Actor, dancer, singer… statistician? That last talent isn't typical of creative types like Martine Meredith Collier, who met with 150 artists, arts organizations, elected officials and community leaders in her first 100 days as the executive director of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. The facts and figures she compiled from those meetings helped her simultaneously complete an arts economic impact study and shape a new strategic plan to promote county-wide cultural education and enrichment.
To tabulate, then extrapolate all that data, Collier, 65, calls upon her previous experience directing the Sarasota County Arts Council; marketing rural arts districts for the Georgia Council for the Arts; working with national arts funders in Seattle and as CEO of Culture Works in Greater Dayton, Ohio.
Collier spoke with Tampa Bay Times reporter Amy Scherzer as the government arts agency marks 50 years of representing the county's non-profit cultural assets.
In just six months, you've developed a new values, vision and mission statement for the arts council and presented a three-year strategic plan to the board. Will you summarize those for us?
We kept our vision simple and it was unanimously approved: A community where arts and culture are recognized as integral to the lives of all people. Sometimes simple says more than trying to quantify it all.
The mission is also direct: To support, promote and advance arts and culture in Hillsborough County. Well over 1,000 people responded to our community survey to inform our strategic plan, and almost 70 percent of them were not on our mailing list. In other words, new voices that gave a clear mandate for more hard information.
Besides the local surveys, you also facilitated Hillsborough County's participation in Americans for the Arts' national non-profit cultural economic impact study. What did you learn and how will the data help you?
The results were jaw dropping, way above the national average, at $433 million spent annually by nonprofit cultural organizations and their audiences, including tickets, dining out and parking. That number includes the earnings of nearly 15,000 full-time related jobs, more than three times as many jobs reported 10 years ago in a similar study. That's a huge difference.
This was the largest and most comprehensive arts economic impact study of its kind ever and that's not an exaggeration. It took a year and a half for all the organizations in 341 national study regions to submit information.
Sometimes it's hard for elected officials and the average person on the street to understand the impact of the cultural sector so this is really good news to share.
We must be doing something right, right? What are we still missing?
Tampa is in an upward spiral, maybe at a tipping point to be in the national spotlight with so much energy that wasn't here 10 years ago when I lived in Sarasota and visited Tampa. There's more diversity and a broad range of small, emerging, creative, edgy entities that we're very excited to support.
I see a lot of very young people and I love that mix. But the cultural community is more fractured than what I'm used to… not as much connective tissue. My goal is to connect the dots to better inform the public and create more opportunities for artists, art teachers, art executives that could lead to collaborations.
The cultural life funding is up and down like a roller coaster. I don't feel it can be counted on. I would like some sort of dedicated revenue source or more individual and corporate philanthropy, so the organizations are not living hand-to-mouth. I don't know what it would look like, not a hotel tax, but some sort of opportunity. We need to be more entrepreneurial in our funding strategies for the arts.
You spent many years as an actor before deciding to pursue a career in arts administration. What changed your mind?
I started acting in Nashville children's theater when I was 7... acted, sang, danced all through school and got my bachelor's in acting performance at University of Memphis. But the life of an artist is a really hard path and now I'm an excellent patron.
The last time I performed was a British farce, What the Butler Saw, at a community theater in 2002, the night I met my husband, David Bentley. I played an alcoholic nymphomaniac in a Frederick's of Hollywood slip. A board member got him a seat down front and invited him to the cast party. The whole theater board sat together at our wedding.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.