Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Year's Worth of Friday Mornings

Happy Holidays everyone. Given the press of business and the Holiday season, I have not been able to sit down and write up the last two weeks worth of meetings until now. However, I decided rather than just catch up on the last two weeks, I'd take a look back on the entire year as 2007 comes to a close.

The First Friday of 2007 was not atypical of the entire year. Here's how we got the year started:
Our main focus again was how to support artists in St. Petersburg. It was suggested that one way to do that would be to try and get the City and the County to market us as an art buyers destination. The tie ins with economic and tourist development became rapidly apparent. Michele Tuegel of the County Cultural Affairs Council suggested that for St. Petersburg, it would make sense to approach Mayor Rick Baker. Herb Snitzer indicated he would contact Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch.
We also talked about affordable and mixed use housing development for artists, historic preservation in St. Petersburg, and there was a rather lively discussion about education. And so the year started.

A couple of weeks later we had quite the discussion of the Big A and the Little a. Here's how some of that went:
The St. Pete Times was all abuzz about the Big A shuffle of the Palladium, American Stage and the Florida Orchestra engineered by all the usual Big A suspects. Not a word was written about the Little a artists who actually produce the art for the Big A. So what else is new?
The multi-faceted Peter Kagayama dropped the phrase "creative competitiveness"on us. That has a ring to it doesn't it? And our old friend Nancy Loehr dropped by with County Commissioner Ken Welch in tow.

February started off with a Friday Morning Mojo Moment:
This past Friday, February 2nd, may have been a watershed mojo moment for the Friday Morning Group. Not only were we honored to be joined by Pinellas County Commisioner Ken Welch, we were also able to extend a Friday Morning Welcome to St. Petersburg City Council Member Leslie Curran.

The admonition to arrive promptly at 8 AM was adhered to by a hardy group of talented folks and Ken started right off by asking how we wanted to proceed. Herb Snitzer laid out for Ken the nut of the issue for the Friday Morning Group artists - respect and recognition. Ken was also exposed to the idea of getting tourist development dollars to promote the City and the County as an art buying destination. That will help to support our Community Based artists, but also meets the Tourist Development Council and Convention and Visitors Bureau's missions of heads in beds.
This discussion shaped the course of a large chunk of our discussions for the next few months.
Ken must have asked at least three times, if not more, for the group to tell him what it is we wanted him to do for us. ... Leslie Curran took out her hammer and beat us over the head, gently. She admonished the group to make sure and follow through to deliver our wish list to Ken. ... Sandy Tabor volunteered to lead a mission statement and goal visioning session and or sessions. This is to be the first step in creating a strategic plan for the Friday Morning Group. (Scary, isn't it?) Bob (Devin Jones) stressed that the mission of the Friday Morning Group needed to be focused on Little a artists and how to support them. Group consensus seems to have formed generally around that premise.
That "mission statement and goal visioning session" led to the creation of a plan for the Pinellas Prize and from there OMG - we had a plan :
a "concept paper" that included the Pinellas Prize as a major component... Well, this past week, the Friday Morning Group subjected the "concept paper" to a more or less formal view. And the we did something really astounding - we took a vote! Those in attendance voted unanimously to support the "concept paper" and present it to Commissioner Welch. More than that, we agreed to go back to our various places in the world and try to get support for the provisions put forth in the "concept paper". Our hardy band of volunteers (our committee?) agreed to present the paper to Ken and to be available to him to respond to the questions he would surely have.

Now, I don't know about you, but all that sounds like we are getting awfully formal to me. It also sounds like progress.
As we moved into March, even the Friday Morning Group could not avoid the topic of homelessness in St. Pete. The Art of the Homeless included these snippets:
City Council Member Leslie Curran ... mentioned that Grace-Ann Alfiero of Creative Clay had previously approached the city with a proposal to extend their services to the mentally challenged homeless
Mike Conway reminded us of the Project Home show to be held in Williams Park on March 30th and 31st. This show, planned prior to the current homeless plight emerged in St. Pete, is about artists' concepts of what a "home" means or is.
March closed out with a couple of different views on how different communities view supporting artists. Attitudinal Change was how I described the reception our concept paper ( ) got from the Pinellas County bureaucracy:
... told us right off the bat that our problem was going to be with the $50,000 stipend to the prize winners. That much money going to an individual would be "problematic". ... Bob Devin Jones perhaps said it best when he said placing value on artists is at the core of what we are about. The $50,000 is about valuing artists in the way that our society values things - through financial means.

The real work though is to set out to create the attitudinal change necessary to bring that idea of valuing artists to the forefront. We have the ear of and a proposal before a County Commissioner.
Contrast that with Irish Eyes which started like this:

That about describes our Friday Morning Group meeting last week for me. For those of you who weren't there, well you can follow along below.

Peter Kagayama brought us a very special guest indeed last Friday. Roisin McDonough is the Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the equivalent of our National Endowment for the Arts. Boy did we get an earful about what respect for artists looks like there.
The contrast could not have been more stark.

Moving into April, a conversation began about our concept paper featuring the Pinellas Prize and the Creativity Center:
Last week at the Friday Morning Group a rather lively discussion took place. Judith Powers had written up her comments on our Concept Paper. These comments were distributed to all seven County Commissioners and to Liz Warren, Judith's direct supervisor and to Paul Cozzee, the Assistant County Administrator under which the Cultural Affairs Department now falls (Parks, Leisure and Culture).

Herb Snitzer gave us a brief review of Judith's comments. They were pretty much what was expected after Judith's visit to our Group on March 9th. If you wish to read Judith's comments, you can find them here. The attendees at the meeting pretty much agreed that despite Judith's comments, we would continue to pursue the concepts of the Pinellas Prize and the Creativity Center contained in the Concept Paper. Also, we agreed that what we would do is advocate for our concepts
The conversation continued the following week :
Herb Snitzer and I reported on our meeting with Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel. We had a very good meeting with Commissioner Seel (we tried very hard not to talk about money). ... We did succeed in getting Commissioner Seel to be supportive of the concept. However, the money part was definitely going to be a problem. We were urged again to look to the Tourist Development Council (TDC) as their revenue stream (bed tax on hotel and motel stays) is not going to be impacted by whatever property tax "reform" ultimately occurs.
April closed out with a group discussion about the group itself and a wide ranging discussion on arts and society:
Topics covered included African American Heritage and diversity and tolerance in media in the now post Imus age.

We discussed Bob Devin Jones' opening performance in Permanent Collection at the studio@620 (
Permanent Collection is a searing examination of racial politics that ultimately ask how much space – literally and figuratively – the white world gives to African-Americans. What is the cost of failing to view the world through another’s eyes?

Those who have seen it gave rave reviews and highly recommended that the rest of us go see the play.

Herb Snitzer gave us an update on his activity for the week - a table at the African American Heritage gathering at the Hilton. ...

There was also a discussion of the City's situation with the Public Arts program given the current tax "reform" climate.
Moving into May, we had discussions on Participatory Art , Arts and Attitude and Looking at the Long Term. Lively discussions all.

June began with Ideas Bouncing Around All Over the Place:
About a dozen of us were joined by St. Petersburg City Council Vice Chair Jamie Bennett. Jamie came all prepared to tell us about the situation the City of St. Petersburg finds itself in vis a vis the property tax reforms coming from Tallahassee .

... the City of St. Petersburg has already sent a letter to all the Arts and Social Services groups that the City helped to fund last year. That letter told these organizations that they better count on zero money from the City this coming year. The reason for that, of course, is the uncertainty all the local governments are facing about the severity of the budget cuts that may be enforced by the State Legislature.

... we started kicking around the usual ideas. You know, contacting our state legislators, contacting the Governor.

... it looked like we were really going nowhere fast. And then Peter Kageyama tossed three pennies onto the table. Peter asked us to take a moment and realize we were all creative people in the room and that maybe we should be thinking on the creative edge. The pennies were about an idea to find a dedicated funding source for government support of the arts. Now that's thinking on the creative edge.
As June moved along we discussed Art Happenings and Other Stuff, Smart TV and Looking for Writers (Tom Taggart from WEDU joined us), The Art of Livin' and we had A Whole lot of Art Going On.

