During Thursday afternoon’s meeting of St. Petersburg City Council, member heaped praise upon John Collins, founder of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, as he received the key to the city from Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Collins, who stepped down as executive director of the arts support organization in March, has expressed his desire to volunteer for the Arts Alliance and other cultural groups. It wasn’t a “retirement” so much as a profound desire to relax a little and enjoy life with his wife, Mary Ellen.
Council co-chair Gina Driscoll praised Collins’ oft-stated manifesto, that culture needs organization to succeed. The Arts Alliance was based on this idea.
“You have helped so many people understand that in the city of St. Petersburg the arts is a true business,’ said Driscoll. “It’s not just something that people do on the side. This is a part of our economy, and it is really one of the things that has set us apart as a city. And has continued to make us successful economically, as well as drawing people from around the world to engage and support our arts scene.”
During his 10-year tenure as leader of the organization, Collins developed the SHINE Mural Festival – now one of the most respected street mural events in the country – as well as Arts For a Complete Education, Art Walk and others.
Collins also, Kriseman pointed out, generated artist grants during the worst days of the Covid pandemic, and has been an active participant in the Downtown Partnership’s forthcoming study on St. Petersburg’s economic future.
“He has been so much more than an arts consultant,” Kriseman said. “Through his leadership and guidance of the St. Pete Arts Alliance, John has not only helped put St. Petersburg, its museums, galleries and artists on the map, he has guided and mentored countless local artists – on not only their craft, but on the business of art.”
The key to the city is St. Petersburg’s highest civilian honor. “The key,” said Councilmember Darden Rice, “really symbolizes the opening of the gates. It’s a symbol of trust and honor that you can come and go any time you want. I can think of few people who really deserve this, and for all you’ve done to advance the arts, as well as advancing the art of the possible.”
Echoed Chair Ed Montanari: “We’re known as a city of the arts now, but it didn’t just happen. It took work, from people like you … and it draws a creative class to our city and makes our city even more special.”
Collins praised the city’s municipal services, including higher education, healthcare and the parks system, “but it’s our arts and culture that make us vibrant, and the exciting place that we live in and brag about all the time.
“I accept on behalf of all the artists, the musicians, the dancers, the actors, the creative businesses, cultural organizations and the staffs that work for them. They’re the ones making St. Petersburg a dynamic, healthy city of the arts.”