The St. Petersburg renaissance has been in full swing for more than a decade. We’ve excelled in many areas and struggled in others. In our series St. Pete 2.0, we’re partnering with the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership to explore what lies on the other side of our potential – what will it take to move to the “next level” as a city? Through this series, we’ll dig into specific topics with the hope that you, our thoughtful citizens, will share your insight, experience and wisdom.
Art has been an integral part of St. Pete’s cultural identity and a key driver behind its economic growth. In October, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, Downtown Partnership and City of St. Pete launched a new planning effort to create a Comprehensive Arts Strategy for the community. A Catalyst St. Pete 2.0 survey that month helped to inform initial efforts, concepts and recommendations. Since then, researchers have conducted focus groups, held virtual public meetings and put together initial ideas about how to build the city’s strong foundation to support artists, strengthen arts organizations and support community prosperity through arts and culture.
In this edition of St. Pete 2.0, we asked Catalyst readers and Downtown Partnership members to refine and prioritize some of the themes that have emerged. Though final recommendations for the Comprehensive Arts Strategy won’t be released until April, here’s what we learned from our survey.
In 2019, I did the following to support the St. Petersburg arts economy
- 66 percent donated funds or sponsored arts organizations
- 32 percent volunteered at an arts organization
- 90 percent attended performances, bought art or purchased tickets
- 62 percent attended ArtWalk, went on a mural tour, etc.
- 41 percent joined a class in performing or fine arts or purchased supplies for a creative activity
- Fewer than one percent replied none of the above
Of the 19 percent who replied to the question with “other,” respondents shared experiences ranging from performing with a live theater company to organizing arts events to teaching classes.
“We are snowbirds ourselves, but we have introduced all our visiting friends and relatives to the arts community here,” wrote a participant named Margaret. “Not just the museums but the ‘vibe’ on Grand Central, the Warehouse District, the murals, etc.”
In terms of generating economic impact, what would make the St. Petersburg arts economy even stronger?
Respondents were only allowed to select one choice. Here’s how the results stacked up.
For the top priority you identified in the previous question, what steps will we need to get there?
In terms of promoting and marketing the city’s arts economy, respondents had some creative suggestions.
“I love the idea of a trolley art route or package deals with local hotels, especially the smaller boutique hotels,” wrote Michelle Cloutier.
And it’s not just about attracting out-of-town visitors, according to some commenters.
“Many who live in the area are unaware of the many opportunities that are available in our community,” one person shared. “I would like to see an ‘Arts Corner’ which would contain tons of information regarding anything arts. If it was promoted at the same day and time through various media, people would learn when and where to look for information. Like the flyer that comes with the water bill, it could be used to remind us where we could connect with the Arts Corner.”
Several others recommended hiring an outside agency to gather data and get a better understanding of what St. Pete has to offer visitors interested in the arts, as well as where those visitors might be coming from. That data can then be used to develop a comprehensive, targeted marketing strategy.
“We need to focus at least half as much on the arts and being an arts destination as we do on the beaches,” one commenter observed.
Several people said the city needs to do a better job promoting specific events and shared their ideas on other ways to attract visitors through special programming.
“Mainsail and the SHINE Mural Ffestival alone deserve national, if not international, attention. If all those yachts can show up for Grand Prix … maybe a massive high-profile fundraiser bike racing event, for example, that goes around the art-specific event in the middle?” suggested Chris Edgar. “That would be a double draw from the demographic.”
Wrote another: “Other major art cities are known for their big and creative festivals and we need one as well. It needs to be more than just selling art, though. It needs to be a way to attract people who are not art geeks into the art community.”
For those who prioritized finding and securing funding opportunities for artists and nonprofit arts organizations, some said that the city needs to engage in public-private partnerships while others suggested the need to look for dedicated money at both the state and local level.
“City Council should allocate at least $3 million of annual unrestricted arts funding for 5 years,” wrote Bob Barancik. “The money should be widely spread to many nonprofit organizations (not individuals) with minimum grants of at least $10,000. Even if the program is less than perfectly administrated, the return on investment would be astounding over time.”