In July we had great discussions about an Interesting Meeting & Big Weekend (Herb Snitzer's show at the Museum of Fine Arts among other things), the Sociology of Art and a continuing discussion on the (lack of) local media coverage of the arts.

In August we had a (W)EDUCational Discussion with Joyce Cotton, the Director of Marketing and Community Partnerships at WEDU. And we had a conversation about The Art of Guerrilla Tactics that was brightened by the all too rare appearance of Carol Dameron.

August was also when we began our discussions of the arts with City Council candidates beginning with Cathy Harrelson and Jamie Bennett.

In September, we did some Catching Up and we talked about Preserving the Garden Cafeteria and Some other History. Also in September, St. Petersburg City Council Member Jeff Danner joined us to talk about Advocating for the Arts and the allocation of the funds the City did manage to find for the arts and social services.

In advance of the November City Council elections, October was full of of discussions with City Council candidates, Ed Montonari, Bill Dudley and Herb Polson.

In November, in advance of the announcement of the Rays stadium proposal, we had a lively discussion about designating the Al Lang Stadium site as a park. Through the good offices of St. Pete City Council Member Leslie Curran, we were able to "kidnap" an old friend for a few minutes last week. Nancy Loehr, who more than anyone else was responsible for the formation of the Friday Morning Group. And I had a very pleasant surprise when my good friend Tom Orr came down from Tarpon Springs to join us at the Friday Morning Group. That was a pleasant enough surprise in itself. But Tom had brought his good friend Rose Sperling along as well. Rose is a very talented potter who is currently living in Fort Pierce. We are (I am) trying very hard to get Rose to move to St. Pete. Can't we all do something to encourage her?

In December so far, we have had a very interesting discussion that If I Told You I'd Have To... that featured City Council Member Elect Bill Dudley and special guest Lance Rogers. And city issues were prominent in a discussion that I labeled Meet the Mayoral Candidates?

That brings us up to the last two weeks. With the holiday season, we had some smaller groups but still some interesting discussions. We were also joined by former St. Petersburg City Council Member Jay Lasita.

All in all a year jam packed with very interesting Friday Mornings.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meet the Mayoral Candidates?

We had a very interesting discussion (how many different ways can you say that?) last week at the Friday Morning Group. As you might surmise from the title of this post, city issues were prominent in that discussion. But more on that later.

I want to make sure I pass along to all of you the information on the benefit for the IMAGO artists next Wednesday in Dunedin. Here is the flier(I hope):

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And yes, we did discuss art as well. We talked about the Salt Creek opening that was scheduled for last Friday night. And we also discussed Bob Devin Jones' play "C" which was to open last Friday at the Studio @ 620 as well.

Now back to the City happenings. Herb Snitzer related that he has heard nothing about his proposal to document the mural on the wall at the old Piano Exchange (or Garden Cafeteria) if you will. This was followed up by a rather lively discussion about developers and preservation.

And we also talked about the upcoming mayors' race - which is only two years away (November 2009, but who's counting?) This discussion came up because the St. Petersburg Times had run a story the day before about some polling they had done, and specifically related to some potential Mayoral candidates that they polled on.

As Council Member Elect Bill Dudley had joined us, the idea of bring in potential Mayoral candidates to get their view of the arts and perhaps to impart some of our views. Accordingly, we are going to start bringing in the potential candidates to meet with us. The idea is that, perhaps, by starting early we can shape the debate about the value of artists and the arts to our community.

So starting next month, we will try and get these mayoral hopefuls (maybe one per month) in for a chat. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

If I Told You, I'd Have to...

We had a really interesting meeting last Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group. City Council Member Elect Bill Dudley wowed us all by actually coming back to see us after the election. Bill gets major points for that!

Not only did Bill come back to visit with us, he brought a special guest with him. Now I don't really know how we got so far along in life here at the Friday Morning Group that we would consider Lance Rogers to be a special guest. Nonetheless, we were all glad to see Lance. And we were really glad and intrigued to see what Lance had brought for us to peruse. I'd like to tell you about it, but if I told you...

Details about this most interesting project will be published when the time is ripe. And apparently now is not quite the time. But soon, I hope.

And no, we are not cooking up a stadium deal in the back room at Atlanta Bread. But that is another story.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name

I had a very pleasant surprise last Friday morning. My good friend Tom Orr came down from Tarpon Springs to join us at the Friday Morning Group. That was a pleasant enough surprise in itself. But Tom had brought his good friend Rose Sperling along as well. Rose is a very talented sculptor who is currently living in Fort Pierce. We are (I am) trying very hard to get Rose to move to St. Pete. Can't we all do something to encourage her?

We had a wide ranging discussion this past Friday. We talked about the Roser Park Art Festival that was held the weekend before. We also talked about the new Saturday Art Market to be held in Williams Park starting on December 1st. For more information about that, contact Leslie Curran at Interior Motives, 1110 Central.

The Studio@620 was also a topic of discussion. Seems they are having a juried show in February and the deadline for submissions is January 8th. We also talked about the current show The Water is Wide - the Art of Boat Building which opened last week. I am really looking forward to getting over there to see that.

We also talked about Al Lang Field again. The Rays announcement of their plans to build a new major league stadium on the site certainly puts the decision not to zone the site as parkland into a new light. There are still many questions to be answered, but the site has been the traditional home of a ball park, so I am certainly open to the idea.

Talk of ballparks led us to an unusual historical discussion of artists ties to this area. We talked about the Rolling Stones performance in Jack Russel Stadium in Clearwater which led to the composition of Satisfaction at the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel. Clearwater led to talk of Jim Morrison's ties to this area as well as Jack Kerouac's. And to top it all off, I had heard on NPR on the way in that last Friday was the anniversary of Janis Joplin's arrest at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa for using profanity on stage.

That woulda never happened in St. Pete.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Wait, hasn't somebody already used that as a title? Oh well. It is apropos here because through the good offices of St. Pete City Council Member Leslie Curran, we were able to "kidnap" an old friend for a few minutes last week. Nancy Loehr, who more than anyone else was responsible for the formation of the Friday Morning Group, was able to join us this past Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group.

Nancy has some marvelous title at Progress Energy, but mainly she deals with community affairs. Since her office has moved to Clearwater, it has been a bit more difficult for her to join us. But we are awfully glad she did last Friday.

Leslie wanted to remind us all of the Saturday Art Market that is starting in Williams Park on Saturday, December 1st. This market will feature artworks from dozens of artists from St. Petersburg and the surrounding area, and is intended to be a compliment to the Saturday Morning Market on Central Avenue. If you are interested in participating, contact Leslie Curran at the Interior Motives Gallery at 1110 Central Avenue or call her at 727 898 6061.

Leslie also told us a little about the Avanca Ska event scheduled for Williams Park on December 7th. This intriguing event will feature a portion of the Florida Orchestra, ballet and live art. Sounds interesting.

While we had Leslie, we asked her about the status of the update to the City's Cultural Plan. Apparently the next step is discussion by the City's Arts Advisory Committee. Stay tuned.

We did talk a little about the now Tampa Bay Rays new logo and uniform launch event last Thursday night in Straub Park. There was general agreement that Kevin Costner ought not give up his day job for the band. Otherwise a very good event.

Of course that conversation was held before we learned of the Rays plans to leave TropicanaField and move to a new stadium on the site of Al Lang Field. As usually happens at the Friday Morning Group, talk of sports franchises brings up the vastly superior economic impact of the arts over sports franchises. Leslie indicated that the arts economic impact study has recently been updated.

We also heard that early next year (which is not all that far away) The Studio@620 is going to be doing a project that pairs Senior artists with Junior Artists. Sounds similar to components of our Pinellas Prize and Creativity Center concepts?

And Shirley got an agent!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To Park or Not to Park

My apologies to the Bard, but let me make this perfectly clear:


This past Friday at the Friday Morning Group, we had yet another lively discussion. This one centered on the City as the Art.

There was not a politician in sight last Friday, but somehow the conversation got turned onto an upcoming issue the City Council will be facing. When the City passed its long in development new set of Land Development Regulations (LDRs), one major item remained unsettled: What to do with Al Lang Stadium.

