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Arts foundation blossoms

After a year of organizing, an Oldsmar group begins raising funds for a performing arts center.

It has goals, a partnership with the city, a snazzy logo, a brochure, and it just sent out invitations to a $50-a-plate fundraiser.

The Oldsmar Cultural Arts Foundation has arrived.

The private corporation, formed a year ago, is the brainchild of city officials who concluded that the only way to keep feeding the small community's hunger for the arts was to turn to the private sector for funding.

"The foundation came as a result of a recognition of the (City) Council and the (Cultural Affairs Advisory) Board that there was no way that the city could continue to have the arts program grow without some vehicle to get some type of external support," said Mayor Jeff Sandler. "It was also a recognition that if we ever wanted to raise money to build an arts facility, we would have to create a group to do it."

The city picked the foundation's leaders. Provided seed money. Even supplied the foundation's official address, which is the Oldsmar Arts Centre.

"We are a private organization that has a strategic partnership with the city," said foundation president David Wallace.

Although the foundation was incorporated a year ago, it hasn't done much until now. The group spent the past year planning and hammering out what its role would be.

"We just needed time to organize and plan," said Wallace, who also is president of the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce.

That plan is to aggressively raise money for a performing arts center that can seat 200 to 400 and will cost about $1.5-million, said Wallace, who hopes the group can raise the cash in two to three years. The preliminary vision includes a stage, tiered seating, a banquet room and classrooms for art education and workshops.

The foundation also hopes to showcase local and regional talent and create an arts endowment.

"Performing, vocal and visual arts, writing, poetry, painting, ballets, symphony . . . we will promote all those things," Wallace said. "Our goal is to exceed the expectations of the community."

To jump-start its drive for cash, the foundation will host its first fundraiser, a Mardi Gras gala, Feb. 25 at the Oldsmar Arts Centre on St. Petersburg Drive. Wallace, who owns David L. Wallace & Associates in Safety Harbor, hopes the gala will raise $25,000.

The foundation is seeking designation as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 corporation from the Internal Revenue Service, Wallace said. Once the foundation gets the designation, donors will be able to receive an income tax write-off when they give money.

The city has pledged its support to the group, said Sandler, and already has opened city coffers once to help the foundation.

In October the City Council voted 3-1 to give the foundation $5,150 to pay for corporate filing fees, brochures, membership cards, letterhead, stationery, office supplies and postage. Council member Jerry Provenzano was not present when the vote was taken, and Ed Richards voted against the proposal. Richards said he could not support using tax money to finance a private organization.

The city's cultural arts coordinator, Laure Day, and Suda Yantiss, a dance instructor at the Arts Centre, helped design the invitations to the Mardi Gras event and are co-chairwomen of the gala, Day said. Jean Jorgenson, a volunteer on the city's Cultural Affairs Advisory Board, addressed and mailed the invitations.

Although the city has a cultural arts department and an advisory board, the foundation will be a welcome addition, said Day, who will be a liaison between the foundation and the advisory board.

"It's a team effort," Day said. "I see us having the same goals, and everybody is looking forward to it. The foundation needs some help getting started, and I definitely want to be a part of that."

In 1997, City Council members and the volunteer members of the Cultural Affairs Advisory Board realized that the arts movement was growing faster than the city could afford.

Clearwater officials recently announced the incorporation of a non-profit foundation to promote arts in that city. Clearwater's foundation and the one in Oldsmar share the same structure and goals. In Clearwater, the city also will have close ties to the private group.

Judith Powers-Jones, executive director of the Pinellas County Arts Council, said private foundations created to support public facilities are not new. The key is to make the foundation as focused as possible because it faces keen competition for donations.

"It's not difficult to establish a foundation," she said. "The challenge is to fund it, because you are competing with every not-for-profit organization."

The foundations are a way for cities to support an arts movement without spending huge sums of money.

"I think that sometimes governmental entities are seeking support for arts and cultural activities, programs and facilities, but for whatever reason are not committing significant public dollars _ either they don't have it, or they are reluctant from a political standpoint. So this is an avenue that they think they can use to attract money," Powers-Jones said.

In Oldsmar, City Council and advisory board members picked the four people who signed the Cultural Arts Foundation incorporation papers: Wallace; Linda Williams, who owns an insurance agency in the city; Charlie Martin, who previously worked closely with the city for TECO; and Wanda Beverland, wife of former Mayor Jerry Beverland.

The four have been recruiting charter members, Wallace said. Anyone who pays the $25 membership fee in 2000 will be a charter member. The names of those who will serve as the foundation board of directors will be announced at the Mardi Gras gala.

Another task is to find headquarters for the foundation. Wallace and Sandler had hoped the foundation could use the tiny clapboard house belonging to the Woman's Club of Oldsmar.

The two struck a deal that the foundation, with the city's help, would move the deteriorating building from its location on a dead-end street near City Hall to the Arts Centre on St. Petersburg Drive. The land where the building sits is slated to be a parking lot for the new senior center.

The foundation would then improve the building and use it as its headquarters. Later, after the performing arts center was built, the clapboard house would be converted into a museum.

But when Wallace went before the City Council earlier this month to ask for $60,000 to move and repair the building, the issue turned into a political tug of war.

Council member Jerry Provenzano objected to giving the private foundation $60,000. He proposed leaving the building, which the Woman's Club has used as a meeting place for 75 years, where it is and saving the money that would have been spent to move it.

"I am not jumping on the bandwagon to give $60,000 of taxpayers' money to a private organization," Provenzano said. "The location of that building is part of that history, and moving it to a different location would only diminish its historical, emotional attachment to the city."

Wallace said he does not understand why Provenzano blocked the proposal because six months ago Provenzano told him that he was in favor of demolishing the building. Provenzano said he does not recall saying that to Wallace.

"Demolishing the building is an option that has been brought forward, but no one has jumped on that bandwagon, especially not me," Provenzano said. "Let's not forget that as an elected official, we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that the dollars that we spend benefit the community and the residents, not private venture."

Peggy Neeley, Woman's Club president, said she would prefer for the building to stay where it is. More than four years ago the club gave the city the building, the lot where it sits and another lot. In exchange, the city promised to preserve the building.

Neeley said she fears that if the foundation gets the building, the Woman's Club will take a back seat in its own home.

"I can just see the handwriting. We will be the secondary tenant," Neeley said. "For the historical significance, I would prefer the building stays where it is; that's where things happened. But I just don't want to see it turned into a situation where it is a tug of war and whoever is bigger wins, because I think the Woman's Club will be the one to lose."

The city has owned the building for more than four years and has made few improvements, Wallace pointed out.

"Then when they find out that we want to take it, all of a sudden there are people who want us to struggle for it," Wallace said. "I thought it was a real honor to be picked for the foundation until I found out they would beat me up at council meetings."

Sandler said the foundation deserves the city's support because in the long run the city will benefit from the group's efforts.

"They are augmenting our program and trying to raise money for us," Sandler said. "We think what they are bringing to the table is worthwhile. The arts foundation will be able to raise more money than the city can."

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