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Creative Pinellas breathes life into former museum with incubator [Audio 8:14]

Megan Holmes



The Bluebird Books Bus, a member of the Arts Business Incubator.

Click the arrow above to listen to Barbara St. Clair talks the Creative Pinellas Arts Business Incubator with St. Pete Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton.

The Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo housed contemporary Florida art for 73 years, until it closed down in January 2009.

The former Gulf Coast Museum building – now the Creative Pinellas offices.

Between then and now, the beautiful and historic space was used for a short time as a fishing museum, until Pinellas County took back possession of the building and began using it for administrative offices – code enforcement, emergency medical services and more.

Until last fall. That’s when Creative Pinellas Executive Director Barbara St. Clair caught wind that code enforcement was moving out. She called up the city administrator and asked if Creative Pinellas, the county’s creative arts agency, could move in.

“The campus and the building were really being underutilized,” she said. “It’s on a campus that was designed for the arts, there is a beautiful museum facility with a 10,000 ft gallery, beautiful natural light, really architecturally wonderful.”

St. Clair wanted to reclaim the building for the arts. As she recalls, the city administrator was puzzled at first – as there were only three to four staff members of Creative Pinellas at the time, and there were 12 or 14 offices. Not to mention an auditorium, a board room, classrooms and the impressive gallery. “What are you going to do with the rest of the space?” she was asked.

Either out of a stroke of brilliance or slight desperation, not really even knowing herself what she meant, St. Clair proposed an arts business incubator to live alongside Creative Pinellas.

“The idea came right out – now I have to figure out how to fulfill it,” recalled St. Clair.

After putting together a business plan and a financial structure modeled after other successful local incubators, St. Clair pitched her idea to the county, and the Creative Pinellas Arts Business Incubator was born.

The former Gulf Coast Museum’s 10,000 square foot gallery is now open with works from the incubator.

Despite its slow start due to Hurricane Irma, the incubator kicked off officially in October 2017, and now boasts eight non-profit participants, fostering collaboration, learning and the cross-pollination of ideas.

Participants in the incubator must meet a few main criteria: They must call Pinellas County home, have a 501(c)3 designation and be arts and culture oriented. Current organizations in the incubator include Nomad Art Bus, Dunedin Music Society, Bluebird Books Bus, Tampa Bay Ukelele and others. The incubator offers these nonprofits a “slew” of programs and resources, including a digital marketing lab, business consultants and mentorship opportunities.

And, of course, one can’t forget the importance of meeting space: “If you’re not in the nonprofit world, this might not really be obvious, but where do you go to have your board meeting? It can be a real struggle for nonprofits to find places,” said St. Clair.

Participants are welcome under two umbrellas: Keyholders – who rent an office in the former museum – and co-workers, who share the common space and services of the incubator.

Those interested in being a part of the Creative Pinellas Arts Business Incubator can express interest here.


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