The new LDRs created, amongst other things, a brand new zoning district called Downtown Center - Parks (DC-P). The areas currently zoned as DC-P can be seen on this map in green. Areas zoned DC-P include Williams Park, North Straub Park, South Straub Park, Pioneer Park, Demens Landing, Spa Beach and the new Albert Whited Park. Notably absent from this list is Al Lang Stadium, and oh by the way, the property the Mahaffey Theatre now occupies as well as the property to which the Dali is planned to relocate.

Those areas, shown as blue on the map, are in the DC-3 zoning district. DC-3 is basically the downtown waterfront district. One thing that is evident from the map is the myth of the unbroken string of downtown waterfront parks, at least as far as zoning goes. The park chain is broken by the Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and, of course, the Al Lang / Bayfront Center (now the Mahaffey Theatre and Dali) plot.

What is sparking concern about the zoning classification of Al Lang is the fact that the Devil Rays will no longer hold Spring Training at Al Lang after this upcoming season. Without a Spring Training tenant, speculation about what will happen to Al Lang is running rampant. St. Petersburg has hosted Spring Training baseball games on its downtown waterfront since 1914. I am in the camp of those who wish to see that rich part of our history continue into the future. The problem seems to be that the City administration does not appear to be making attracting a new Spring Training tenant to Al Lang a priority.

And therein lies the problem. Because the Al Lang site was not given a park zoning designation, there is a tremendous amount of concern in the community about just what the City administration may be cooking up for Al Lang. To prevent another surprise announcement on the City Hall steps, a very active movement is afoot to give the Al Lang site the added protection of parkland zoning. And just to be clear about that:
Many ideas have been bandied about regarding what would be the best use for Al Lang presuming baseball goes away from that site. A home for the Saturday Morning Market is oft mentioned. Also widely discussed is a plan for a walking trail that would connect Beach Drive directly to the Progress Energy Plaza with the Mahaffey, the Dali and the new airport park. One thing to remember about the Al Lang site: the Dali came to St. Pete lo those many years ago in part because a suitable site was available for it.

There is no doubt that the downtown waterfront park system is the jewel in this city's crown. It is a major part of what makes the city the beautiful canvas that we all paint on. And it looks like we will have the opportunity to repaint a portion of that canvas. We should consider very carefully what happens next. But just to be clear:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Twas the Night Before Election

Yes, Virginia, tomorrow is Election Day in St. Petersburg. For the candidates and their families, the long ordeal of running for office will be over. There will be candidates who will be winners and candidates who will be losers.

But at the end of the day, will the City of St. Petersburg be a winner or a loser? The answer is, at this late date, not entirely clear. What is clear is that there has been a remarkable alignment of disparate candidates into what are effectively two distinct slates in this "non partisan" election.

On one slate you have Herb Polson, Ed Montanari and Gershom Faulkner. (For good measure, throw Jamie Bennett onto this slate as well.) These candidates could be considered the establishment or "insider" candidates. On the other slate are Bob Kersteen, Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton. These candidates could well be called the "outsiders" or the insurgents.

On the establishment side Herb Polson is an appointed incumbent who is now seeking election in his own right. Ed Montanari is the campaign manager for Bill Foster's last re election campaign. Gershom Faulkner is an integral part of the Democratic Party establishment in St. Petersburg. He currently works as Outreach Director for Congresswoman Kathy Castor. Prior to that, he spent 6 years as Legislative assistant to State Rep. Frank Peterman, and is seen to be a protege of County Commissioner Ken Welch.

Jamie Bennet is a 6 year incumbent, having been originally elected to fill the term of Larry Williams who resigned to run for Mayor in 2001. He drew no opposition to re election to a full term in 2003 and did not even appear on the ballot. This time, his opponent dropped out of the race after the Primary. This triggered a bizarre provision in the St. Petersburg City Charter that has Bennett now running against "New Election". That means if New Election were to garner the most votes tomorrow, the City will be forced to go back to square one in the election process for this seat.

On the insurgent side you have Bob Kersteen, who served on the City Council previously, but left to run for another office. (He lost.) Bill Dudley, a retired wrestling coach who was soundly drubbed for this seat by Bill Foster 4 years ago. And Wengay Newton is a neighborhood association president who's brother happens to be the head of the local firefighters union. Anyone want to take three guesses who the firefighters endorsed?

So here are the match ups. In District 1 it is Herb Poslon and Bob Kersteen. Polson was a long term employee of the City who for over twenty years was the City's lobbyist. He probably knows more about this City government than any other living human being. Kersteen was a member of what was described as the most dysfunctional City Council anyone could remember. Kersteen campaigns like an angry old man. Apparently this City has done nothing right in the time he has been off the Council and he is going to fix it all. Trouble is, everything he says he wants to do is solely within the purview of the Mayor. Bob, you are running for the wrong office.

District 3 gives us Ed Montanari and Bill Dudley. Montanri was Foster's campaign manager when they beat Dudley to a pulp last time. He was also Chairman of the Albert Whitted Blue Ribbon Task Force and by all accounts brought the disparate interests on that Task Force to consensus and the plan they brought forward is now being implemented.

To his credit, Bill Dudley is a much better candidate this time around. He ought to be. He has been running for this seat for well over 4 years now. However, he is still running with the same chip on his shoulder attitude. Like Kersteen, he apparently thinks nothing good has happened here lately, and that he is the only one who can get the City back on track. Bill, see note to Bob above.

District 7 provides probably the most competitive race. It didn't always look like it was going to be that way. Gershom Faulkner was clearly the candidate favored by the political establishment (of both parties). He had wrapped up the endorsement of just about every elected official on the planet. OK, it only seemed that way. Faulkner raised a prodigious amount of money early on. He also spent a prodigious amount of money early on. And then along came the Stonewall Democrats.

Actually, the night before the Stonewall Democrats meeting in August, came the CONA candidate forum. CONA (the Council of Neighborhood Organizations) took questions from the audience and presented them to the candidates through a moderator. All the candidates were asked if they would attend the St. Pete Pride Festival (one of the largest in the Southeast US). Gershom Faulkner said that he would probably not go, but he went on to say that he would ensure that no one in this city was discriminated against. His opponent, Wengay Newton, who claims not to be a politician, saw an opening and jumped all over it. Wengay said that he probably would go. However, he was no where in evidence a few weeks before when the Pride Festival was actually held.

The following night's events qualify Faulkner as a finalist in the stupidest political move of the year award. The Stonewall Dems, as do many organizations, sent the candidates a questionnaire and invited them to their meeting. Not surprisingly, the Stonewall Dem qustioned the candidates on their stand on a number of hot button gay issues, none of which were ever likely to be raised at the City Council level. Faulkner, like many socially conservative African Americans, apparently was not a supporter of the gay issues. So here is where Faulkner went all stupid on us. He filled out the questionaire with all the "wrong" answers and then went to their meeting.

A more seasoned candidate, or one who was listening to better political advice, would have not answered the questionnaire, but would have responded with a letter employing many non discriminatory platitudes, and regretting that a schedule conflict precluded him from being able to attend the meeting. But Faulkner, a hard headed Marine if there ever was one, charged straight into the lions den. And he got his ass kicked. Not only that, he enraged the Stonewall Dems President, who put out an email calling Faulkner a "homophobe". Note to Stonewall Dem President: my dictionary says a hompophobe has an unreasoning fear of homosexuals. I would say Faulkner was probably too stupid to be scared of you, because he came to your f-ing meeting, moron. He just doesn't believe in your issues. As does about half the country. That doesn't make him a demon. What it makes him is not the guy who is going to champion your issues. But then you have plenty of those already.

So Faulkner, who had been cruising along as a shoo in for election, had now angered a vocal but politically weak constituency. Two State Representatives pulled their endorsements of Faulkner. But Faulkner appeared unruffled. He reached out behind the scenes to leaders in the St. Pete gay community for private conversations. But he underwent no conversion.

