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Old School, New Vibes: Rob Steele

The first time I met Rob we were dancing together at the silent disco that was hosted by Old School Square, which by the way – totally rocked! There were four different DJs offering different styles of music. Each had their own headphones with a specific color so you could coordinate with your dancing partners. Everyone could enjoy - young teens, older folks and even little kids. It was a truly connecting experience for the community through sound and music.

Rob was walking around talking to everyone, being social, and more than anything – curious. He was asking everyone what they like, didn’t like, what was missing? We all agreed that we were missing more people. The attraction was there. The space is amazing, but also very large to fill up, hence the “half empty” feeling that night.

Since he moved into “office” as president of Old School Square, Rob has been trying to figure out how to keep the magic alive. He has a clear vision and plan, involving a lot of respect for the traditional elements of the school, and enough innovation for a new brand vision. We scheduled a meeting to discuss how we can help support Old School Square.

Originally from Flint, Michigan, Rob is a soft spoken, charming, warm and friendly guy. His office is full of sea shells, ocean pictures, family pictures, and random finds from his morning walks on the beach. One find included a boat paddle from a deserted boat that he found that came from Cuba. “It made me sad to think they risked their life and almost made it here.” The Coastguard handled the situation from there. Another find were baby turtles that were hatching. His Facebook video gained 36,000 views and appeared on the news. His morning ritual goal: “Find my peace. Exhale what I don’t want. Inhale positive. Project a good day…otherwise I would have cracked by now.”

Throughout the interview he kept using visual aids to help communicate his thoughts, memories, vision and stories. From videos, to Facebook posts, paper documents, items on his desk, and sketches he drew on paper, you could see the creative mind behind the passion and enthusiasm to bring change.

Part of his vision for Old School Square is to simplify the name and utilize the park. The first thing he did in September of 2015 was to support the movement to change the name from Delray Beach Center of Arts back to Old School Square. Then the logo, segmentation of different parts of the school (sketched on a piece of paper for me), branding look and feel (pulled out new brochures and collateral to show me), and everything else rolled into a new modern look. He kept bragging about his team, staff and people like a proud father, celebrating their passion and talent in helping to bring everything to life.

The vision for the park includes sitting spots, benches, more trees, solar power charging stations, and lots of music in what he describes as an outdoor roof covered pavilion with a garden feel that can fit over 2,000 people, for family gatherings, lunch dates, and picnics. “I want to bring musicians together, create a different experience for the people of Delray….I talk to people everywhere I go. I ask them what they like, what they want? I want to know who is out there, how do we communicate with them, what kind of entertainment are they looking for? We haven’t reached everyone yet.”

Education is also important to him - “We are creating music educational programs and series for kids. These programs have been taken out of public schools. We want to offer it for kids here.” As to entertainment; “We want to create a hybrid campus for local musicians and touring musicians. We’ve done this with local musicians but not enough. I want more kids and families to enjoy it.”

Before moving to Delray Beach into the position at Old School Square, Rob was the Executive Director of The Community Arts Center in Williamsport, PA. for 10 years, and did the same thing there. He did it so successfully that when he left for his current position, the whole community hosted a special farewell event for him featuring a heartwarming performance by all the local kids and teen musicians that he mentored and supported through his service. He showed me a video of the event (another visual aid he used). Lots of tears were shed as he was viewing them from a raised balcony, lighting up the street stage with smiles and beautiful voices. He pointed at each kid and told me their story, who they are, what they’re doing now. “I miss those kids. My heart is there with them. It was hard to leave them, but I am hopeful that I can do that again here.”

His leadership and vision entail infusing music, art, education, entertainment and outdoor fun all with balance. “I want to offer everything to everyone…..Delray Beach is an arts community, bonified, cool, funky arts town on the beach. I want to raise awareness and brand Delray Beach as an arts center, through collaborations with the arts garage, arts warehouse, art walk, school of rock and more.”

Rob has been married for 35 years. He met his wife in college. They took classes together and got married at the age of 23. His daughter, 29, lives in London and is a freelance writer. His son, 32, lives in Southern California and is a teacher and Vice Principal.

Before we ended the interview he pulled out another visual aid to help describe his quirk. It was a calendar featuring pictures of him with chickens. One of his hobbies was raising chickens so he built a coup and had 6 of them. He named each chicken after Harry Potter characters. He had to give them away when he moved to Delray.

Luckily, he also likes sea turtles, so he should be able to keep them around for a while.

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