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Welch proposes to use tourism dollars to support artists

Veronica Brezina

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Artist Laura Spencer - pictured working on her Lealman Project mural for Creative Pinellas - is a St. Petersburg native. "I had so many friends graduate from college and move to L.A. or New York, and they’re still living in five-person flats and paying exorbitant amounts of money in rent and stuff like that," she said in a January Catalyst interview. "St. Pete will always be home base. I’ll never leave." Photo by Bill DeYoung.

As the city embarks on a mission to establish a collective destination for the arts, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch wants to ensure local artists can live and thrive in the county.

During a Tourist Development Council meeting last week, Welch proposed an allocation of $5 million per year (or about a third of a penny) to support the arts and ensure it would be pumped back into the arts community. 

The funding would be collected through the county bed taxes, which are paid by tourists, and funds marketing, and capital funding for the Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies and Blue Jays stadiums, museums and beach nourishment.

“We fund the big arts facilities, but we’ve heard we need to get more dollars down to the artists themselves,” Welch said during the meeting, recalling the numerous county-wide summits and discussions held on the topic and support from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and others.  

The fund would be enacted for five years, totaling a grand sum of $25 million. 

“The TDC was supportive of further discussions on the use of the bed tax funds to support our Arts infrastructure, increased beach nourishment and sports, among other potential strategic uses to support our tourism economy. Our recommendation will be advisory to the County Commission,” Welch wrote in a social media post.

“As I’ve long stated, it’s time to fund the arts on par with our status as a world-class arts destination. Stay tuned …,” he said.

The recommendation comes after the city council’s recent Public Services and Infrastructure Committee, when Managing Director of Development Chris Ballestra described the city starting the process of creating the Center of the Arts, a concept to unify and link the Mahaffey Theater, and the Dali and the neighboring Firestone Grand Prix.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Carl Lavender

    April 25, 2022at5:06 pm

    Smart move. The defining moment for better resources allocated to the arts. Please make sure the Arts coalition is diverse, equitable and forward thinking.

  2. Avatar

    Patricia Haley

    April 26, 2022at11:45 am

    Very forward thinking to fund the wonderful artists that live and work here!

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