However, his opponent was in no position to worry him. What little money he was raising, Wengay Newton, who looks like he hasn't missed many meals, was spending on meals at Burger King and MacDonalds. About this time, though, the insurgent candidates seemed to sense their affinity for one another. Newton seemed to benefit from that and his long, rambling discourses became somewhat more focused long rambling discourses. The self proclaimed non politician began feeling his feet come under him on the campaign trail, exactly as a good politician eventually does. He used humor to good effect, both pointed at himself and his opponent. However, he, like the other insurgents believed that everything the city had done should be blown up so they could remake the City in their own image, whatever that is.

Newton began distorting information he found in the newspaper as facilely as the best politicians seem to do. Again, pretty good for a non politician. Newton's favorite distortion involved a cost comparison for lawn mowing in parks. Seems the County pays a lot less than the City to mow lawns in parks. And that seemed strange because the County has much more acreage of parks than the city does. However, what was not mentioned by Newton is that much of the County's park land is kept in a natural state which does not require mowing. Conversely, most of the City's park land is in active parks that do require mowing. Newton either knew that and chose not to disclose that salient fact or he didn't know. If he knew, he was playing politics with the truth. If he didn't know, he should have done his homework, something he would need to do on the Council.

The final fiasco in this district race came in the form of a newspaper endorsement. Seems Gershom Faulkner had some minor run ins with the law. Well not entirely minor, he did get arrested a few times. A few is more than one, but less than many. There is some dispute about the number of "arrests". In any event, two of the possibly three arrests were for traffic infractions, so maybe they are minor after all. This information came to the public when the St. Petersburg Times endorsed Fulkner. Perhaps in an effort to make up for their past non disclosures, the Times felt compelled to disclose information supplied to them by Faulkner about his past. None of these incidents is recent and Faulkner has since married, and become a Deacon in his church. None of that stopped Newton from beginning to refer to himself as the candidate who hadn't been arrested. Again, that's just exactly the way a politician handles a situation like that. He doesn't talk about the other guy's arrests. He just says nothing like that ever happened to him. Just what a politician would do.

In my humble opinion, things have been going fairly well in St. Petersburg up until lately. While I personally disagree with Mayor Baker on any number of issues, and I don't much appreciate the "Stealth Mayor" approach, this City has been moving forward. Much, much more has been done right than has been done wrong. And now with the shameful shenanigans of the Republican politicians in Tallahassee, this City is going to be facing some difficult challenges in the next few years.

It is therefore more important than usual that well qualified people with the proper temperament sit on the City council. The insurgents do not fit that bill. They do not show the temperament that will be needed to deal successfully with the challenges this City is sure to face.

We will be winners in this City if we re elect Jamie Bennett and Herb Polson. And we will be winners if we elect Ed Monatanari and Gershom Faulkner. If we don't, someday soon we'll be wishing we had.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Experience Matters

Last week, the Friday Morning Group had Herb Polson on the hot seat. Herb is running for re election to the St. Petersburg City Council in District 1.

We actually started off with a discussion of the meaning of the term re election. That's because Herb was originally appointed to the Council last year to fill the vacancy created by Rick Kriseman's resignation upon his successful run for the State Legislature. Herb is now running for the seat in his own right. He also did his homework. Understanding the power of incumbency, Herb asked for and received a ruling from the state Division of Elections telling him that, as the incumbent, he was entitled to use the term "re elect" in his campaign material.

Well, Herb's opponent did not like that fact and complained to the St. Petersburg Times. The Times, which has had precious little coverage on any of these City Council races, decided that this complaint was newsworthy. However, as Herb was able to show us, the complaint was absolutely unfounded. So maybe the lesson is if you want to get into the newspaper, lodge a completely unfounded complaint.

OK, enough about that. Herb Polson has spent nearly his entire adult life in the service of the City of St. Petersburg and our country. Herb stared his career with the City as a civilian in the police force, and wound up for many years being the city's liaison to other governments - the city's lobbyist, if you will. Herb also is (was?) an officer in the Navy Reserve for many, many years.

When Rick Kriseman ran for the legislature, Herb retired from the City so that he could seek appointment to the vacated council seat. Herb was appointed last year and has been putting his knowledge of city operations to work as a council member since that time.

And what a year it has been! Of course the big issue for the City this year has been in dealing with the effects of the property tax "reform" effort in Tallahassee. This has caused the City to cut back their spending and initially led the Mayor to propose zero funding this year for arts and social services organizations.

In one of his roles as a City employee, Herb was actually responsible for arts and social services funding. He was also responsible for putting together the City's Cultural Plan that was the initiative of then and now Council Member (and Friday Morning Group member) Leslie Curran.

We had a discussion about the amount of tax relief we each actually received from the first round of property tax "reforms" in Tallahassee. Herb posed the question to us if for the amount of property tax relief we each received, did we think it was worth it in terms of the cuts the City was forced to make. Universally, we did not think it was worth it. However, Herb warned us that the next round of cuts that may come would even be much more painful for the City.

However, Herb also told us that there is a tremendous amount of money inside and outside the City available to fund some of the things we have indicated we wanted, if we just were creative in how we went about looking for it. To his credit, Herb has already found "outside the box" solutions to keep the libraries open on Saturday and with the help of the Devil Rays, to keep an exchange student program with our Japanese sister city alive. That's what experience can do for you.

We also talked about how the arts have had a tremendous impact on the City of St. Petersburg. That, in fact, the arts are a much more valuable economic engine than any of the professional sports franchises in the area. We also talked about how this all seemed to come about when St. Petersburg quit trying to be Tampa and just decided to concentrate on being St. Pete.

Herb also told us how he was a firm believer in asking people what they want and then delivering it to them. This would be as opposed to telling people what they should want and delivering that to them instead. Herb told us that the City used to regularly poll its residents to see just what it was the residents did want. In the early 90's, Herb was responsible for a questionnaire that went out to all 93,000 households in the City asking the residents what their needs and desires for the City were. Out of this came the city's extremely successful neighborhoods program and many other programs that make the City the success story that it is today. Herb believes that it is well past time to go back to the residents again asking them what they want the City to be.

Seems to me like experience does matter.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All in the Family?

Last week at the Friday Morning Group we continued our meetings with St. Petersburg City Council candidates. In the hot seat last week was Bill Dudley, candidate for City Council District 3. So far, no blood has been spilled.

This session started off a little differently. Rather than focusing directly on a candidate's feelings about art funding and appreciation of the arts, Bill Dudley was asked why he was running. This is a question that is more typically asked than the kinds of questions we usually ask candidates.

Bill handled this question with aplomb, as he has doubtless been asked it many times before. He related that he felt a calling to serve, and that he has been a public servant his entire adult life, having been a teacher at North East High until his recent retirement. He also described himself as an independent thinker, not endorsed by the Mayor.

Dudley went on to say that the first issue on his agenda was financial. He said people are suffering from taxes being too high and said that he wanted to streamline the way the City does business. He quickly sensed that that message was not being well received by a group that had just seen arts funding in this City cut to the bone due to tax cuts.

He told us that his daughter is a member of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and also a music teacher; that he had fought for arts funding as chair of the art department at North East High. Dudley stressed that he thought the arts funding shortfalls could be met by reducing the number of high paid city management employees. Among those specifically mentioned for dismissal was the Deputy Mayor for Midtown Development and the Mayor's education initiative liaison.

Bill also suggested that we aren't being creative enough in seeking public / private partnerships for arts funding. He gave one example of a former student of his who now has a very successful business here in town. This person has never been asked to help fund the arts in the community.

We also briefly discussed the future of Al Lang Stadium (after the Devi Rays stop holding their Spring Training games there next year) and other issues relating to development. The new Land Development Regulations (LDRs) the city has just implemented created a new zoning district called Downtown - park. The Al Lang stadium site was not given this zoning designation. Many people are concerned that this would leave the site open fro redevelopment after the Devi Rays cease Spring Training there. Consensus was that the land needed to be protected as a park. Bill Dudley suggested that development be encouraged to spread west out the Central Avenue corridor.

One other area briefly touched on was the tax structure in the state and the country. Bill Dudley indicated he was an advocate of the so called "Fair or flat tax" idea which as I understand it is some variation of a national sales tax.

