CLEARWATER —The arts in North Pinellas need a shot in the arm.
That was the consensus last Thursday when 100 culture aficionados gathered in the chandelier-lit Margarete Heye Great Room inside Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Painters, dancers, historians, sculptors, opera singers, musicians, potters and art promoters spent the day brainstorming ways to inject new cultural life into the communities north of Ulmerton Road.
The meeting was organized by the North Pinellas Cultural Alliance, a group designed to create a stronger arts force upcounty. Last year, Colin Bissett, former director of the Mahaffey Theater Foundation as well as the Largo Cultural Center put forward an idea to strengthen the arts by unifying the entire cultural community.
After months of forming a membership base, last Thursday, Bissett welcomed art lovers from across the region for a day of brainstorming. "The arts are thriving in north Pinellas, but we need to keep going,'' Bissett said. "Look at what a great job St. Petersburg has done.''
Officials from Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Oldsmar, Largo and Tarpon Springs participated as well as art educators from Pinellas County schools and members of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and Creative Pinellas, the county's nonprofit arts agency.
Participants spent the morning sharing their passion. After lunch, they devised a game plan. They talked about several ideas including:
• Utilizing and improving the marketing of all arts organizations in northern Pinellas County.
• Planning an arts festival along the Pinellas Trail that would celebrate both fine arts and performing arts and would also include merchants from each municipality.
• Partnering with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, creating "art'' shelters throughout Pinellas County.
Zev Buffman, chief executive officer of Ruth Eckerd Hall, shared plans to add an "art park'' that will wind through the property's 37 acres. Sculptures and murals will dot the parking lot and along the wetland area behind the main building. He plans to add "benches, little places to sit, for visitors to enjoy. They will be protected from alligators, of course,'' he joked.
Pinellas County commissioner Karen Seel stressed that although the county pulled back on arts funding during the recession, by approving about $300,000 worth of funding this year for Creative Pinellas, "the county is again engaging back into the arts, and it is long overdue,'' she said. "Your advocacy is important.''
Christopher Cochran, senior planner for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, provided the details of PSTA's public arts program, which is open to cities countywide. A city would select a bus shelter as a site for a public art display and the PSTA will work with the city, providing funding, up to $7,300 for each shelter. "The PSTA will give that money towards site development, which includes pouring the concrete for the structure and making sure the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements are met. It's important to make sure the whole shelter is accessible,'' Cochran explained.
Meanwhile, the Alliance will work with the city when it comes to the funding for the artist's work. "The artist will be paid by the Alliance,'' said Bissett. "But the city will choose the artist, although I would hope it would be a local artist.''
During a break, former county commissioner Sallie Parks talked about her memories of Pinellas County. "For so long, there was nothing out here and we'd have to go to St. Petersburg to a museum or see a show,'' she said. "Then, things started to change. We saw Ruth Eckerd built and that was exciting. We've seen North Pinellas go from its infancy, to now, maturity, and it's very exciting,'' she said.
The Alliance has received $24,000, including $21,000 from the participating municipalities and an additional $3,000 from private donations. The North Pinellas Cultural Alliance website is npculturalalliance.org.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.