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St. Pete 2.0 Results: Arts as an economic driver [Part One]

Jaymi Butler



Street art

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.

The arts have long been a hallmark of St. Petersburg’s unique culture and a driver of its economic growth. People from all over the world flock to the city’s world-class museums and residents and visitors alike enjoy attending art festivals and musical events, which are just starting to come back after a Covid-induced hiatus. However, that’s not to say that the pandemic hasn’t dramatically affected the local art scene, and many questions still remain about the future impact it will have on the area’s artists and arts organizations.   

In this edition of St. Pete 2.0, The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and Arts Alliance sought to quantify the role that art plays in our community, our development as a city and in our individual lives. We invited Catalyst readers to answer a series of questions on a variety of arts-related topics, including their most memorable arts experiences, how art contributes to local quality of life and what we as a community can do to support the arts economy going forward. Here’s part one of what we found:

What are your three most memorable arts experiences in St. Petersburg?

The Dali, the Chihuly Collection, the Imagine Museum, the Morean Arts Center, the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the James Museum got lots of shoutouts from local residents. So did the SHINE Mural Festival, which has created 93 murals and has showcased the art of more than 90 local artists since 2015.

“The street art is a fantastic part of life in St. Pete,” a respondent named Chris wrote. “It brings the city to life, adds uniqueness and drives home the city’s commitment to the arts.”

The murals have become part of a family tradition for a commenter named Robert.

“Each year on New Year’s Day, we do a tour with our antique cars called the Birthday Tour,” he said. “For three years now, we’ve toured the murals and everyone’s loved them.”

Other respondents praised live events like Shakespeare in the Park and Orchestra in the Park, concerts at Jannus Live, the Palladium and the Duke Energy Center for the Arts/Mahaffey Theater and theatrical performances at American Stage, Freefall Theater and the St. Petersburg Opera Company

“Seeing the St. Pete Opera for the first time and realizing that these are first-class professional operas being produced right here in St. Pete was an amazing experience,” one person commented. 

A number of people shared their love for events that support the local art community, especially the Second Saturday ArtWalk where visitors can check out the studios and galleries of the Central Arts District, EDGE District, Grand Central District, Warehouse Arts District and downtown Waterfront Arts District. 

“You can make a staycation out of visiting the local galleries and museums,” wrote a commenter named Beth.

Rounding out the most memorable arts experience for local residents is a relative newcomer to the arts landscape, the Janet Echelman permanent installation, Bending Arc, at the St. Petersburg Pier. Composed of 1,662,528 knots and 180 miles of twine, the aerial sculpture spans 424 feet and measures 72 feet at its tallest point.

Does the public sector (city, county or state) have a role in supporting art and if so, why?

Overwhelmingly, the answer to this question was yes. 

“The reasons why the arts are so important to a community are too numerous to list here,” one person wrote. “But because they are so important and don’t ‘pay for themselves,’ public support is crucial. I liken it to transportation, or parks, or clean water – all obviously dependent on public support.”

A commenter named Tom enthusiastically agreed. 

“Yes! The arts improve quality of life, and generate revenue in many ways. A win-win for the community,” he wrote.

Without a thriving arts scene, the city would lose out on the segment of travelers who come to St. Pete to enjoy its rich cultural experiences.

“If you remove the art from St Petersburg, what do you have?” one person wondered. “No art, people head to stay at the beach and go to restaurants but not stay long or spend as much money.”

That sentiment was shared by a number of others.

“Imagine what St. Pete would be like without the arts. Why would people come here? To see the pier? Okay, that’s one thing. Maybe to see the Rays. Okay, that’s two things. But really, I believe people come for the music, the theater, the museums, the festivals, the murals – it all works together,” wrote a respondent named Nicole. “If you pull one of these out of the St. Pete formula, the experience doesn’t taste so good.”

How does art contribute to economic growth in St. Petersburg?

Many people observed that the city’s strong art scene is a driver for tourism, and are proud that St. Pete has become an international destination for visitors looking for a unique cultural experience.

“Tourists appreciate our museums, art fairs, theater, music and the many cultural offerings in St. Petersburg,” one person wrote. “Their visits here contribute to the city in taxes, hotel, restaurant and local spending.”

Wrote another: “The number of museums in this city already lures in a certain type of cultural traveler. The city would benefit from focusing their advertising dollars in the direction of regional cultural tourism. The concept of an art or museum weekend or week driven by the local museums would be great.”

