When Barbara St. Clair was hired at local arts agency Creative Pinellas, the company had a budget of $300,000 and a staff of just two people.
Seven years later, the agency based in Largo is a $1.7 million organization with six full-time staff members. Its grant programs have been awarded to 180 artists and helped more than 600 Pinellas County children attend arts summer camps.
St. Clair has announced she will retire as CEO at the end of the year. A national search for her replacement will be conducted by a committee organized by the board of directors, beginning this summer.
“Barbara has established Creative Pinellas as an indispensable resource for the arts community and the county as a whole,” board president David Warner said in a news release. “She’ll be a hard act to follow. Fortunately, she has provided us with both the foundation and the vision to guide us in finding Creative Pinellas’ next CEO.”
Creative Pinellas was established in 2011 and St. Clair was hired in 2016. She’d previously been the global director of communications for medical device company ConMed Corporations and director of marketing for Bright House Networks.
In a phone interview, St. Clair said that from day one, she wouldn’t stay at the agency “past a time where I was the right person.” She said for the past few years she’s been feeling that the right moment to retire was approaching.
She was effusive about her time with Creative Pinellas, which came during an explosion of arts in the area.
St. Clair helped secure the former Gulf Coast Arts Museum as a permanent gallery space for the agency. It shares property with the Florida Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village and cross-pollinates with those organizations.
Under her leadership, Creative Pinellas has partnered with the Tourist Development Council, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and the Tampa Bay Rays. During the pandemic, St. Clair established the Arts Community Relief Fund with the Pinellas Community Foundation, St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, and The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. It gave $140,000 to artists and arts organizations in the county.
Creative Pinellas also partnered with the Board of County Commissioners to provide more than $3 million in CARES Act Funding to artists, arts businesses and organizations. It also acquired a $500,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to provide $450,000 in direct funds to Pinellas County artists and cultural organizations.
Also during her tenure, Creative Pinellas launched the Pinellas Mural Arts Program to bring artwork to county rights of way, developed the Arts Coast Journal and, most recently, created the Arts Navigator, an online tool that connects people to arts events.
St. Clair also got county funding and support for the creation of a cultural plan — the first the county’s had since 2005 — which will be completed by the end of the year.
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When it comes to her replacement, St. Clair said they’re looking for someone who can take the agency to the next level and someone who has experience running a local arts agency.
As for herself, St. Clair plans to stay on as a consultant with Creative Pinellas to help with the new CEO’s transition. But she also plans to pursue endeavors in creative writing, as she is a poet and a playwright.
“I‘m really looking forward to opening those doors again,” she said.