As I said at the beginning, no blood was shed and Mr. Dudley made it safely through his encounter with the Friday Morning Group. I hope the next politician is similarly fortunate. I know that we will all look forward to seeing you at the next meeting of the Friday Morning Group.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Economic Benefits or Quality of Life?

That was one of the questions that came up last Friday at the Friday Morning Group. We had Ed Montanari, candidate for St. Pete City Council District 3 in the hot seat.

To his credit, Ed came in reasonably well prepared. He was quite familiar with the economic benefits the arts have provided to this state, and particularly to our community. While that is something most of us are very well aware of, not that many political candidates get that fact. Unless, of course, we had beaten it into them.

Of course we talked about the art funding situation given the city's current budget constraints. Ed acknowledged that budget issues were the big issue for the City Council right now. Ed described a strategic view of the issue. He pledged to work to increase the City's tax base as a way to provide more revenue for arts funding for the City. He is looking forward to projects like the Chihuli museum creating more jobs. Also he wants to work with the City's Economic Development department to get some of the City's underutilized assets up to their full potential.

In that regard, one of our old friendly discussion areas came up - the Manhattan Casino. We kicked around ideas for the Manhattan Casino over four years ago at the Friday Morning Group. And still the building sits empty.

All that talk of economic development finally was a bit much for one of our members. She reminded us all that she is involved in and enjoys the arts for the quality of life that they bring to her and to all of us. The arts always make us richer. And it isn't always about the money.

We had a special drop in guest last Friday morning as well. St. Petersburg City Council Member Herb Polson dropped in at the beginning of the meeting. He wanted to let us know that the City is going to be updating its Cultural Plan. A presentation on the update is to be made to the Council's Policy and Planning Committee this Thursday, October 11, at 9:30 AM. The meeting will be at City Hall in the Community Resource Room. Herb urged anyone interested in the City's Cultural Plan to show up for this meeting. After all, it is the Cultural Plan. Seems like artists should have some input.

We extend our thanks to Herb Polson and also for Ed Montanari for sharing their Friday Morning with us. We hope you will do the same next Friday Morning.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Advocating for the Arts

St. Petersburg City Council Member Jeff Danner joined us last Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group. Jeff came in begging off speaking after using up his voice at the City Council workshop the day before. But some how he hung in there and filled us in on what is happening with the allocation of city funds to the arts, and some future plans as well.

Jeff Danner is the City Council member assigned to the the City's Arts Advisory Committee. In that post, Jeff worked with that Committee to present a coherent plan to the City Council for the allocation of the funds the City did manage to find for the arts and social services. Essentially the plan was to use last year's split of funding to arts organizations and social service agencies to split this year's available funds between the two. That ratio last year was approximately 60% to social service agencies and 40% to arts organizations. That concept to split this year's available funds was adopted by City Council at their workshop last Wednesday.

The next step was to get the Council to agree to let the Arts Advisory Committee plan to allocate that 40% share of funds amongst arts organizations. Jeff was successful in getting Council to agree to that proposal as well. This process will be occurring sometime later this month. The amount to be split amongst the organizations is $175 thousand. Considering that earlier this year the amount was going to be zero, that is something, anyway.

So that's the story of arts funding for this year. However, it pretty much leaves arts organizations in a pickle going forward given the budget pressures cities and counties are currently under. To alleviate that strain, Jeff told us about a couple of possibilities that are being looked at to provide a dedicated funding source for the arts.

The first of these involves some way of charging groups that use city parks for events such as concerts, for example, to pay the City for the use of the park. Currently these organizations pay for the cost of city services provided to their event, but they do not pay for the actual use of the park itself. The idea is that that money would then be used to fund arts and cultural organizations. This proposal is currently being examined by city staff.

The second idea is to establish a trust fund for arts funding. One of the ideas being considered is pretty interesting. The city has a pot of money that it received for the sale of City owned property in Weeki Wachie. The sale of this property had to be approved by voter referendum. As part of that referendum, the money from the sale was set aside in a separate fund. The income of the fund is to be used for recreational and cultural uses. The current idea being floated is that income from the Weeki Wachie fund could be used to establish a trust fund for arts funding. Stay tuned.

Jeff was asked what he thought would be the best thing that arts supporters could do to impress upon City leaders the value of supporting the arts. Jeff suggested a couple of things. One would be to make sure that the Mayor and Council members are invited to arts openings and other events so they will be reminded of the vibrancy and the importance of the arts to our community. The other idea is to come to City Council meetings and speak at Open Forum to extend those invitations and to talk to Council Members about arts events in the City. the advantage of that approach is that anyone watching the Council meeting on TV will hear about these events. Maybe they will attend themselves. Or maybe they would become more aware of the value of arts to our community. A couple of good ideas, in my opinion.

I want to extend my personal thanks to Jeff for coming to the Friday Morning Group last week; and despite having nearly lost his voice fighting for the arts the day before, speaking at length with us about the state of the arts in St. Petersburg.

And I want to extend to each of you my wish to see you this Friday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Preserving the Garden Cafeteria and Some Other History

Another lively discussion and a call to action was had last Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group (FMG). It all started out innocently enough. Patrice Pucci reported on attending the WEDU Be More Awards seminar the previous week. We had previously discussed the WEDU Be More Awards for non profit groups and the seminar was held to educate the non profit groups on how to apply for the awards.

Tom Taggart reminded us that WEDU would be 50 years on the air in October 2008. In connection with that, Patrice Pucci had used the Friday Morning Group Mail List with an interesting request. It turns out that WEDU originally was housed at what is now known as the Gibbs Campus of St. Petersburg College. Patrice had put a request out on the mail list for any information or documentation of that fact that anyone may know of. She was looking for this information for the St. Petersburg History Museum. Of course her request sparked several replies which were all shared with the FMG via the list.

Shirley Linde also got in on the act by using the list to ask the FMG if anyone knew of an alternative publisher she might approach for publishing her book. This also sparked several replies shared with the FMG via the mail list.

Tony Collins then remarked on the online social phenomena of mail lists and the interests sparked by seemingly simple requests. Tony remarked about these two requests being invitations to our community to respond via a new, social interactive media. in this case, the mail list.

The conversation then turned to a photographic assignment that was being offered to Herb Snitzer. The Garden Cafeteria / Piano Exchange building is slated for demolition and redevelopment. This building located in the 200 block of 2nd Street North is currently the studio of a metal working artist. It had also formerly been the home of a piano sales business. But the building had started out in life as the Garden Cafeteria.

The Garden Cafeteria was one of many cafeterias in St. Petersburg in the days of the green benches. The only remaining example of this type of business still in use is the Tramor building, which is used as the St. Petersburg Times cafeteria. In the heyday of the green bench era, cafeterias were one of the major parts of the tourism trade in St. Petersburg. Many, many such enterprises were located in and around the down town area catering to our winter visitors.

To differentiate themselves, many of these cafeterias used interior decorating to lure customers. If you have not seen the interior of the Tramor on 4th Street South, you should definitely check it out. (Little know fact - it is open to the public). The Garden, as its name implies, used a garden decorating motif. This included interior streams and bridges and potted plants all over the place. To top off this motif, the Garden employed muralist Scott Hill to paint murals on the walls and other murals to be mounted on the walls. Scott Hill was a well known Depression Era muralist. One of his murals has been preserved and is on display at Tampa International Airport. Hill in this case apparently picked up some commercial work. The crowning piece is a full wall mural painted directly onto the back wall of the Garden Cafeteria.

As the years have gone by, the Garden Cafeteria / Piano Exchange Building has deteriorated. Along with it, many of Hill's murals have deteriorated as well. The building has been acquired by a developer, who plans to demolish the building and redevelop the block. it's location across the street from Bay Walk makes it a prime candidate for such redevelopment.

When the developer filed his site plan for redevelopment of the property with the City, St. Pete Preservation became interested in saving the murals. They entered into talks with the City and the developer about saving the Scott Hill murals. The developer was not adverse to this, but everyone knew the full wall mural was going to be a problem. The developer hired an appraiser, another Florida muralist who was very familiar with Hill's work.The appraiser noted the deterioration of many of the pieces that had been painted on the mounted wall boards, but which could be removed and preserved relatively easily. He also noted that some of the work was probably not Hill's at all, but some other unknown artist's. However, much of the work was undoubtedly Hill's.

