Although John Mason said he doesn't come from an artistic background, he admitted that the arts had a role in his early life. Despite never having learned how to play an instrument, on Saturdays, when he was little, broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera would hum in the background at home.
Despite not being an artist himself, Mason's peers still honored his contributions to the arts as a benefactor and patron. Last Thursday, at the annual Business and the Arts luncheon sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, the former Fairfax City mayor received the Jinx Hazel award, in recognition of his commitment to the arts in the community. For 20 years, Mason has led the annual Spotlight on the Arts festival.
"He is the driving force behind Spotlight. He guides, he moves things forward," said Joanna Ormesher, Spotlight's executive director. "He cares about the arts in general. He has done a lot to move the arts forward."
Mason also serves on the board of directors for the Fairfax Symphony and the Fairfax County Arts Council, and he was a founding member of the Fall for the Book festival, which takes place annually in September.
A retired Army veteran, Mason began his involvement in the arts 20 years ago, when he was chair of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB). He noted that since the city and the county's recreational programs were in place, the city would need to concentrate on cultural activities, in order to enhance the quality of life.
Furthermore, while organizations like the City of Fairfax Band and the Fairfax Symphony existed, they weren't well-known outside the immediate community.
"By the mid-’80s, there wasn't much recognition in The Washington Post of cultural activities beyond the Arlington-Alexandria area," Mason said.
AFTER CREATING a summary report on the need for cultural activities, Mason heard suggestions from several people to head a committee to achieve that goal. The committee was formed, and its first accomplishment was the first Spotlight on the Arts festival, which took place over one weekend in 1985.
Its mission was twofold: to enhance the awareness of local cultural activities and to put the "spotlight" on new and emerging artistic talent.
"We were putting the spotlight on local talent," Mason said.
As the festival grew, the committee turned into a nonprofit working in collaboration with George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. Scholarships for students, the Fairfax Art League and the Performance Series at Old Town Hall were among the initiatives that arose out of Spotlight activity.
"Maturing communities need to satisfy the broader interest of ensuring cultural activities," Mason said.
In this year's festival, three new events have been added to the lineup. "Art ... Rageous," an arts and wine-tasting event, is set for Saturday, April 24, and a sacred music concert takes place on May 2.
On May 1, Van Dyck Park will be the site of an International Festival featuring music and dance from cultures around the world.
"What we want to do is create an environment of cross-learning, so you can enhance the cross-cultural understanding," Mason said.
Once this year's festival starts, Mason and the volunteer committee working on the festival will start planning next year's, its 20th.
"He is great! He is so driven," Ormesher said. "It's the amount of time he puts in. He keeps volunteers motivated. He leads by example, by showing people how much he cares."
Ellen Brouwer of Fairfax, who served with Mason on the initial committee in 1985, agreed with Ormesher's assessment.
"I don't know how he's done it. He did it while he was mayor, while he was on Council," Brouwer said. "He has caused it to grow from that tiny weekend event."
Mason said he looks forward to next year's festival, which will coincide with the city's bicentennial.
"It'll be 2-0 for us and 2-0-0 for the city," Mason said.