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OLDSMAR REVAMPS ARTS APPROACH

To boost interest, the Cultural Affairs board and Parks and Recreation are combined.

Hoping to resuscitate the arts community and usher in new, fresh ideas, Oldsmar leaders have dismantled the volunteer group whose job was to help push the city's arts agenda forward and replaced it with a new one.

The decade-old Cultural Affairs Advisory Board hosted the annual Art in the Park festival at R.E. Olds Park and supported the establishment of a permanent cultural arts center. It painted murals and erected statues throughout the city. And its chairwoman designed the new Oldsmar seal hoisted above the council dais and splashed across flags, letterheads and city-owned vehicles.

But for all of its accomplishments, city officials say, the group has struggled. The proof, they say, is in its numbers. The board had room for seven members and four alternates. Anyone else with an interest in the arts could have attended meetings, which were open to the public.

Over the last 21/2 years, however, meetings only drew an average of about six members, said Suda Yantiss-Colon, who was the Cultural Affairs leader and on the board for much of its 10 years. Two resigned during the first four months of this year for personal reasons.

"I've always asked you to try to get more community involvement," Mayor Jim Ronecker said. "I've never deviated from that message. Yet, I've never seen the community want to be involved with it.

"It just seems like it was stalled, and we were never getting anywhere."

So Ronecker and council members two weeks ago merged Cultural Affairs with Parks and Recreation, then renamed the board Leisure Services. Only four Cultural Affairs members will be allowed on the new, 13-person board. Terms will be limited to two years.

"By combining it," Ronecker said, "maybe some synergy will come with some new faces, some new people and with the council's willingness to want to continue the arts. Maybe this route will be a better avenue for us."

The merger comes at a time when cash-strapped governments are facing deficits and cutting away at even the most basic of services. Officials acknowledge that the economic times won't allow the city to build things like a permanent cultural arts center just yet, but "we're not looking to get rid of the arts in anyway," Ronecker said. "We're looking to enhance the arts. We're trying to kick-start it."

They hope the new board will be more proactive, study how other cities built their bustling arts communities and model Oldsmar's after those.

"I would suggest that whoever gets on the board - or those that aren't on the board - go to Dunedin, find out how they started, find out what they did," council member Jerry Beverland said. "The core group, it doesn't have to be the advisory board, can always come before this council.

"That hasn't happened."

The idea of a merger has surfaced before and both boards were less than enthusiastic, Yantiss-Colon said. "We handle two different areas," she said.

Not so, said Lynn Rives, the city's leisure service director.

"There are several members on the Parks and Rec board that are very interested in the arts," he said. "It's not just people that are interested in the park or baseball or soccer. It's people that are interested in the community and special events."

Still, Yantiss-Colon said, the city's solution misses the mark and forces out "good" people who are passionate about the arts.

"There's some potential in combination," she said. "I think we're going to lose a lot, too.

"Although we will still have a strong voice in the arts, and I understand that, we will be a very small portion of a bigger entity."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

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