In only a decade, St. Petersburg has grown from sleepy town to arts mecca. Construction on the new $35 million Salvador Dali museum continues. World-class performers Seal and Il Divo performed in front of sold-out audiences. A new artists' colony could blossom on Central Avenue with the help of city leaders. But beyond the city's big-name institutions, the painting is more grim.
Local nonprofits are struggling to survive. The amount of grants available is dwindling. The recession is causing patrons to rethink giving. And the emissary to the arts, former cultural affairs manager Ann Wykell, was removed, the victim of city budget cuts.
With a changing of the guard coming to the mayor's office soon, the tight-knit community of creators is waiting to see if past successes can be continued. We asked the community and the mayoral candidates a two-part question: What is the biggest challenge facing the arts world and what can be done about it?
What arts leaders had to say:
Mary Ann Assiff, director of Youth Arts Corps
Challenge: A lack of sustained funding sources that organizations can count on. Another challenge is that the arts are not a priority for the school systems. We run the danger of losing future audiences.
Solution: The city should partner with arts organizations to go after grant money and opportunities, both private and public. They should keep at the 600 block of Central project and work with business owners. It's a win-win for them and the city. They need to be more flexible with zoning to make the project come to fruition.
Jessica Calandra, Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra program manager
Challenge: I feel like it's tricky, because everyone's struggling to fund their organization.
Solution: The city needs to look at the city's history, take a look at when things were thriving and why, and carefully examine how to build upon on previous successes instead of creating new initiatives.
Hank Hine, director of the Salvador Dali Museum
Challenge: To keep the St. Petersburg community engaged.
Solution: That responsibility falls squarely on two parties. The public has to be enticed by excellent programming and the arts need to provide that programming. And the public needs to be responsive to that. Sometimes they don't realize arts is for them.
Charlie Parker, St. Pete Clay Co. co-owner
Challenge: Keep St. Petersburg the arts mecca that it is.
Solution: The new mayor could help by having the ears of the art community and listening to the direction that artists are focusing on.
David Rovine, general manager of the Mahaffey Theater
Challenge: Working together to focus efforts in a more cohesive fashion. Determining goals for the arts community and needs and wants.
Solution: I don't think it's only the mayor's responsibility; it's the entire administration. There's a new arts person (Elizabeth Brincklow). I think she's going to be a big asset to the arts community. She wants to bring the arts community together. I frankly think all those positive things are going to happen.
Ann Wykell, former cultural affairs manager
Challenge: Between the loss of government funding, the downturn in the market and the fact that private giving in the arts is down, you really have arts being hit from all sides. It's really beginning to show.
Solution: The city leadership could help make this a city in which the civic culture is to support nonprofits. Not just arts, but social services, by working with the major business leaders in our community. They could really influence more giving and support.