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Strategy for our City of the Arts




April 25, 2022
by John Collins

It is encouraging to read in the Catalyst and other media last week that city staff and City Council discussed development of an arts economic generator area by connecting the Dali, the Mahaffey and perhaps Al Lang field under an umbrella Center for the Arts moniker.

Every great city should have a cultural arts center that engages the community. Although St. Petersburg has individual word-class centers including the Dali, the Morean Arts Center and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, we do not have a comprehensive and inclusive cultural arts center. Our city needs a true arts Center for the Arts, not simply the renaming of an area for development purposes.

I urge city leadership to revisit two recent initiatives that actively engaged citizens community wide over several years, including holding many meetings inside City Hall. I fear these two reports have been shelved and forgotten in light of another “new” idea.

The St. Petersburg Comprehensive Arts Strategy was developed in partnership with City, business, and educational leadership to develop tangible recommendations for building on St. Petersburg’s existing arts infrastructure to create economic growth for the entire community.
I urge city staff to read it, as it lays out what it will take to become a true City of the Arts – including a recommendation to develop an arts center. Experts and volunteers researched a dozen other cities’ arts centers in order to develop a blueprint for St. Petersburg.

In 2018 the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance developed a proposal for a Cultural Arts Center (CAC) and recommended it be located in the new Trop site. The CAC proposal was discussed with City leadership, staff, and with both consulting firms the city employed during the first and the second rounds. In fact, including a cultural arts center was a requirement written into the RFP for the developers, and many called me and others to ask for advice and suggestions as they developed their Trop site proposals.

Incorporating all arts disciplines, the proposed CAC would feature programming that could serve as a true cultural nexus for the community and for artists and arts businesses that will relocate here. Located within the centrally located Trop site, the pedestrian friendly CAC would bring together the communities of south, north, west and east St. Pete more easily than could be achieved on the waterfront; and also serve as a gateway to the Pinellas Trail.

A city-wide festival office, a 400-seat flexible theater, and much needed dance space could make up a performing and visual arts campus that supports working artists who are creating, performing, and exhibiting new works; developing new audiences; and connecting the arts to community. The Center would house educational facilities for groups such as the Arts Conservatory for Teens and other non-profit organizations.

The CAC could also complement and support the much wished-for conference center in St. Petersburg by offering a theatre that can be used for corporate presentations and smaller events. The conference center itself could be designed as a unique art gallery for glass, clay and fine arts, differentiating it from cookie cutter conference facilities around the country and reflecting our unique city of the arts.

The Cultural Arts Center proposal outlines these and other potential such uses that enhance rather than compete with our existing arts institutions and organizations.

Whatever can be done to improve the visitor experience to the Dali and the Mahaffey should be embraced. However, I would urge that it not be billed as our City’s “Center for the Arts” at the expense of the two proposals already developed by our community.

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