The CREATIVE CIVIL SERVANT
BY DONNA CRARY
Sit down with Jim Chrulski and you quickly discover that he enjoys putting his creative talents to work. As director of community and legislative affairs for the City of Stuart, he uses his artistic side to help make the city an economically sound, vibrant and beautiful community. His approach is a combination of a lifelong passion for music and the arts mixed with practical, fiscal sense.
“It’s about creating a balance of left brain versus right brain — being able to understand that if we want to enjoy the beauty, aesthetics and cultural arts, there needs to be some sort of financial plan,” he says. “There needs to be some logic to this whole thing for it to actually manifest, or it’s just a cool idea.”
Born in Lorain, Ohio, Chrulski developed a love for music early on through the influence of his father and mother.
“When I was 6, my parents took me to a dinner and they said, ‘Musical literacy is as important as anything else,’” he recalls. “They told me, ‘You’re going to take up an instrument and study it for 10 years and practice every day for at least a half an hour — birthdays, Christmases included.”
Chrulski knew exactly what instrument he wanted to play. “I told them that I wanted to be a drummer,” he says with a laugh. “I’ll never forget the horror-stricken look on my mom’s face. She had to suck it up when she realized that she had to live with a drummer for 10 years. Although she was a drummer herself — and a marimba player. She was fine with it, in the end.”
For a decade, Chrulski was trained in multiple styles of drumming including jazz, rock, Latin and blues. At 16, while attending a Catholic high school, Chrulski formed his own band.
“It was called Cottonmouth, which was a biker band,” he remembers, looking back on those days. “It was a pretty tough Cleveland band. I’m sure it drove my parents crazy.”
After high school, he studied advertising and illustration at the Columbus School of Art and Design. Then he transferred to Ohio State University and earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
Chrulski married his high school sweetheart, Mally Dougherty, in 1983. The couple wanted to live in the subtropics and in 1986 moved to the Treasure Coast.
For the next 11 years, Chrulski worked as special events manager for the St. Lucie County Department of Leisure Services. He worked with Tom Kindred Jr., former manager of Fort Pierce’s Main Street program, to produce Friday Fest — a promotional event that helped get Main Street off the ground.
He went on to work for the City of West Palm Beach, Vero Beach Main Street and Indian River County, getting a broader experience in management, community relations, special events production and government administration. In 2006, an opportunity opened with the City of Stuart that he couldn’t pass up.
“I always wanted to come to Stuart — I’ve watched it since I came to the Treasure Coast,” Chrulski says. “I felt a real connection with the community.”
He was hired as assistant director of the parks and recreation department. Chrulski’s position expanded over time as he worked in the city manager’s office to develop new initiatives like legislative affairs, art in public places and economic strategies with the Main Street program. He was later promoted to director of community services overseeing a variety of programs. “Our roots are still special events and recreational programming, but it’s grown to be so much more,” he says.
One of Chrulski’s early accomplishments was creating the RiverWalk Jazz Series that transformed downtown Stuart. Back in 2006, a visitor to downtown Stuart on a Sunday would find closed storefronts and not a whole lot going on. Chrulski wanted to change that. He and Rick Baxter, former marketing director of TC Palm, came up with the jazz festival idea to make downtown a weekend destination. Chrulski then formed a round table of community leaders who helped him develop the notion.
The Sunday Jazz Series became a hit. It won four awards from the Florida Festival and Events Association in 2009. After about four years, the Downtown Business Association and Stuart Main Street took over the music festival, changed it to Rock’n Riverwalk, and it’s still a hit. The series is privately funded and has created momentum for other organizations to host special events downtown. The city now hosts 250-300 events each season.
“At the time, we were trying to demonstrate that the venue had viability,” Chrulski says. “And now, we’ve kind of changed into being an air traffic controller to make sure that all the events in the city don’t bump into each other.”
Chrulski has also impacted the city through the Art in Public Places program. He recruited renowned sculptor Geoffrey Smith, who created the Florida Water Birds Collection. Smith’s lifelike bronze sculptures now grace the roundabouts along Colorado Avenue. The award-winning art project was funded through private donations and opened up channels to the rest of the city, following Andrés Duany’s New Urbanism plan.
Chrulski’s work in legislative affairs for the City of Stuart has also received attention from the Florida League of Cities. In 2016, he was presented a Home Rule Award recognizing his work on behalf of the league’s legislative agenda and helping protect the home rule powers of Florida’s cities.
“With home rule authority, the city advocates for decisions to be kept here locally,” he explains. “There’s been a considerable push by lawmakers to centralize decision-making in Tallahassee. The city commission adopts priorities and we meet with legislators to assure our concerns are addressed.”
In the midst of his governmental work, about 20 years ago, Chrulski began to re-discover his musical side. At 40, he decided to pursue his passion for drumming and founded MusArt Productions.
“I had put music on hold for a long time,” he reflects. “I really wanted to get back into it.”
He purchased a drum set, leased a warehouse and practiced intensely for two years during his spare time so he could bring back his A-game.
Before long, the comeback musician had formed a show band called Solid Gold, which performed for a decade at venues throughout South Florida. Wanting to stay current with the times, he re-invented the band and called it NuVibe — a musical fusion that combines a club DJ with a live percussionist and band. Chrulski plays percussion with NuVibe from Vero Beach to Miami about 30 times during the season.
Whether he’s performing as a musician or working as the director of the city’s community services, Chrulski fills his roles with creativity. He enjoys having an impactful position with the city that has helped turn downtown Stuart into a thriving destination.
“I’m blessed to be in a job in which I am able to work so closely with the community. I never take that for granted,” he says. “It’s a unique opportunity to be able to work with such a variety of people , from children at the 10th Street Community Center to business professionals to everything in between.”
Occupation: Director of Community Services, City of Stuart
Lives in: Hutchinson Island
Family: Wife, Mally Chrulski
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts, Ohio State University
Hobbies: Art and music
What inspires me: Aesthetics
What most people don’t know about me: “I love the tropics, enjoy landscape architecture and have promoted the use of tropical palms along many of the major roadways and downtowns on the Treasure Coast.”