The full back wall mural turns out to in fact have been painted directly onto the wall. In approving the site plan, the developer and the city agreed that any murals that could be, would be removed and preserved. Prior to any demolition of the building, the remaining murals were to be photographically documented. This is the commission that was offered to Herb.

This is a rather long winded description of the situation to this point. But at the last meeting of the Friday Morning Group, a really interesting thing happened. It was suggested that while photo documenting the building was a good idea, a better idea would be to actually preserve the entire wall mural. This is a huge mural, encompassing the entire back wall of the building. The consensus of the group was that the effort should be made and that a way would be found to accomplish this.

So, anybody got a home for a wall with a beautiful mural on it?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Catching Up

I have a little catching up to do. I was a little busy last week, what with the election and all. What, you didn't know about the election on September 11th? That's OK, most of St. Pete didn't seem to know about it either.

There were primary elections for St. Petersburg City Council on Tuesday, September 11th. However, only about 11% of the registered voters in the two districts with elections bothered to show up to vote. In Council District 5, incumbent Council Member Jamie Bennett received 67% of the vote. He will face Chris Kelly in the general election in November. Kelly received 19% of the vote in the District 5 primary.

In the District 3 Primary, Cathy Harrelson failed to advance. Harrelson received 23% of the vote in the four person primary. The top two vote getters were Ed Montanari (42%) and Bill Dudley (30%). These two advanced to the general election, to be voted on city wide, in November.

So much for the election results. At the Friday Morning Group meeting on September 7th, we were joined by Barry Rothstein of the Maddux Report. In his spare time, Barry is also President of the Downtown Business Association. Barry filled us in on the Downtown Business Association's plans for a holiday window display program, themed to "Holiday Music". Downtown businesses will be teaming up with interior designers for some eye catching window displays (a la New York city) in the hopes of turning the downtown into a window viewing (and shopping ) destination this holiday season. The kickoff will be the day after Thanksgiving and the displays will run through New Years.

And for those of you who don't know, Barry is also a painter. In fact, Barry has a show opening at the Finn Gallery (176 4th Ave NE) on October 19th. You'll want to check out the bottom of this little ditty for a real treat.

On September 14th, we were joined at the Friday Morning Group by the inimitable Tony Collins. Tony, one of the founding members of the Friday Morning Group, is going on the Board of Directors of the Tampa Museum of Art in October.

We also got all the low down on the Friends of Photography dinner for Herb Snitzer at Redwoods. This sold out event was half tribute and half roast. Herb also sold eight photographs at the dinner. And the Museum of Fine Arts extended his show for one week. To top it off, Herb is now a member of the faculty of Eckerd College.

In other news that made the rounds last Friday Morning:
  • Mike Conway received an Honorable Mention at the Arts Center Member Show. Congratulations, Mike!

  • Rave reviews were given about the rave review received by Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson now playing at American Stage. Here is a snippet from the St. Petersburg Times:
"It is a brilliant production that goes to the heart of why Wilson was an American playwright to rank with Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. ... Sharon E. Scott heads the outstanding cast of Gem of the Ocean, expertly directed by Bob Devin Jones. ... Gem of the Ocean is so rich with humanity, and this production is so fine, that it virtually demands American Stage return to the other plays of Wilson's cycle in seasons to come. "
  • Bravo, Bob!
  • Salt Creek Art Works will be hosting the Art of Healing on September 28th. This show is a benefit for the Bayfront Medical Center Foundation.

Finally, the City of St. Pete has found an additional $200 thousand for arts and social services funding in the upcoming budget year. Yet to be determined is how it will be divvied up. The level of arts and social services funding is still only about 25% of what it was a year ago.

And for a little treat, here is the invitation to Barry Rothsteins's show at the Finn Gallery.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

St. Peterburg Votes Today: Primary Edition

Today is Primary Election day for City Council races in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, I had one candidate ask me last night if I thought voter turn out would exceed 15%. On September 11th, what could be a more patriotic thing to do than to go out and exercise your right, and duty, to vote?

There are 2 races on the ballot today. Primaries are being held for Districts 3 and 5. Districts 1 and 7, with only 2 qualified candidates each, skip the primary and will be on the ballot for the city wide General Election in November. Today, only voters in Districts 3 and 5 can vote to winnow down the number of candidates for the Council seat in their districts to 2 each. The top two vote getters within these districts today will go on to the city wide voting in the November General Election.

The District 5 race features one of only two incumbents on the ballot this cycle. Acting Council Chair Jamie Bennett is seeking re-election to a post he first won in 2001 in a special election to fill the seat of Larry Williams who had resigned to run for Mayor. Bennett drew no opposition in his bid for a full term in 2003. The widely held belief that Bennett will run for Mayor in two years has drawn at least one candidate to challenge him this time.

Chris Kelly, a community activist, appears to be running with 2009 in mind. Kelly is a former President of the Roser Park Neighborhood Association. He did move to Pinellas Point a few years ago, but has not been civicly active within the district. His campaign seems to be aimed at establishing himself as a viable candidate in 2009 should Bennett vacate the seat to make his Mayoral bid. Bennett's other challenger is little know school teacher Debra Woodard. Ms. Woodard has run a perfunctory campaign at best.

The much more competitive race is for the District 3 council seat. This district, encompassing Snell Isle, Shore Acres and other neighborhoods in northeastern St. Pete will see Council Member Bill Foster leave the seat due to term limits. We will probably see Foster again in a Mayoral bid in 2009.

Meanwhile, 4 candidates are vying to replace Foster. Ed Montanari is Foster's anointed heir apparent. Montanari, an America Airlines pilot, was Foster's campaign manager in 2003. Montanari was groomed for this run by being appointed Chair of the Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Board. Prior to that, Montanari, who has been heard to say that "the Mayor's the boss", had no civic involvement. Montanari's connections have enabled him to lead the pack in fund raising. However, as befits a good airline pilot, no one will mistake Montanari for Mr. Excitement.

Returning from his unsuccessful 2003 bid to unseat Foster is now retired Northeast High teacher Bill Dudley. Dudley got through a 3 way primary in 2003, but was drubbed by Foster in the citywide general election. To improve his chances this time, Dudley is President of the Snell Isle Neighborhood Association. Much like John Edwards, Dudley has been running for this seat since his defeat 4 years ago. The experience shows. Dudley is a much better candidate this time around, and has managed to raise substantial dollars as well.

The significant new face in this race belongs to Cathy Harrelson. Harrelson is a financial professional whose long civic involvement has been focused on environmental concerns. Harrelson is immediate past President of the 3,000 member strong Suncoast Sierra Club. She has also been recently appointed to the County board advising on the Booker Creek preserve. There she was elected Policy Chair by her peers. Harrelson brings the rare combination of business acumen and enviromentalist to the race. She also has the most realistic chance of maintaining the two woman minority on the Council. With Renee Flowers leaving the District 7 seat due to term limits, Leslie Curran is the only other woman on Council. Also, in this allegedly nonpartisan race, Harrelson is the only Democrat.

Mortgage Broker Cliff Gephart rounds out the field in District 3. Gephart has not run a substantial campaign, but speaks well in forums. Hopefully Mr. Gephart will stay involved in civic affairs and try again sometime in the future.

The District 3 race is really too close to call at this time. Dudley, Montanari and Harrelson are closely bunched and each has run a vigorous campaign. Which two advance to the General Election in November could literally come down to a hand full of votes. So if you are reading this in District 3 today, be sure to get out and vote. Your vote will definitely matter in this race

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bennett Gets His Ear Bent and Bends Right Back

St. Petersburg City Council Member Jamie Bennett got his ear bent in our hot seat last week at the Friday Morning Group. Jamie is running for re election to the District 5 seat he has held since 2001. He joined us last Friday.

Jamie was immediately taken to task about a mail piece he brought with him. The mail piece talked about "Protecting Our Quality of Life". Yet nowhere did the arts get mentioned as a part of that quality of life. Jamie, to his credit, stated that when the mailer gets redone for the city wide general election, the arts would be included in the quality of life being protected.

