Arts Advocacy in Pinellas County
Pinellas County has transitioned from a destination for retirees to a healthy business economy, an active cultural environment and vibrant tourism destination. The arts have played an integral part in this renaissance and in maintaining the quality of life that our citizens expect. The County now has an opportunity to enhance their Strategic Plan that includes goal 4.6 – Support a vibrant community with recreation, arts, and culture to attract residents and visitors.
The Board of County Commissioners May 12 agenda includes an item that addresses funding the arts with additional dollars and public support. With the downturn in the economy and loss of tax revenue in the budget, Pinellas County departments were scaled back, and the Cultural Affairs division was closed in 2011. This was a shortsighted decision given the miniscule portion devoted to arts and culture in the total budget. In its place the County established Creative Pinellas, formed as a 501(c)(4) entity and designated as our county’s local arts agency, with a limited vision and minimal support from the County. It now exists with approximately $35,000 annual income generated from the sales of the State of the Arts license plate. CP struggles with 1 full-time director and an additional part-time employee. As the economy rebounded, the Commission at an arts workshop voted unanimously to explore a potential funding increase and assigned Creative Pinellas to explore the potential and develop a proposal.
Verifiable studies document the benefits of the arts to a sustainable community. In a world that appears increasingly homogeneous artists and public art can create a unique sense of place. Of course, intrinsically valuable aesthetically, they are also a part of the solution to many societal needs and a vehicle for growth.
The arts impact health, social development, and business. They are an economic driver, attracting business, tourists, highly skilled workers and creative thinkers. As one example of the kind of impact arts organizations have, Ruth Eckerd Hall (a 501(c)(3)): spends $5 million in advertising in and out of the area per year, its audiences and artists use 45,000 hotel rooms per year; its audiences spend nearly $10 million on event-related activities such as dining in the area, and it reaches over 28,000 students per year with arts education experiences.
Incorporating the arts into education mitigates social problems that cost the community in the long term. They engage students in learning, develop problem-solving skills, contribute to higher test scores and are integral to preparing the whole child for success and productivity. Investing in the arts now can reduce various social problems that the county may have to pay for later. They support workforce development, reduce truancy, dropout rates and juvenile delinquency. They contribute to revitalization of blighted downtowns and neighborhoods and create civic dialogue that addresses divisions thatinfluence our diverse populations. Significantly, an investment by the county can reduce barriers to access and participation in arts resources caused by age, ethnicity, poverty, and geographic location in underserved areas.
Creative Pinellas, in response to the Commissions directive, coordinated a series of public input sessions, advisory group meetings and dedicated research to produce a proposal for additional county-wide support and funding for art and culture. Although the final proposal is not yet public, there are concerns that it is inadequate to address the communities’ needs.
Commissioners will vote during their upcoming 2016 budget session, and we are recommending further attention to the current structure of this Local Arts Agency and the amount of funding that is being considered. We recommend $1.5 million in funding, support for a Local Arts Agency in scale with the size and needs of Pinellas County and incorporating a more representative county framework. Currently Pinellas contributes zero general funds and is woefully behind other County’s of similar demographics. Creative Pinellas also leave dollars on the table in government and foundation grants that a properly designated LAA can access. We are asking that the public and the county government bring the advantages of the arts to the foreground and endorse government’s role in providing key support.
Zev Buffman, President & CEO, Ruth Eckerd Hall
Beth Daniels, President Clearwater Arts Alliance, shareholder at Johnson Pope Law Firm
Estelle Loewenstein, Pinellas County resident and former chair of Broward Cultural Council
Suzanne Ruley, Vice President Clearwater Arts Alliance
Restoration of Arts Funding by the County
With the implementation of the Clearwater Cultural Plan, we will create a climate where arts and culture will thrive.
The planning process was undertaken to develop a comprehensive community cultural plan to identify community needs, define goals and recommend strategies that develop arts and culture to benefit Clearwater citizens and visitors.
Six Goals of the Clearwater Cultural Plan
- Stimulate local cultural development to benefit Clearwater’s citizens and visitors.
- Create a Public Art and Design Program to enhance the look of the City through works of art and design that create a sense of place and increase the quality of life for residents and visitors.
- Enhance and cultivate opportunities for the community to participate in the visual, literary, and performing arts.
- Establish Clearwater as an artist-friendly City where artists prosper.
- Promote opportunities for all community members to engage in lifelong learning in and through the visual, literary, and performing arts.
- Recognize and achieve the cultural industry’s potential to contribute significantly to the economic well being of Clearwater.
As an update, several of the goals have been accomplished and significant progress has been achieved in all areas.