St. Petersburg Arts Alliance executive director John Collins went before City Council Thursday to deliver his organization’s annual report for 2019.
“Our donor commitment is that we want every donor – including you all – to see how your investment is being used,” Collins said. “We accept your funds, and every year I enjoy the chance to thank you for that.”
The umbrella organization whose mission is to advocate for the arts and artists, facilitate the growth of the city’s arts community and help to and drive arts-related economic development, received approximately $95,000 from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
“We are stewards of the public trust,” Collins explained, adding that the nonprofit support organization’s 2020 budget, $537,000, had been posted on his office door throughout January. “Anybody can come look at our budget,” he said. “We’re an open book.”
Arts Alliance programs partially funded by the city include the SHINE Mural Festival, the Second Saturday ArtWalk, the Arts Business Academy, the ACE (Arts for a Complete Education) initiative and the ArtBeat e-newsletter.
A portion of the Office of Cultural Affairs money went to individual artist grants ($1,000 each to 15 artists) which, Collins pointed out, provided extra dividends for the city. “All of our artist grants are community engagement grants,” he said. “When they’re done with their project, they have to take it in the community in some way, and make it part of a project or a program with the community.”
This, he explained, could mean hosting an Open House, or putting on a reception or event at thestudio@620, or another, even more creative pursuit. Jewelry maker Tiffany Elliott taught a six-week ‘jewelry-making as a business’ class to children, for example.
The Arts Alliance’s Arts Business Academy, and professional development sessions, were created to train artists – in both the visual and performing fields – how to best monetize their work; in other words, to make a living with art as a full-time occupation.
Collins stressed that the eight-year-old umbrella organization is ever-mindful of encouraging and promoting St. Pete as not only a haven for artists, but a city prized by those who appreciate the arts, and consider them essential to quality of life.
“It’s the St. Petersburg Second Saturday ArtWalk. It’s SHINE – the St. Petersburg Mural Festival. It’s the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. There’s a reason for all of this. We are branding St. Pete to the world as an art and cultural destination,” he told council members.
SHINE, which will be eight years old when it comes around in October, has attracted the attention of the world – and thus has put a spotlight on St. Petersburg.
One of 21 new murals created in 2019, the North Shore Pier mural “was funded by a company, Dynasty Financial Partners, that moved here last year,” Collins said.
“One of the reasons I think they moved here is I gave them three different mural tours over the year they were considering moving to St. Pete – and they fell in love with it. So in a way they wanted to give back by funding this mural.”
And the monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk, in which more than 40 galleries and studios citywide are open to visitors, has become a tremendous success.
“January is usually slow,” Collins said. “But we estimated 4,000 people this January.
“We had over 400 people crowding two trolleys, trying to get around and see what was going on. We are one of the largest art walks in the country. The only one I know of that’s larger is in Arizona, but that’s only twice a year. They have 20,000 people. So I’d say we are the largest art walk in the country. And it’s showing.”
Collins also touted the proposed Florida Seal for Fine Arts, which he announced Jan. 7 alongside State Senator Darryl Rouson (District 19) and State Representative Ben Diamond (District 68). Senate Bill 110 and its companion House bill 1123 were filed in Tallahassee for consideration by the legislature in 2020.
“We just did it, because we think it’s important. Students who have four years of arts in high school on average are doing 100 points better on their SATs. We should be shouting that from the rooftops.”
Now, he added, “all of the other arts groups in the state are behind it. And they’re being urged to contact their legislators.”
Education and encouragement for future creators, Collins, expressed, is nearest and dearest to his heart. The ACE (Arts For a Complete Education) program, in conjunction with ACE Pinellas, is dedicated to advocating – tirelessly – for arts in education for all Florida students.
“This is one of the most important things that we do behind the scenes,” he said. “This is the year of the referendum that we hope will pass, to fund arts education in our schools. What our ACE committee has done is to come up with the pilot points and the advocacy points to support passing that referendum this fall.
“That literally pays for teachers’ salaries in the arts, and the arts projects that they do – it funds the orchestras, the visual arts, the performing arts.”
With money raised through private foundations and individual gifts, Funding Futures identifies and encourages artistically promising but financially disadvantaged children.
According to official Arts Alliance records, “Since its launch in April 2017, SPAA has awarded over $25,000 to 47 students ages 10 to 17, providing them access to dance, music, jazz, voice, theater, digital arts, photography, cinematic arts or visual arts, even point shoes for a young ballerina.”
He also outlined the organization’s other programs, and said the annual MUSE Awards – scheduled for Feb. 28 at the Museum of Fine Arts – is a major fundraiser, paying for each year’s nuts, bolts and office supplies.
The St Petersburg Arts Alliance received the highest ranking possible from GuideStar, the world’s largest source of information on non-profits. Out of more than 1,600 non-profits in St. Petersburg, only eight have earned Platinum designation.
In 2020, the Arts Alliance will move into The Factory, the new office and exhibition space in the Warehouse Arts District.
Of the Arts Alliance’s annual operating budget, Collins said, “Eighty-one percent went out the door in programming money, which I would challenge any nonprofit to match, although that will change because we grew so much.
“I had to hire two people part-time. I can’t do the murals by myself any more.”