Jamie related that this is going to be the battle for the next 10 years. He told us that the arts are as much of an economic driver in St. Petersburg as anything else we have here, if not more so. Jamie told us that to be a real city that you had to have more than just police and fire service. You need the arts and the social services that go hand in hand with making St. Petersburg the wonderful place we all believe it has become. Jamie agreed that to a very large extent the arts are the quality of life in St. Petersburg.

When asked how he might turn around the mind set that puts the arts and social services on the front of the chopping block, Jamie was blunt and forthright in his outlook. He suggested that some organizations will have to be funded out of emergency contingency funds to keep them from shutting their doors. Jamie explained that under our strong mayor form of government, the Mayor sets the tone and those that the Mayor controls end up dancing to his tune. He told us if we want to see this changed, the arts community would have to go get its political mojo and elect the right people.

Jamie explained that there is a great philosophical war going on between those who bleieve that the government has a role to play in the arts and social services and those who do not believe the government has a role. Right now, in St. Petersburg, the non believers are winning, Jamie said. He also had a rather interesting suggestion about what might be done to help stem the tide - partnering with big business. Currently the Mayor is getting corporate sponsors, or partners, for the public schools in St. Petersburg. Jamie suggested that we could be doing that for some of the smaller arts organizations. He also cautioned that for the arts to maintain their independence, that a variety of sponsors would have to get involved.

Herb Snitzer reminded us that Sandy Freidman, when Mayor of Tampa, would hold her cabinet meetings at the Tampa Museum of Art. This resulted in a very large increase in the number of memberships in the Museum. Jamie asked Herb to keep reminding him to hold meetings at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

Here is a correction that most of you probably already know. The Arts Center Member Show opens this Friday, Septmeber 7th, not last Friday as previously reported. But, we hope to see you all this Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Harrelson on the Hot Seat

The Friday Morning Group had Cathy Harrelson, candidate for St. Petersburg City Council District 3 on the hot seat last Friday. Cathy has been an investment advisor and financial professional for over twenty-five years. She is also immediate past Chair of the Suncoast Sierra Club. She is running for the City Council seat currently held by Bill Foster, who is leaving due to term limits. So Cathy came to the Friday Morning Group to hear our concerns. She got an earful.

Herb Snitzer, never the shrinking violet, looked at her campaign materials and noticed there was no mention of the arts. Cathy forthrightly explained that to get through the primary, her mail pieces to voters in District 3 had to deal with the issues of top concern to the voters in that district. To her credit, Cathy came equipped with information on the economic value of the arts and indicated that she could make use of that in the general election , but she needed to focus on "front burner" issues for the primary election.

Herb noted how the arts are too often seen as a luxury and thus get the short end of the funding stick, even in good economic times. Cathy agreed that the arts always moved to the front of the chopping block when it is government budget cutting time. Bob Devin Jones volunteered that he would be more than happy to help Cathy understand how to move the arts off the front end of the chopping block.

This lead to a vigorous discussion about how best to do that. I noted that when the City and the County were holding public input budget hearings, the artist community failed to show up and give their input. Bob responded that after all his service on governmental arts committees, that if our elected officials didn't get it by now, they were never going to get it. I pointed out that the real audience for these hearings was not the elected officials on the dais, but the general public watching on TV, or those that would be reading the newspaper accounts of the hearings.

At the end of these discussions, it was apparent to those in attendance that Cathy Harrelson would be an ally to the arts if elected. Carol Dameron suggested that Cathy contact the women in the Stuart Society at the Museum of Fine Arts and seek their support. Herb and Carol also graciously agreed to be hosts for a fund raising event for Cathy.

There was also a discussion about one of my favorite subjects - that the City is the Art rather than St. Petersburg being the "City of the Arts." I gave the group an update on the City Council's recent passage of the new Land Development Regulations (LDRs) for the downtown, completing a seven year effort to update zoning and land usage in the entire city. There are still some issues to be resolved in a "glitch bill" later on this year.

The biggest issue is the zoning for the site of Al Lang Field. Al Lang has carried a commercial zoning designation and that has carried over to the new LDRs. However, with the Devil Rays moving their spring training out of town in 2009, there is significant citizen concern about future uses for that site. Many people feel that the City would be better served by designating the Al Lang site with Park zoning. Others believe that a really special use could be found for the land that would offer unique benefits to the City.

The other big issue to be resolved is historic preservation efforts against the background of downtown redevelopment. The new LDRs provide some incentive to developers for historic preservation. However it is unclear that they are sufficient to actually accomplish much in the way of historic preservation as the incentives currently are written. Stay tuned.

And this week, Friday, August 31st, City Council Member Jamie Bennett (District 5) will be getting in the hot seat. Council Member Bennett is also running for re election this year.

Speaking of elections, there are primary elections in Districts 3 and 5 on September 11. Early voting is already underway. Voter turnout is expected to be dismally low. If you live in these districts and want the voice of the arts community to be heard, please be sure to vote in this important election.

And for some arts news, the Arts Center Member Show opens this Friday August 31st. I hope you will start the day by joining us at the Friday Morning Group. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Three Jewels of St. Petersburg

Last Friday at the Friday Morning Group, we noted the passing of Mrs. Astor in New York and her remarks about the three jewels of New York City. We could recall that she named the Metropolitan Museum, and the New York Public Library, but could not recall the third.

This led to a discussion about the three jewels of St. Petersburg. There was widespread agreement about the first two jewels, the waterfront park system and the Dali Museum. After that, well...

The Florida Orchestra was mentioned as the third possible jewel. However, there was not agreement that the Orchestra was in a place that qualified as being called a jewel. There is certainly the potential, and I know many of us would like to be able to say it it the third jewel in St. Petersburg's crown. So ,let's hear it. What do you think the three jewels of St. Petersburg are?

We also talked about the Battle of the B3's at the Palladium. For those of you who did not attend, you really missed a show. The Palladium was sold out for this battle of Jazz vs Blues organists playing the venerable Hammond B3 organs. The good news for those of you who missed it is that this event will almost certainly be back next year, probably for more than one night. This was a terrific display of the musical talent in the Tampa Bay area.

We also talked about an art preservation project now going on in St. Petersburg. The Piano Exchange Building, formerly the Garden cafeteria, is going to be redeveloped. This building is on Second Street North in downtown St. Pete, across from the Bay Walk. The Garden cafeteria was once one of the jewels of the cafeteria culture in St. Petersburg. It was decorated in a garden motif including Florida garden scene murals on the walls.

As a condition of the approval of the site plan for redevelopment of this building, the developers agreed to make the murals available to anyone who wants to preserve them. There are several murals that are painted on wall boards that can simply be removed. However, the entire back wall of the building is a giant mural that appears to be painted directly into the concrete. The developers have agreed to make the wall available to anyone who wants to remove it. But it is BIG. At a minimum, the artwork will be photographically documented before the building is demolished. If you can provide any assistance in this project, please let me know.

See you this Friday.

Three Jewels of St. Petersburg

Last Friday at the Friday Morning Group, we noted the passing of Mrs. Astor in New York and her remarks about the three jewels of New York City. We could recall that she named the Metropolitan Museum, and the New York Public Library, but could not recall the third.

This led to a discussion about the three jewels of St. Petersburg. There was widespread agreement about the first two jewels, the waterfront park system and the Dali Museum. After that, well...

The Florida Orchestra was mentioned as the third possible jewel. However, there was not agreement that the Orchestra was in a place that qualified as being called a jewel. There is certainly the potential, and I know many of us would like to be able to say it it the third jewel in St. Petersburg's crown. So ,let's hear it. What do you think the three jewels of St. Petersburg are?

We also talked about the Battle of the B3's at the Palladium. For those of you who did not attend, you really missed a show. The Palladium was sold out for this battle of Jazz vs Blues organists playing the venerable Hammond B3 organs. The good news for those of you who missed it is that this event will almost certainly be back next year, probably for more than one night. This was a terrific display of the musical talent in the Tampa Bay area.

