing like an Egyptian figure” – was exhibited at the Norton Museum of Art.
Deits attended the University of South Florida in 1967, working summers at the The Palm Beach Post in the photography and art departments. She was also part of a program with Finch College that allowed her to spend nine months in New York City attending cultural events, including the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. As a senior, Deitsstudied in Florence, Italy, later traveling solo across Europe to visit all the major museums before returning to America.
Back home, Deits worked in the photographic darkroom of the National Enquirer where she met her husband, Vincent Eckersley, an English photographer. They wed in 1975 and, with her father, created “a commercial photography business called Camera Graphics. We did aerial photography from light planes and helicopters, architectural, corporate, product, fashion, food, and many other types of photography.” Camera Graphics eventually became the largest studio in Palm Beach County. The couple had two children and, during this time, Deits was also awarded the Florida Degree of Photographic Excellence and a Masters of Photography by the Professional Photographers of America. After passing the PPA exam, Deits became a Certified Professional Photographer.
“As an artist, my personal work has usually been tied to social justice or environmental issues in some way,” she says. One of the most meaningful endeavors for her was the 2020 play that she co-wrote called The Art of Healing that was part of the Florida CraftArt Inside the World of Public Art exhibit. The plays produced through this project emphasized the St. Petersburg Celebration of the Arts’ theme of tolerance and acceptance and are now being used for diversity and inclusion training by the Florida Bar Association.
The passing of her father and her husband, along with the rise of digital photography, moved Deits to a different place in life. She worked teaching photography at Palm Beach State College and Barry University, as well as the Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta, Florida where she was later appointed executive director. The art center was in a negative financial position, so Deits joined the Association of Fundraising Professionals and studied for and passed the exam to be a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).
“In whatever job or endeavor I am in, I always work to receive extra education and certification in the field,” says Deits. “Doing so not only gives me the knowledge to do the job better, it also gives more credence to my position and ability.”
Her years of dedication, experience, and hard work recently earned Deits the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s Muse Award as an Arts Ambassador. She was nominated by Mary Anna Murphy, who is an exhibition designer and member of Florida CraftArt.
“Katie Deits was an obvious choice to win the 2023 MUSE Ambassador Award. Katie exemplifies the energy, innovation, and inspiration that the St. Petersburg arts community is known for throughout our region,” said Terry Marks, CEO of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “She is a passionate advocate of the arts and if you have ever been to Florida CraftArt, you will be taken by the high level of artistry that is exhibited in this gallery. As a city of the arts, we are grateful that Katie lends outstanding leadership to our community.”
“It was such a terrific honor to be selected for the Muse Award, and I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing in helping to publicize and promote the Tampa Bay art community,” says Deits. “I want to continue to develop, curate, and present quality exhibitions. I want to connect with and engage the local and statewide community with interesting and educational programming related to our exhibitions to retain our current audience and attract new ones.”
Deits shows zero signs of slowing down. Her other goals include bringing in more statewide artists and expanding the volunteer base for Florida CraftArt to help with day-to-day operations.
Does she have any advice for both established and emerging local artists?
“Create something artistic every day, whether it is a quick sketch, a painting, a poem, short story, or working on a project,” says Deits. “Connect with your artistic community and discuss your work with others. Believe in yourself and study your art your entire life. Keep the passion for your art burning in your soul. Help and mentor others.”