St. Petersburg voted #1 arts destination for third year in a row

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The results are in — St. Petersburg has been chosen  as the nation’s number one Top 25 Arts Destination for mid-sized U.S. cities for the third year in a row. Readers in the annual AmericanStyle magazine (www.americanstyle.com) readers’ poll handed St. Petersburg the lead with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Tampa (3) and Miami (7) for cities with populations under 499,999. In all, eight Florida cities placed across all three categories, with Sarasota and Bradenton finishing first and second in the small city category and Key West fourth.

“This is great news for St. Petersburg,” said Mayor Bill Foster. “We have one of the best arts and cultural communities in the country and we’ve succeeded in laying a strong foundation that our visitors and residents can enjoy for generations to come.”

St. Petersburg has undergone a recent expansion of the city’s arts and cultural offerings, while ensuring diversity and affordability for residents and visitors. The 2010 transformation of the Crislip Arcade into an eclectic mix of artist studios, retail and gallery space; The Chihuly Collection gallery and new Salvador Dali museum’s addition to the downtown landscape and an Arts and Entertainment Pass that allows pass holders visits to select museums and galleries, performances at The Mahaffey and discounts from participating restaurants.

More recent ventures include continued development of the Warehouse Arts District, bordered by 16th and 31st Sts. and First Ave. N. and 10th Ave. S., to provide artists with large equipment storage, loft studios or special events space. The district showcases “Where Art is Made,” and is home to more than 23 arts-related businesses and organizations and is home to 126 artists.

And a collaborative mural project between local artist Pam Miles and residents of Pinellas Safe Harbor encourages residents to serve as apprentice artists as they share life experiences while making the transition into society.  Believed to be among the first in the country, the mural project is a partnership between the city of St. Petersburg’s Arts and International Relations, Veterans, Social and Homelessness Services departments and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department.

Results of a joint 2010 survey by the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, Bank of America and USF showed the significance of arts and culture to St. Petersburg’s economic well-being with 1.3 million visitors who helped add $23 million to the local economy and created more than 500 jobs. A second survey is planned later this year.

“We’ve had to be creative to provide our artists with the freedom to express themselves and  make a living,” said Elizabeth Brincklow, the city’s manager of the Office of Arts and International Relations. “We’re also fortunate to have a passionate group of advocates who understand the future value of arts and culture in St. Petersburg and can find innovative ways to support our artists.”

Brincklow oversees the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, Public Art Commission, St. Pete Arts Initiative, Arts Funding Committee, and St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, along with the city’s arts grants program. Since 1987, the city has provided non-profit and cultural organizations with grant assistance but has watched those funds dwindle due to decreasing city revenues and budget tightening. “We’re privileged to have forward-thinking Mayor and City Council members who are working diligently to find new dedicated funding streams for the arts.”

Brincklow is also hopeful the Arts Alliance, under the guidance of consultant John Collins and created mainly to identify new arts partners and potential funders for the arts grants program, will serve as a magnet for new artists, arts organizations and signature arts and cultural events in St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg offers a wide range of arts and cultural experiences, from internationally-acclaimed music and theater at The Mahaffey, including The Florida Orchestra, to more intimate venues such as The Palladium, freeFall Theatre and American Stage. Downtown St. Petersburg offers the Museum of Fine Arts, Chihuly Collection and the new Dali Museum as well as a diverse collection of independent artist studios and galleries.

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.