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Pinellas County Commission poised to restore funding for the arts

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County commissioners indicated they’d be amenable to granting Creative Pinellas $300,000 for increasing programs supporting the arts.

During a budget meeting Tuesday, board members heard a presentation from the arts advocacy group in which they requested additional funding for two targeted efforts — marketing and brand growth and project funding and community engagement.

“The arts industries are a sound investment,” said Mitzi Gordon, director of Creative Pinellas.

According to Gordon, investment in the arts contributes to many key social and economic areas including crime prevention, tourism development, business relocation, job growth and student achievement. The arts sector accounts for 4 percent of the area’s businesses and 3 percent of its employment.

Gordon said it’s a $160 million industry accounting for 14.5 million visitors.

Creative Pinellas is asking that the $300,000 be allocated evenly between the two areas.

The proposal includes plans to improve the agency’s website as well as creating a county cultural calendar that can be linked to and distributed by community partners.

The funding would also go toward conducting market research to better target the group’s message. It would fund additional staff support for Creative Pinellas.

“We are currently scaled very small,” Gordon said.

Currently she is the only full-time staff member. There is a part-time staffer and a handful of independent contractors who work on an as-needed basis.

The other half of the proposed funding would go toward project funding and community engagement. The money would go toward providing access to entrepreneurship education for “creative workers of all types” and social opportunities to connect artists with perspective buyers.

The plan also includes better resources to seek grant opportunities. Seed grants are available for things like new murals, after-school arts workshops and internships to help with public exhibition or performance pieces.

The grants would be available for artists, teachers or nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.

The money would also fund additional materials and project supplies.

The funding timeline is spread over three years and would be funded through the Tourist Development Tax, general revenue, specific sales tax or a combination of some or all of those sources. The first year would also include working with the Local Arts Agency to “explore and develop public-private partnerships.”

During year two Creative Pinellas would report on the results from the year-one pilot program and begin a countywide economic impact study.

The final proposed year would include a new strategic planning session targeting arts and culture within the county and efforts to strengthen state-level advocacy to identify additional revenue streams.

Creative Pinellas previously brought in $600,000 in annual funding from the county and another $750,000 from the Tourist Development Council. That funding evaporated when the recession hit.

Creative Pinellas currently operates on about $100,000 a year. While the current request would not restore pre-recession funding levels, it is a step in the right direction for the agency.

As Gordon pointed out in her presentation to commissioners, other governments contribute heavily to arts-related efforts. She said 58 local arts agencies in 60 of the state’s most populated cities received about 85 percent of their budgets from local governments.

For example, Jacksonville operated with about $3.1 million in expenditures in 2013. Of that, $2.8 million came from local government support.

Hillsborough spent just shy of $1 million in 2013 with $680,000 coming from city and county contributions.

It’s even cushier a climate in Miami-Dade County, where the local arts agency there runs a surplus. In 2013 they had a $26 million budget, but received $29 million from local government.

There wasn’t a vote today regarding the plan, but the commission did indicate support despite some concerns.

Commissioner Janet Long worried the plan doesn’t include enough specifics and Karen Seel wants to make sure the timeline remains at three years and not five.

“I would like to walk before we run,” she said.

Commissioner John Morroni echoed that sentiment, but said he was comfortable moving forward.

The plan will now go to a public hearing next month before being voted on by commissioners.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]

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