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Community partnerships and collaborations a winning combination for a nonprofit’s success




It can be said that much of the good stuff that happens in life stems from our relationships. Family ties, friendships and business partnerships are gateways to an enriched life.
In the life of a nonprofit, partnerships and collaborations can be the difference between merely surviving and thriving. Throughout Creative Clay’s 27 years of creating equality through art for people with disabilities, Creative Clay has engaged with community organizations and Tampa Bay-area businesses to create and nurture mutually beneficial partnerships. These relationships serve as a catalyst to sharing our vision and connecting with the community beyond our studios and gallery in St. Pete’s Grand Central District.
When our member artists accept invitations and embrace opportunities to share their work, it’s just one way to integrate into the community. That’s how the myths around perceived limitations of people with disabilities are dispelled.
Creative Clay artists and staff have been busy fulfilling requests for community partnerships, from arts organizations, theater companies, a rock-climbing gym, and the world-famous Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Just down the street from Creative Clay’s headquarters is Studio Grand Central, a performing arts theater established in 2021. In April, Jody Bikoff, Creative Clay’s Director of Exhibitions, received an invitation to collaborate with Studio Grand Central on an art exhibit in the theater lobby to coincide with Into the Night, a play by local theater group Theater eXceptional that told the coming-of-age story of Benny, a 20-year-old man with Down Syndrome who loved to paint and draw animals. The exhibition features 21 paintings of animals by the member artists of Creative Clay and runs through August.
Member artists created the art, then Studio Grand Central invited them to attend the play.
“Our artists enjoy creating work inspired by the performing arts, including theater, opera, and music,” said Bikoff. “This multi-disciplinary approach to the arts energizes the artists, spurs creativity and engages them with the broader community. The resulting artwork and exhibitions are dynamic and bring immense pride to our artists. Our partnerships are beneficial to all. We are fortunate to have built wonderful relationships through the years,” she added.
That was the first collaboration with Studio Grand Central, but not the only one where Creative Clay artists supplied themed art. Since 2014, Creative Clay artists have created and sold works themed around shows performed at St. Petersburg Opera Company, including West Side Story (2014), South Pacific (2016), Music Man (2018), Pinocchio (2019), Summertime (2020), and Pinocchio again in 2021.
“Our community partnerships are essential to our mission of inclusion for our artists,” said Creative Clay CEO Kim Dohrman. “We want to ensure that they are out in the community making connections and friendships and having the full experience of what it means to be a working artist in this awesome city of St. Petersburg — truly a city of the arts.”
Another invitation to create themed art came in March from Mahaffey Theater, for Creative Clay artists to supply art inspired by the performing arts, and to present it in an exhibition in June. “Music and Musings,” the June16 inaugural event presented by the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts will showcase the paintings. Creative Clay member artists and staffers enjoyed a reception to view the exhibit before it opened to the public.
“It has been a pleasure to partner with Creative Clay for our new Community Art Gallery at the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater,” said Amy Harriet Miller, President of Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts. “We offered a ‘first look’ at all the vibrant artwork at our ‘Music & Musings’ event, and it remained on display in our second floor Art Gallery for our patrons to enjoy at upcoming performances! We’re so excited to start this concept with an amazing community partner like Creative Clay and their artists. The works featured in this special exhibition shine a light on the budding artists in our St. Pete Community who created these performing arts-themed pieces especially for this purpose.”
Art-themed community partnerships are a given, but Creative Clay recognizes that there is value in moving beyond the obvious partners and working with other types of organizations.
With health and wellbeing at the forefront of many conversations, and a popular news topic, it proved to be optimal timing when another Grand Central District neighbor reached out to Emily Turnage, Creative Clay Director of Community Arts, to discuss how each could work together to build connections.
Vertical Ventures, the popular rock-climbing gym, which also houses fitness and yoga facilities and offers youth climbing clubs and adult climbing memberships, wanted Creative Clay’s member artists to be able to enjoy what so many love about their facility.
“I’m very much interested in and dedicated to community connections and relationships and making Vertical Ventures a more accessible place for all to climb and be part of the climbing community,” said Kelli Jackson, Owner and Managing Partner at Vertical Ventures, when she wrote to Turnage.
Partnering with Vertical Ventures was a natural fit, given the proximity. Vertical Ventures is a short walk from Creative Clay, and member artists can even see the facility from Creative Clay’s courtyard when they’re taking breaks, enjoying lunch or hosting their monthly art markets.
Given the warm welcome from Jackson, Creative Clay jumped at the opportunity.
“I personally love Creative Clay and love to partner in any way that works for both of us, especially as we are so geographically close,” Jackson said.
Now, the artists have weekly access to the gym, with plans to add yoga to the offerings.
“We love our community partnerships, and we’re excited to add Vertical Ventures to the wonderful relationships we have with other organizations and businesses,” said Turnage.
“We all know that the opportunity to exercise and be active in a safe and cool space, especially during summer, is a fantastic way to stay healthy and socialize. I’m excited to see where this collaboration will go. When two organizations come together that are both striving to make a positive impact on this community, only amazing things can happen.”
Creative Clay’s member artists often create art outside the classroom when they’re out in the community. Parks, coffee shops and museums are a few of the venues that provide the backdrop for inspiration and artmaking.
From March 2020 to June 2021, Creative Clay paused taking member artists out into the community, out of an abundance of caution due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The time spent traveling to an offsite location wasn’t conducive to social distancing, making member artists more at risk of being diagnosed with Covid.
The combination of available vaccines and lower infection rates prompted Creative Clay to return to in-person classes and community outings. Artists had visited Clearwater Marine Aquarium several times before Covid, so Creative Clay Studio Manager Coral Walden reached out to inquire about a visit.
Not only were artists invited and encouraged to visit, but they received the VIP treatment through the aquarium’s Inspires Program, which provides animal experiences for people with disabilities.
A group of member artists visited the aquarium in June, learned about the resident marine animals, then participated in plein air painting in front of the main viewing window.
“We are so excited to be partnering with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium,” Walden said. “They have a rich history of rehabilitating animals with disabilities and providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences for people with disabilities. The staff at CMA were so wonderful to us when we visited to paint marine life for World Oceans Day, and we can’t wait to see where this partnership goes.”
Dohrman expounded on the value of longtime community partnerships, such as Heart Artlink Takamatsu, established in 2003.
“Creative Clay’s partnerships enhance our impact in the community through creating more arts opportunities for people with disabilities,” she said. “Each of the organizations we partner with have unique outcomes, most of which help us to reach our goal of inclusion.”
By Kerry Kriseman
Creative Clay Public Relations Manager

