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Doing business jointly is an art

Homer Hooks reached back to the Renaissance to show how business leaders and artists can work together. When Pope Julius II had Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, "he was thinking of the bottom line as well as the overhead," said Hooks, a Polk County businessman and former chairman of the Florida Arts Council.

Hooks used that example Wednesday during a round-table luncheon of the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts.

The meeting was the first of what group leaders hope will be a series of get-togethers to join the business and arts communities and break down each group's suspicions of each other.

The meeting comes at a time of renewed interested in promoting the arts in Tampa. A task force is examining a recent assessment of the arts in Hillsborough County and the state of the arts in general.

As the two sides broke Cuban bread Wednesday, they discussed ways to work together.

Business leaders said money is tight now and suggested that arts groups look to companies for volunteer help, not just money. At the same time, artists said they were interested in seeing government and business consolidate their efforts to promote the arts.

In addition to counseling the groups to find a common stage for their interests, Hooks also urged the audience to view the Tampa Bay area as a single market, or risk competition that could hurt both sides.

"You buried the hatchet in sports," he said. "Now bury the baton in the arts."

The interests of Pinellas and Hillsborough should be merged, with an areawide group coordinating the effort, he said. And the counties should try to create a trust fund, perhaps with private and public dollars, to foster area arts groups, Hooks added.

Hooks also said arts groups in Hillsborough often compete with each other, and suggested they join forces, perhaps under the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.

"One group needs to be in charge of cultural planning," Hooks said, echoing a recommendation in a recent Hillsborough assessment of the arts.

During the luncheon, held at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Hooks also suggested creating a major arts festival for the area, perhaps playing off Tampa's Latin heritage.

He also recommended the groups try to interest children in the arts at an early age. And he saw the need for governments to subsidize local arts groups that want to use the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Some groups have criticized public officials for the high rents at the center.

The comments were received enthusiastically.

"It's a very positive time," said Anna Brennen of the Stageworks Theater Co. "I like what I heard today."