Aside from its pristine waterfront, St. Pete is best known for its impressive arts and culture scene. The guardian and biggest cheerleader of St. Pete's magic is Cultural Affairs Director Wayne Atherholt. Atherholt moved to St. Petersburg 35 years ago and has never looked back. He has seen the City transform over the last three decades, from "God's Waiting Room" to a millennial's paradise. In his own work, through public art, and most famously, the Janet Echelman Pier Art installation, Atherholt is an integral part of making St. Pete's vision of what's next come to fruition.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
I work for the City, serve on the board for the Florida Association of Museums, Florida Attractions Association Foundation Board, St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.
What gets you out of bed every day?
I like to make St. Petersburg a better place every day. That’s been my mantra since I’ve been here, how can we make the city a better place?
Why St. Pete?
There’s a magic here and I’ve never really been able to put my finger on what it is or why it’s there. Even back in the ’80s when St. Petersburg was what I would consider a terrible place, and I think most people would. There was some magic and I don’t know if it’s the weather or that its kind of an island but a peninsula. I don’t know what it is but there’s something here that’s very special and the more you travel around the country, the more you realize what a wonderful place this is. There’s some wonderful people here, it attracts incredible people, so it’s a very special place.
What is one habit that you keep?
I don’t smoke, I do swear. Tweeting at night.
Who are some people that influence you?
Dead: I’ve always admired Margaret Thatcher, not that I always agreed with her politics but I admired her tremendously. Incredible speaker, tenacious yet gracious, just a wonderful person.
Living: Our own mayor, it’s going to sound stupid because I work for him, but I admire him greatly on a local level, he’s got thoughts and desires and he has good in his mind and wanting to do good.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
I’ll tell you a funny story and it stems from the book MegaTrends by Jon Nesbit. It was published back in the mid-eighties, I guess. And that’s why I’m here – that book. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I’m as far off the charts “T” as you can get – for thinking.
I read about this little place called Tampa-St. Petersburg and did my own research. Came down here and saw some tall buildings going up in Downtown Tampa. There were some new glass buildings going up and in the mid-eighties that was kind of unusual. And there were daily nonstop flights to London, so I thought this could be a decent place. I still haven’t found a better place to live, 35 years later.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
I don’t know what I would have wanted to know three years ago that I don’t know today. Possibly how long it would take for some of these things to come to fruition. My background is not in government so I’m used to doing things a lot quicker than in government. I think three years ago if somebody had said, it’s going to take you x number of months to be able to get a contract with an artist, 18 months until you see this art on the Pier or whatever it is, I think it would have helped my patience. But when you work with public dollars everybody’s got an opinion on many things, especially art.
I’m getting close to retirement age, so I don’t know, I have about 60-70 pages of a book on the history of the arts in Florida and St. Petersburg specifically, that I’ve been working on for quite some time. That’s sat for the last four years with nothing being done to it, so at some point I’ll take up researching and writing again.