ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster sings.
In welcoming more than 100 regional arts professionals and advocates to the first Arts Summit, Foster launched into the opening bars of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from the musical Oklahoma!, which he performed in high school. (He has a nice voice.)
It was an upbeat, artsy beginning to an upbeat gathering to encourage collaborations, offer advice on marketing and advocacy and announce a new online program designed exclusively for arts crowdsourced fundraising.
Sponsored by businesses and cultural institutions, the event included museum directors from Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota; executives and trustees of performing arts organizations such as the Florida Orchestra, Straz Center for the Arts and American Stage Theatre Company; and the directors of the arts alliances of St. Petersburg, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties. It was one of the largest and broadest meetings of its kind.
The recession hit the arts hard with recovery slow, so raising money was on a lot of minds. Most of the panel discussions were related to that. Keynote speaker Randy Cohen, an executive with the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., delivered a "Go Team!" speech with a raft of statistics touting art's social and economic benefits.
The summit was an insider affair, but it will probably have a broad community impact. One of the most specific was the introduction of power2give.org, an online crowd-funding tool that began in Charlotte, N.C., in 2011 and has expanded to 11 states and 20 community sites. Those sites have raised almost $4 million.
"It's a platform that complements existing fundraising," said Laura Belcher, Power2Give's director.
It will be available to any arts organization with not-for-profit status in the three counties and launches on Dec. 12. Free workshops will be held in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota in November.
Pete Zinober, a Tampa attorney and past chairman of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, said in his opening remarks that one of the summit's goals was "to originate ideas," and transportation became a big point of discussion.
During a session on collaborations, Tampa Museum of Art director Todd Smith and Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg director Kent Lydecker discussed the evolution of their collaboration on a joint exhibition featuring emerging Chinese artists, which will open next June. Several audience members pressed them on plans to offer transportation, such as charter buses, between the two venues. (They're working on it.) Which led to broader questions about ongoing regional links: Why not water taxies to ferry people between the downtown waterfronts of Tampa and St. Petersburg and on to Sarasota Bay, near the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, for example? Which led to Smith quipping that the museums were organizing their own light rail system. Which led to laughter.
But most of the moments were serious, and a second summit is planned for 2014 when the meeting will offer new opportunities and a report on goals from this first summit.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.