Preserving the the city’s unique historic assets was also important to a number of respondents.
“These authentic and visually interesting places are what draws people in to our city both as visitors and residents,” commented Emily Elwyn. “Artists and those interested in culture are much more drawn to such spaces.”
Georgia Earp outlined a multilayered plan which includes educating city leaders about the benefits and advantages of historical preservation and pointed to successful examples of adaptive reuse of historic buildings such as The Factory and Soft Water Studios.
Another person suggested landmarking sections of Central Avenue that cater to art-related businesses.
“This would help small business owners continue to do business in affordable locations,” the commenter wrote. “Preserving these buildings would also help to maintain the unique character of St. Pete, which in turn helps the arts community thrive and supports heritage tourism.”
As it relates to advocacy efforts to educate citizens and elected officials about the economic and social value of the arts, Laura Weston commented on the need to make sure all arts, including visual and performing arts, are more accessible to people of color and other citizens.
“ArtWalk to me seems very ‘come spend your money at these galleries’ not ‘come see these pretty things,'” she wrote. “Studio@620 works to encompass all the arts and there needs to be more of that. The city needs to show that when the performing arts can’t perform without major compensation for the world right now (like how freeFall is doing the drive-in), there are segments that are financially hurting.”
Iris Yetter suggested a targeted outreach program to spread the word about the arts.
“Develop a coterie of volunteers who will visit citizens, businesses, organizations, corporations and educational institutions to speak about the economic and social benefits of the arts in a community,” she said. “Train these individuals like docents so they are fluent, consistent and knowledgeable of the economic, social and cultural benefits of the arts to the community. Also, provide them with handouts that describe the full range of events and educational experiences available in Pinellas for all ages.”
Promoting equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the arts community was mentioned by several commenters. Lorna Taylor wants to see funding and construction of the new Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum designed by nationally renowned architect Mario Gooden, and another proposed the idea of creating a citywide urban arts task force.
One person said that the city needs to do more than pay lip service to the idea of diversity.
“We need to truly promote these values,” the commenter wrote. “Don’t do an all-white show or an all-African American show or an all-Latino show. Let’s see the diverse groups together, commingled at shows. Not their own corners where their cultures are segregated to where the visitors stay in their cultural clusters. I’ve seen this at soooo many shows.”
A number of respondents spoke of the importance of guiding sub-economies such as local businesses to benefit and support the city’s arts culture. Some recommended inviting businesses to fund artists or provide them with spaces where they can showcase their work.
Jenee Priebe said it’s important to raise public awareness of the impact the arts can have on the economy.
“It can be so much more than buying an artist’s work. If you own a local business that benefits from foot traffic, hire an artist to create a mural on your building,” the SHINE director wrote. “People will come for the art and you can guide them inside to create business. And on a larger level, when non-art focused businesses support the arts, it creates (or in St. Pete’s case, further solidifies) an identity for the city that will draw people to it to spend their money and enrich our economy.”
Which of the following do you think would provide the “most bang for the buck” to grow our arts economy?
Participants were allowed to pick up to three answers to this question. This is how they ranked:
Those who answered “other” had a number of ideas for growing the arts economy.
“There should be an educational aspect of The Pier or some place public where non-art-seeking people simply come across it,” one commenter wrote. “A working studio with artists or artisans working that visitors can watch just by peering through the glass.”
Another person wrote that public art “like giant whales on buildings and art with important messages within them” will generate more arts-related tourism if there are enough of them around.
A third said that a priority should be enabling and supporting collective action to provide artists of all types with health insurance, financial assistance, business and legal education and guidance on how to access grants.
Liliana Betran suggested the creation of a board with different art scene players who discuss relevant events such as auctions and galas to secure funds.
Janet Magray said that musical education and training is “woefully lacking” in St. Pete and she’d like to see that change.
“There needs to be an overarching community organization that provides guidance and structure for the numerous musical organizations,” she wrote. “We lack the continuity and collaboration necessary for growth and development of the numerous bands, orchestras and choirs that exist in autonomy and compete for funds and leadership. Music is a unifying and purposeful expression and deserves community support.”