T. Hampton Dohrman considers the arts a business and business an art. His left-brain appreciation for artistic righter-brainers, most of whom don't have a degree in accounting, as he does, led to opening a consulting firm, Hampton Arts Management. His advice helps arts groups leverage their creativity and may keep an artist from having to work at Starbucks to pay the rent.
Involvement with the bay area art scene turned Dohrman, 28, into a major proponent of "microgrants" and "crowd financing," two types of grass roots philanthropy combining small sums of money, typically under $500, raised to jump start projects.
For example, about 50 members of Philanthropic Young Tampa Bay, the young professionals network Dohrman co-founded, eventually collected $5,000 for the Florida Orchestra and Tampa Museum of Art this year. Just a few weeks ago, Dohrman delivered the first Tampa Bay Awesome award for an out-of-the-box idea that will improve life in the bay area. He helped identify 10 Awesome Project trustees to put up $400 each to fund four $1,000 grants annually.
On Nov. 1, Dohrman became the first director of Creative Pinellas, the successor to the defunct Pinellas Arts Council. He immediately began hatching innovative promotions to incubate arts industries throughout the county.
Over coffee in Ybor City, where Dohrman lives in a restored 1923 cigar worker's home, St. Petersburg Times reporter Amy Scherzer learned the fifth-generation Tuscaloosa native lives for football ("It's an Alabama thing"); dresses sharply (white dress shirts and suits custom-made in Bangkok) and travels voraciously ("Off to Malta for Christmas and Rome for New Year's"). He revealed all of this at Tre Ami coffeehouse, practically Dohrman's satellite office, where he trades marketing schemes for free coffee and a ham sandwich is named the Hampton.
You went to the University of South Florida to study orchestral percussion, but then you switched to accounting. When did you realize you could make more of an impact off stage than on?
I worked as a real estate accountant before the bust … then for MetLife in statuary financial reporting. It was horribly boring, and I had lots of free time so I started stock trading. I quit to do day trading, but having CNBC in my ear all the time made me crazy.
The whole time I was putting on weird arts events on the side with David Audet of the Artists & Writers Group. I like to put high-brow and low-brow stuff together, like setting up screens at the Independent bar in Seminole Heights for talks by video artists.
You believe strongly in the impact of micro-grants to make a difference. What have you seen $500 do?
You can give $20,000 to the wrong person and have it do nothing. I call it the "facility fallacy'' because you can do fantastic theater in a parking garage. Buildings are liabilities, not assets.
I produced the last two Sensory Overload multigenre experiences for Creative Loafing. We staged "Refractory," a multimedia event at the Trolley Barn. I have 11 DVD players, and for screens we used drop cloths from Home Depot. We had 1,000 people there and spent $700 for the whole thing.
I can put something together in two hours. It's not magic. I would like to write a book called T. Hampton Dohrman's Guide to Making Sh-- Happen.
St. Petersburg's cultural economy seems to be flourishing these days, and you have great ambitions for Creative Pinellas. How did your new gig come about?
People in control of money in St. Petersburg recognize it's important to invest in the arts, and some fantastic people are having that discussion. Tampa is more old politics.
I'll be making it up as I go along, working out of a different cultural center every week, sort of a mobile office. Everything I need is in Dropbox on my iPhone so I can make things happen while I drive. Having no money for marketing means you have to make sure an idea is really good. I haven't paid for an ad in five years.
Do you have time for a love life?
I'm not sure if I have time for a girlfriend. I'm already near bandwidth capacity.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at ascherzer @tampabay.com or (813) 226-3332.