St. Petersburg vies for Top Spot in national arts survey

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After spending two years as the nation’s number one Top 25 arts destination for mid-sized U.S. cities, St. Petersburg is looking to make it three in a row. Through March 3, the public is encouraged to help St. Petersburg capture the 2012 title by casting a vote in the annual AmericanStyle magazine (www.americanstyle.com) readers’ poll.

“For the past two years, we’ve been grateful to have the support of residents and visitors who believe St. Petersburg shines as an arts destination,” said Mayor Bill Foster. “We’ve watched our arts community flourish despite a tough economy, so continuing to come out on top is further proof we made the right decision to cultivate arts and culture in St. Petersburg.”

Spearheaded by City Council member Leslie Curran, St. Petersburg’s arts initiative has transformed the 600 block of Central Ave. into an eclectic mix of studios, retail and gallery space; introduced more than 100,000 guests to The Chihuly Collection, the first permanent collection to house works by master glass artist Dale Chihuly and celebrated the Dali Museum’s one year birthday and a more-than-double attendance figure of 370,000 surrealistic visitors through its doors.

Economically, St. Petersburg’s decision to invest in arts and culture was rewarded by results of a January 2010 survey showing arts and culture is responsible for contributing more than $23 million to the local economy and creating more than 500 jobs. The joint study by the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, Bank of America and the University of South Florida also found arts and culture was responsible for attracting 1.3 million tourists annually to the city.

A driving force behind the study, John Collins, former chair of the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, was recently named to head the newly-formed St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, an outcome of the BOA/USF study and the Arts Funding Committee.  Collins, who works closely with Elizabeth Brincklow, the city’s manager of the office of Arts and International Relations, is charged with supplementing the city’s existing arts grants budget allocation by identifying new arts partners and potential funders through the Arts Alliance. The city has provided grant assistance for not-for-profit arts and cultural organizations since 1987, but decreasing city revenues and budget tightening have forced reductions in available funds. The Arts Alliance is also tasked with attracting new artists and arts organizations, as well as signature arts and cultural events to St. Petersburg.

In addition to working with Collins and the Arts Alliance, Brincklow also oversees the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, Public Art Commission, the St. Pete Arts Initiative and the Arts Funding Committee.

The Arts Alliance is in addition to the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, Public Art Commission, the St. Pete Arts Initiative, and the Arts Funding Committee, of which the Arts Alliance currently overseen by Elizabeth Brincklow, the city’s manager of the Office of Arts and International Relations. Brincklow also has a relationship with the St. Petersburg Artist Resource Collaborative (SPARC) through the Business Assistance Center.

“John’s appointment is a significant step toward solidifying the city’s financial commitment to its arts and culture community. I’m optimistic that we will be successful in developing new funding partners and forging a positive relationship between them and existing arts and culture organizations to make the city’s arts investment stronger than ever,” stated Brincklow.

St. Petersburg also boasts internationally-acclaimed music and theater at The Mahaffey in addition to more intimate venues, including the Palladium Theater, freeFall Theatre and American Stage, both Actors Equity employers; the Museum of Fine Arts, whose regular collection includes works by Monet, Renoir and Cezanne along with special art exhibitions; and The Mahaffey’s notable Class Acts arts enrichment program, responsible for providing arts education through school-based artist-in-residence programs, master classes and field trips to curriculum-based stage productions.

Residents and visitors are invited to support the city’s arts and culture venues with the new St. Petersburg Arts and Entertainment Pass, valued at more than $110. For only $34.50, pass-holders may browse the newest collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, The Chihuly Collection and the Morean Art Center’s Glass Studio and Hot Shop, take in a midday series show at The Mahaffey and satisfy culinary cravings with discounts from participating restaurants. The pass is good through July 31, 2012 and is available at participating museums and galleries.

This is the 15th year for the AmericanStyle readers’ poll, which encourages residents and visitors to vote on their favorite cities that fit the criteria for a Top 25 Arts Destination based on population. Ballot results will be published in May’s issue of AmericanStyle Magazine.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.