Creative Clay has partnered with for profit businesses, such as Black Crow Coffee, where it has private label coffee for sale, with 100% of the coffee sales benefitting its programs. Other partnerships include places that member artists volunteer, such as Goodwill, Menorah Manor, Sabal Palms and CASA.
Creative Clay’s partnership with the Pinellas County School system furthers its mission by reaching the young adults in our community with disabilities to teach job skills through the arts. Recent partners have included Sunken Gardens, Sparks Collaborative Ensemble, The Fairgrounds, the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, Camp Caregiver with St. Anthony’s Hospital, Top Local Chef, the EDGE Business District Association and Grand Central District.
Creative Clay plans to continue these partnerships and establish more. Anyone who is looking to engage with our artists through themed exhibitions and/or experiences should contact Creative Clay CEO Kim Dohrman at 727-825-0515 or email her at

About Creative Clay
Creative Clay’s vision is to make the arts accessible to all. Its mission is to help people with disabilities achieve full and inclusive lives by providing expressive, educational and vocational experiences in the arts.

Creative Clay’s core program is its Community Arts Program, which serves 40-50 adult artists with disabilities each week. Additional programs include Artlink, an apprenticeship program; Creative Care, an arts in wellness outreach program; and Transition, a vocational training program in partnership with Pinellas County Schools.

Learn more about Creative Clay, its vision of equality through art, and its programs at Like Creative Clay on Facebook, follow on Instagram @creativeclaystpete; follow on Twitter @creativeclay and on LinkedIn.

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