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New strategy aims to boost St. Pete’s arts economy

Jaymi Butler

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The arts attract many visitors to St. Petersburg, though the pandemic has put a damper on this year's tourism numbers.

Covid-19 has dealt a devastating blow to the local arts economy, but help is on the way in the form of a new planning initiative between the Arts Alliance, the Downtown Partnership and the City of St. Petersburg. 

The goal of the Comprehensive Arts Strategy, which launched Tuesday, is to develop tangible recommendations to build on the city’s existing arts infrastructure to create economic growth across the community. Members of the CAS steering committee, which include local artists and civic and business leaders, will be gathering recommendations and developing strategic measures that can be implemented in spring 2021.

“Because of Covid, people are open to thinking about doing things in new ways and collaboration is more important now than ever been,” said Jason Mathis, CEO of the Downtown Partnership. “We have an opportunity to recommit ourselves to support for art as a defining characteristic of our city. This strategy will quantify the strengths we already have and reimagine the future of art in St. Pete.”

The strategy aims to build on existing local data and incorporate national best practices that shine a spotlight on the benefits of developing a strong arts economy while supporting and nurturing local artists. Committee members will work together on short and long-term goals, including quantifying existing arts assets, developing recommendations for artists and arts organizations to collaborate more effectively, providing a rationale for public and private sector leaders to champion arts, promoting diversity, inclusion and equity and underscoring the connection between the arts and economic growth in the community.

Local glass artist Duncan McClellan, a member of the steering committee, said that getting buy-in from local businesses is crucial for the city’s overall economic health.

“We have something really special in St. Pete,” he said. “The problem is we’re not getting sufficient help exporting what we have here in the sense of letting the rest of the country know about it.”

Right now, with tourism being limited due to the pandemic, McClellan said the focus should be on attracting people from within the state to visit and then having them spread the word about St. Pete as an arts destination.

“They can become the ambassadors to tell other people and that will bring tourism and get our name out nationally,” he said. 

Then, once things are back to normal, St. Pete could be looking at increased arts-related tourism – and the money that comes with it. In turn, that could lead to attracting more permanent residents and businesses to the area, which would represent even more of a financial windfall.

“St. Pete has so much to sell in the way of the arts,” he said. “It just needs to be brought together.”

The committee will develop a five-year roadmap for future development and will explore a variety of possible ways to increase visibility for the arts including new branding ideas, the creation of a signature national art event and the establishment of geographic cultural districts. 

John Collins, the executive director for the Arts Alliance, is looking forward to seeing the new strategy roll out. 

“We have come so far as a City of the Arts,” he said. “We’re excited to build upon what we’ve learned to create our future strategy.”

For more information on St. Pete’s arts economy, click here and here

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