As Chief Operating Officer of Creative Pinellas, Ed King is an emissary for the arts. Like everyone at the St. Petersburg-based support organization, he lives and breathes the arts; he walks the walk and talks the talk.
It’s not just his job, King says. It’s his passion.
“Can you imagine the Covid lockdown absent the arts? No television, no films. No artist chats, no museum online tours. Nothing. No books, no literature, no poetry readings. What would the experience of Covid lockdown have been for the general public if we took art out of their lives?”
The pandemic has been, and continues to be, an eye- and ear-opener. “There is no better contemporary example of the need for the arts in the lives of people,” King believes. “Whether it’s to support our economy, or to keep us sane.”
For those whose life and livelihood depend directly on the arts, King is preaching to the choir. But it’s the next generation, the young people of today who’ll need to understand the ripple effect of how the arts affect the economy, that he’s focused on. “Explain it in Gen Z,” King will say when someone presents him with an idea.
“We have to have an eye on the future,” he explains. “And part of me coming here is not just ‘What can I do today?’ We have to think years in advance. Who will take up the mantle?
“So is our message hitting? Does everyone out there know Creative Pinellas exists, do they understand the benefit of supporting us – volunteering, participating, anything? Are they telling their friends, are they spreading the word?”
Established in 2011, Creative Pinellas has a financial grant system and a state-of-the-art gallery, as a way of nurturing and showing support for both emerging and established artists. It is also a communication vehicle, a “gateway” to the arts in Pinellas County for both tourists and locals.
Specifically, it is a county-wide organization, working on behalf of not just St Pete but Clearwater, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and other cities with rich creative resources.
King, who was brought in as COO in early summer, reports to Executive Director Barbara St Clair.
“Barbara has a direct connection to the Board of Directors,” he explains. “Working with the body that steers the ship of the organization philosophically, and deciding in what directions the organization needs to move, and what moves need to be made on any number of levels.
“The COO supports that vision, and then implements internal policies, and guides the staff to fulfill that mission. All of our jobs, from curatorial to communications, from a gallery attendant to the COO, are to support the vision and mission of the organization.”
The Ohio native came to Creative Pinellas from Fort Lauderdale, where he’d spent the previous six and a half years as Marketing Manager and Media Consultant for ArtServe, a Broward County nonprofit similar in size and scope to Creative Pinellas.
He and his fiancé lived in Miami Beach – which made for a sizeable daily commute.
“After living for 30-plus years in South Florida, with that traffic … hours and hours in traffic,” King recalls, “coming here and getting anywhere in 20 minutes is a dream.”
When St. Clair outlined what she and the board were looking for in a Chief Operating Officer, King realized it was going to be a perfect match.
“My thinking was ‘Here’s an opportunity to go in and, through the arts, uplift an entire community.’ You have to live it. You have to think about, how is this going to affect children, education? How is this going to affect the tax base? How is this going to affect all sorts of programming? All sorts of initiatives. It’s a life’s work.”
Creative Pinellas is sponsoring a networking event, Creative Connect, Thursday (Aug. 19) at Copa Lounge, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
King will be there, as will creatives connected and not connected with Creative Pinellas. The idea, he says, is to keep a steady conversation going about the present and the future of the arts in Pinellas County as a whole.
There’s a word he made up: coopetition. He uses it a lot.
“We believe art makes our lives better. Everybody’s life better. And if you look through any metric that you use to measure success in a society, you could point to artistry of some kind, somewhere, in that process. In so many disparate industries, somewhere in there arts are thriving to help those industries along.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t have different organizations that have their different memberships, and they need to support their organization so we’re all going after dollars, we’re all going after audience. That’s fine. Visibility for everybody.
“It’s an ecosystem. If we have a vibrant ecosystem of the arts, we all survive.”