Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Part 2 - A Casual Conversation with Wayne Atherholt St. Pete's New Director of Cultural Affairs

Recently I had the opportunity to set down with Wayne Atherholt, St. Pete's new Director of Cultural Affairs, to chat about the current status of St. Petersburg as a home for artists and as an arts destination.

We met in Wayne's office at City Hall.

This is the second  of a  6 Post series where Wayne lays out in some detail his vision for St. Petersburg as an Arts Destination and how all of it will come together to help local artists.

My questions are in bold.

"Recently you presented a plan to move into that next phase of arts development to City Council and it got a lot of interest both on City Council and out in the community. The primary concern with the Administration's plan is a shift from a subsidy based arts program to a sustainability one. Can you explain that a little bit?"

Wayne began, "You know I am not sure it is a tremendous shift. We have increased the grants for the nonprofit organizations. We were at $175,000 we are now at $213,000. I wouldn't necessarily call it a subsidy but it is a granting program to the nonprofits. So that has actually increased.

The additional monies that were allocated by City Council, could have probably gone into that program or could have gone into an artist's Resource Fund and I do have some money set aside for an artist's Resource Fund, but I think giving artists the ability to do what they do best and make money at it is the best thing we can do for them.

The subsidy, where you're just throwing money at any group, does not necessarily work.
If we are going to do an artist Resource Fund how is this going to help you as a business person?

We have all sorts of programs at the Greenhouse, which you are probably familiar with, that is a wonderful opportunity, the SPARC program is terrific and that is gearing back up again. SPARC is a program designed for artists and people in the creative industries to help them learn how to create a business plan and how do they market, how they get involved with social media. How can the use Instagram to help sell their wares that kind of thing.

It's a great program. That's what I think we can be doing best with the individual artists. Look at what Scott and George have done with Spathose in the city.  They’ve gone through the courses at the
Greenhouse, we have helped them and will continue to do what we can but here are artists who are doing a great job as a result of some of the small efforts the city has made available to them.

In promoting the industries such as the Glass industry, such as the Clay industry, promoting the Second Saturday Art Walk, where have over 40 galleries having openings and really looking at ways to get artists together with buyers.

Right now one of the things is if you are a tourist here there is not a whole lot of souvenir type stuff you can get. You can go into some places, but it is not as "location based" as those T shirts you see in New York, London, Paris Tokyo. We need St. Pete kind of stuff. There is not a lot of that out there.

I think trying to encourage artists to get together with the Buyers from the major attractions and hotels will allow the artists to either license their product or create product and it will also allow them to do their art. It's not what their in business to do but that revenue stream will allow them to fulfill their mission as an artist."

"Do you feel a program of artist's subsidy would build strong arts presence in St. Petersburg," I asked?

"I think in the short term it might. If we came up with a program that said "here is $10,000 for any artist that wants to relocate to St. Petersburg," I'll bet we would get some people relocating here.

And how are they going to survive? And therein lies the problem.

I think that there are some things we can do.

I think helping the artists that are here, coming up with an artist's Resource Fund, trying to figure out how does that work, and are we truly helping the artists help themselves with this effort and start small. Let's give it a try and if it's successful that's wonderful, if it doesn't work then we move on to the next thing.

But there are a lot of artists in the Warehouse Arts District.

It's not the most pedestrian friendly; it's not the most welcoming in terms of visuals. So can the City do things to help that district and those individual artists who are there with banners, streetscaping, lighting and that type of thing? Those are the things the City can do."

In the next Post Wayne expands on the artist subsidy concept and draws a definition between an artist community and an arts destination.

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