The arts can also attract permanent residents.

“More arts = more educated people to an area = more property taxes + more spending = more business growth + sustainable economic growth,” noted a commenter named Brooke. “Frankly, I can’t understand why the public sector wouldn’t support the arts. It just makes sense all around.”

Several people wrote that they personally relocated to St. Pete because of the art scene.

“I recently chose to buy a place to live in St Petersburg specifically because of the arts community,” shared a respondent named Joshua. 

And both visitors and local residents, whether new or old, spend money in the community, which trickles down to support other types of businesses.

“Art attracts retail which attracts single and multifamily housing which attracts offices and businesses,” a commenter wrote. “it’s a chain reaction.”

Others agreed.

“People who come out to art events will often spend time in bars and restaurants and maybe see other businesses that they’ll come back and support another day or evening,” one person wrote. “Maybe they’ll tell their friends to go, too. Overall it puts people on the street who support businesses.”

Several respondents said that people who relocate to the city based on its support for the arts will bring their unique talents and fresh approaches to challenges facing the community. 

“Creative residents are creative employees who find new ways to solve current and future problems such as climate change,” wrote a commenter named Mary Anna. 

One artist named Natty expressed her gratitude for St. Pete’s support for the arts.

“I can tell you from experience that the money that I make goes directly to funding the economy of our city,” she wrote. “It has afforded me luxuries like electricity and water and garbage pickup. And I totally appreciate it!”

Do you know of any businesses that either stayed or relocated to St. Petersburg because of the arts? If yes, please share the name of the business.

Here are some of the businesses survey respondents mentioned:

A few people noted that it’s hard to quantify the answer to this question. 

“Goodness, really all of them,” the commenter wrote of the connection between local businesses and the arts. “That’s the culture of our city. It’s truly inseparable from deciding to move here for any other reason.”

Added another: “No business would locate to a place for a singular reason. There has to be a mix of physical, economic and cultural benefits that come together to make sense.”

While a number of people commented that they didn’t personally know of any businesses that stayed or relocated due to the arts, many of them credited the city’s art community as the reason they themselves moved here. 

“I am a small business owner, and I probably would not have bought a home and chosen to relocate here if arts weren’t such a big part of this community,” a commenter named Holly said. “St. Pete is a small town by many standards, but the arts make it feel like a bigger place and more connected, more vibrant.”

Some pointed out that the local arts and culture community were instrumental in attracting world-class museums to St. Pete.

“I would argue that neither the Chihuly Collection, the Dali nor the James Museum would be here without our city’s reputation for supporting the arts,” one person wrote. 

How does art contribute to the quality of life in St. Petersburg?

This question elicited a number of passionate responses, many of which mentioned the way it brings the community together, how it fosters civic pride and, basically, how it makes St. Pete stand out from other cities. 

“Art promotes a sense of the unity of humanity,” wrote one commenter. “It is the kind of value St. Petersburg promotes whether it is aware of it or not.”

That’s something greatly needed in the wake of the pandemic.

“Art encourages people to get out and mingle and form new relationships,” a participant named Bonnie said. “In times like this, we need art more than ever as balm for the soul.”

Another person said that art “enhances our sense of wonder” in the city we live in.

“It adds charm, uniqueness, personality to our community, educates us, makes us laugh, think and sing,” the respondent wrote. “There is always something to do, see, participate in here in St Pete and in the end, that makes life fun.”

Along those lines, one commenter said that art is “cheaper than therapy” and she’s thankful to be surrounded by so much of it in St. Pete.  

“I take art lessons, music lessons and have made friends that way and we meet up and go see art, hear music or make art together,” she wrote. “It creates a community, relieves stress and makes you happy.” 

Several people touted the city’s walkability as conducive to supporting the arts and contributing to the local quality of life.

“The concentration of the arts downtown means that it remains vibrant and bustling. Having so many spots within walking distance of one another not only means that one can take in dinner and show, or spend an afternoon walking to three different museums with breaks in between to enjoy the outdoors and shopping,” one person wrote.

The thriving mural scene was praised by many as a way to not only promote quality of life but to spotlight diverse viewpoints and perspectives through art. 

“Art elevates the discussion, public and street art uplifts, murals and public art make for a sense that there is community and people care,” wrote a commenter named Marian. 

One respondent summed it up simply. 

“For many of us, life without the arts is like a day without sunshine.”







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