We also talked about an art preservation project now going on in St. Petersburg. The Piano Exchange Building, formerly the Garden cafeteria, is going to be redeveloped. This building is on Second Street North in downtown St. Pete, across from the Bay Walk. The Garden cafeteria was once one of the jewels of the cafeteria culture in St. Petersburg. It was decorated in a garden motif including Florida garden scene murals on the walls.

As a condition of the approval of the site plan for redevelopment of this building, the developers agreed to make the murals available to anyone who wants to preserve them. There are several murals that are painted on wall boards that can simply be removed. However, the entire back wall of the building is a giant mural that appears to be painted directly into the concrete. The developers have agreed to make the wall available to anyone who wants to remove it. But it is BIG. At a minimum, the artwork will be photographically documented before the building is demolished. If you can provide any assistance in this project, please let me know.

See you this Friday.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Art of Guerrilla Tactics

The conversation at the Friday Morning Group last Friday ranged from "radical transparency" to guerrilla tactics and everything in between. No matter the topics, the conversation was brightened by the all too rare appearance of Carol Dameron.

The underlying topic that had us touch on these diverse subjects was the position of arts and culture in these tough financial times. We all have been feeling the effects of the property tax reform movement in Florida and its impact on local government funding for the arts. Now as signs continue to show the overall economy slipping, the art funding situation appears to be even more tenuous.

We discussed how people and institutions make values choices when allocating resources. The question we are continuously trying to answer is how to demonstrate the total value of arts and culture on the community. Where do arts and culture fit into this mix? What do we value and why do we value it? What impact does this have on our quality of life. And what does it say about us as a community?

We also touched on who our natural allies should be in this effort to upgrade the place of arts and culture on the values choices ladder. We even talked about good old Mazlow and his "hierarchy of needs". We talked about the creation of "Business Improvement Districts" and how incremental taxes within those districts can be used to provide additional city employees to aid visitors and residents within those districts. This has been used to great effect in Washington DC. There are a number of economies with this approach, because these "Business Improvement District" city employees are not police officers and therefore do not carry the high cost overhead of additional police.

We talked about the role of cities, that they exist to create human interactions. These interactions create possibilities which all serve to enhance the quality of life in our communities. But how to raise the visibility of the value of arts and culture within the clutter of everything else that is going on?

That is where the guerrilla tactics come in. Imagine a series of more or less spontaneous little artistic "interventions" going on all over town at unexpected times and places. Don't know what these interventions might look like? Me neither. But you all are creative. Think about it. How much fun could you have with it? How much would it add to the quality of life in the community? How much might it add to the value of arts and culture in the community?

Anybody feeling guerillaish today? How about joining us tomorrow at the Friday Morning Group and sharing your ideas? I look forward to seeing you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

St. Pete Council Money Race - PrePrimary

The September St. Petersburg City Council Primary Election date is rapidly approaching. As it does, the money race is starting to get hot too. Not surprisingly, the hottest part of the track in the money race is the crowded field for the open District 3 seat being vacated by Bill Foster. Stay tuned for the real surprise here, however.

In the contest for the other open seat, Renee Flower's District 7, the first reporting period leader, Gershom Faulkner's torrid fundraising pace slowed remarkably. The most recent reporting period is a short period from July 1 through August 3rd. Faulkner has now reported raising a total of $12,598. However only $1,575 was raised in the most recent period. and Faulkner has spent most of the money already, having spent $11,933.

Faulkner's only opponent, Wengay Newton is not in any better shape financially. Newton has reported raising only $2,900 so far and has spent $2,100. Faulkner's fundraising pace is expected to pick up. His bipartisan support is starting to kick in. At a recent fundraising event hosted by a high profile financial services executive, it was announced that Faulkner was receiving support from an unlikely confluence of sources that will ensure that he will have the funds necessary to compete vigorously for this seat. Stay tuned.

The District 1 seat is currently held by Herb Poslon, who was appointed to fill State Representative Rick Kriseman's seat. Polson has picked up his fundraising pace dramatically. Polson now reports raising a total of $14,455, with nearly $11,000 raised in July. Polson has been a relative piker when it comes to spending that money, having expended only $2,503 to date. His only opponent, Bob Kersteen has raised only $2,500 and has spent $1,600. Looks like Polson is in good shape here.

Incumbent Jamie Bennett's fundraising continues to lag in his bid for reelection to the District 5 seat. Bennett who eschewed raising money when it was uncertain he would be opposed, has raised only $3,300 so far. However, neither of his opponents have demonstrated any fundraising prowess to date. Between them they have only raised about $1,100 and have spent about half of that. Jamie needs to pick up the pace to avoid any nasty surprises, however.

That brings us back to the District 3 donnybrook. The big surprise here is that Ed Montanari is not leading the fund raising in this district. Montanari, who ran Bill Foster's campaign last cycle, is raising serious money, having raised $12,695 to date. However, Bill Dudley, who ran against Foster 4 years ago, is leading the money race for this seat. Dudley raised $16,705 in July bringing his total to $17,524. Cathy Harrelson is trailing the field here, having raised a total of $7,772 so far.

Montanari is leading this district in expenditures so far as the campaign signs springing up around town would seem to indicate. Montanari has reported spending nearly $7,000 to date. leaving only about $5,500 on hand. The Mallard Group continues to be a big drain on the Montanari campaign funds, raking in over $2,300 in July alone. Signs costs for Montanari were over $3,100.

Dudley has spent nearly $5,000 to date, almost all of it in July. Dudley has also spent heavily on signs, about $2,600 in July. He also spent nearly $700 on an ad in the St. Pete Times and another $500 plus on T shirts. Cathy Harrelson , as behooves a financial manager, has spent the least so far. Harrelson's total expenditures are just $3,800. The vast majority of her spending has been on campaign literature and signs.

The District 3 race will be by far the more competitive of the two primary races. Coach Dudley seems to be in very good shape with over $12,000 in the bank and signs proliferating throughout the district. Montanari's spending on the Mallard Group will be showing up in a mailbox near you soon. But he better raise more than the $5,000 he has on hand to pay for the printing and the mailing. If Harrelson wants to get into the general election, she is going to need to pick up her pace in a big hurry.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

(W)EDUcational Discussion

We had a pretty good crowd last Friday morning to hear Joyce Cotton, the Director of Marketing and Community Partnerships at WEDU. Joyce has been in television for 31 years (really Joyce, you can't be that old) and at WEDU for six years. She had a lot to share with us about activities at WEDU that are largely unknown to a lot of people, myself included.

As we were doing our customary self introductions, Bill Moriarity apprised us of the sad news that Artists Gallery Royale is closing at the end of this month. Bill, you were not the captain of the Titanic. Honest.

We got through the rest of the introductions without any other really sad news. Joyce told us about several programs that she is engaged in on behalf of WEDU, but I am going to cover a couple of the highlights. I encourage you to visit the WEDU web site at WEDU.ORG .

The Ready to Learn Program is an extension of WEDU's children's programming. The station works with Head Start programs, schools, Girl Scouts or whoever might be interested in participating in special events with WEDU. One of the most successful of these is Angelina's Ballerina held at Ruth Eckerd Hall during the holiday season. This event typically sells out with over 300 children participating.

There are also the WEDU Be More Awards. This is a program where WEDU partners with non profit organizations to honor particularly noteworthy non profits. Last year WEDU sent out 700 nomination invitations, receiving 82 back. There was a luncheon judging event to select the winners. WEDU will be hosting their Be More Awards Workshop at their studios on September 19. Check it out on the WEDU web site.

We also discussed WEDU's local programming. Tom and Joyce provided us with DVDs of The Gulf Coast Journal which will be entering its fifth season this year. This is a program produced by WEDU featuring former NBC newsman Jack Perkins and Sarasota County. You can watch it on the WEDU web site here. It would be tremendous if we could secure funding for a similar program for Pinellas or the Tampa Bay area.

I want to close by reminding everyone that Herb Snitzer will be giving his "formal" talk on his work at the Museum of Fine Arts this Sunday, August 12th at 3:00 PM. I hope to see you all on both Friday morning and on Sunday afternoon.