We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.
Terri Lipsey-Scott had some hopeful thoughts and wishes all ready to express for 2021, as we prepare to turn the corner, about lessons we learned his year from the pandemic and the evils of systemic racism, twin whammies that tested us one and all.
When she started talking directly about the year to come, however, the director of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum focused on a single hard reality.
“In our city,” she said, “we have an airport – and I don’t have a plane. We have a marina and I don’t have a yacht. We have a ballroom, the Coliseum, and I don’t ballroom dance. We’ve got the Mahaffey Theater, and I do enjoy the orchestra. We built Tropicana Field and didn’t even have a baseball team. All with our taxpaying dollars.”
In December 2019, the city gifted the Woodson museum 5.5 acres of land in Commerce Park, near The Deuces, St. Petersburg’s historically African American neighborhood.
The land is, Lipsey-Scott explained, “on the other side of the Interstate,” and while she’s grateful for the gift, she’s not happy about the location.
Nor this: “Those who have the least in this community, who finally asked for something – that being a proper African-American museum – have been told to fundraise in order for it to become a reality. I have a problem with that. It doesn’t sit well with me that the least have been asked to do the most. Why is that?
“We just overspent $40 million to complete the Pier. $25 million would have built me a museum. It might start a museum, at least. I love my mayor. I love what he’s doing in our community. I love administration and city council. But it’s almost as though ‘OK, I’m giving you some land. Shut the hell up. Figure that out, OK?’”
Lipsey-Scott’s dream for the new facility placed it directly across the street from the Historic Manhattan Casino, on 22nd Ave. South, with maybe an over-the-road catwalk connecting the two important buildings. “That’s where everything happened, businesses, commerce, entertainment,” she said. “More important, it’s now called the Arts District. But where did you put me?”
The museum’s current location, in the Jordan Park neighborhood community center, does a disservice to the importance of what’s inside, she believes. Time and again, out of town visitors tell her they’re disappointed. And she is shocked and saddened that the city doesn’t seem to be taking that seriously.
“In a community that touts the idea that we are an arts destination, with the most fabulous museums there are in the nation, the African American Museum is housed in a public housing community center! It was never designed to be a museum. It’s a community center, for public housing, no less.”
In 2021, “I’m going to be armed and ready, I guess, to raise money for a museum,” her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, isn’t that what we’ve all been told? Forget the fact that you have no damn boots, strap up.”