Mayoral and City Council candidates call for more arts funding
ST. PETERSBURG - When Rick Kriseman’s children were small, they fell asleep to the sound of classical music. (For a contrast, see Mayor Bill Foster, whose parents sent him to bed with Led Zeppelin playing). City Council member Karl Nurse’s wife is a former actor. Council candidate Darden Rice collects folk art.
Is any of this relevant? Not really. And it's unlikely that it will change how the crowd of gallery owners, artists, and patrons that assembled for a candidate debate earlier today will vote in the November election. But the candidates couldn’t help themselves – the subject was the arts in St. Petersburg and so each of them, even the colorblind, reached into their lives for an anecdote or, in one case, a prop.
"If the arts community is seeking a representative on the City Council who shares their vision and understands this process, then I am their candidate," said Steve Galvin, who is running for the District 8 seat. To illustrate his point, he held up a toy singing pirate, one of the products of his music production business for the plush toy industry.
Across the board, the candidates were long on praise for the city's arts community, which has played a major role in reviving St. Petersburg’s downtown. And when moderator Deborah Kelley pressed them on the question of funding, most readily agreed that the city needs to spend more on its local arts scene.
Whether it does that is up to the City Council, said Foster. "It's the City Council that has to decide whether or not they're going to take a million or two million so we can endow the arts," he said.
Kriseman argued that St. Petersburg needs a full-time grant writer to support arts organizations. He also proposed that a portion of the county’s bed tax – a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms generates about $30 million a year – go to the arts.
The city should increase its grants to local arts non-profits from $175,000 a year to at least $300,000, said Rice, adding that she hopes to eventually bring it up to $400,000 or higher as the economy improves. By comparison, Sarasota distributes $1 million in grants to its arts organizations, she said.
Stopping short of agreeing that the city should invest more of its money, Carolyn Fries, who is competing with Rice for the District 4 seat, said corporations should step up their contributions. Before the city gives more, she said, she'd want to see art organizations’ business plans spelling out what the city will get back.