An arts relief fund has been created in Pinellas County

If you’re an artist, organization or business in the local arts community, you could benefit from the new Pinellas Arts Community Relief Fund.
Artist Justin Wagher works on his mural on the Pinellas Trail as part of the 2018 SHINE festival in St. Petersburg.
Artist Justin Wagher works on his mural on the Pinellas Trail as part of the 2018 SHINE festival in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 3, 2020|Updated April 10, 2020

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The coronavirus brought Pinellas County’s once thriving arts scene to a screeching halt. Theaters, museums and galleries are temporarily closed. Musicians, actors and dancers can’t perform. Visual artists are stripped of exposure.

John Collins, executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, and Barbara St. Clair, executive director of Creative Pinellas, were both concerned for the community in which they work. Even though both organizations shared federal resources for aid with their communities, they saw the need to develop something local.

They turned to Duggan Cooley, CEO of the charitable Pinellas Community Foundation, to help establish a relief fund. Through donations from that organization and from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Collins and St. Clair raised $70,000 in seed money for what they’re calling the Pinellas Arts Community Relief Fund.

Because the Pinellas Community Foundation is already set up for taking applications, it will manage the fund. Cooley said they were proud to help arts organizations. Creative Pinellas and the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance also contributed to the fund.

“The organizations that stepped up all did an amazing job to help us start out with $70,000,” said St. Clair. “Obviously, we need to continue to raise funds so that we can continue to help people.”

That initial amount ballooned to $110,000 from donations by the the Milkey Family Foundation, the Gobioff Foundation and individual donations.

Grants for those in the arts community will range from $500 to $1,500 and are applicable in three areas: individual artists in all disciplines, arts organizations and creative businesses (both nonprofit and for profit).

A news release from Creative Pinellas stated that in order to qualify for financial help from the fund, artists, organizations and businesses “need to demonstrate specific, current and immediate financial need.” This includes rent, utilities, food, health care, payroll and operating expenses. A committee of arts leaders was formed to establish the framework. It includes artistic director of American Stage Stephanie Gularte, dancer Helen Hansen French, visual artist Carol Mickett and Florida CraftArt executive director Katie Deits.

“I suspect there will be a firehose of requests,” said Collins. “We won’t be able to meet them all, but hopefully if we can get this in place, then the fundraising can ramp up a little bit.”

Collins did an economic impact survey on the galleries and studios that weren’t able to open for March’s St. Petersburg Second Saturday ArtWalk. He found that the monthly loss totaled about $48,000. Factor in the average 2,000 resident attendees who spend roughly $23.44 on food and drink at the event, and that equals another $46,880.

Collins said that the survey was done to illustrate the impact to the community of one night when no art is purchased; that same model can be applied to museums and theaters. He hopes that people will realize how detrimental the loss of the arts would be, particularly at a time when they are needed to bring us together emotionally.

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St. Clair said that in addition to the relief fund, efforts are being made to gather information about the new loan programs the federal government has come out with to share with the arts community.

Cooley said their hope is that the relief fund takes hold in the community to help deal with the current crisis, and that it can be sustained for future emergencies.

“The goal is to make our arts community as resilient as possible,” he said.

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