Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Irish Eyes


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.

Peter and Roisin had been touring some of the cultural hot spots in our country. They had been to Washington, DC, Austin, Texas, and of course here in the Tampa Bay area. Roisin is in this country to help promote an Irish arts exposition at the Smithsonian and on the Mall in late June and early July.

Roisin regaled us with some of the things the government of Northern Ireland is doing to demonstrate respect for artists there. The Northern Ireland Arts Council provides an apartment in New York City for a Resident program. There is a similar program in Banf in Canada. Perhaps the most telling sentiment espoused by Roisin is that these programs allow artists "Time and Space" to explore their art without being tied to a specific output. WOW!!!

There is also an artists colony that is supported by both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland governments. The only requirement for these artists is that they have dinner with their fellow artists every evening. Cross-pollination don't you know.

Roisin indicated to us that the single most important thing that we could do to advance the conversation about valuing artists would be to survey the community regarding their attitudes towards artists and the arts. Perhaps we could get the Pinellas County Cultural Council to spearhead that effort?

Another valuable tool would be an artists survey. Northern Ireland did one of these about five years ago and is preparing to update this study. Not surprisingly, the two key findings from this prior survey are:

  • Artists do not feel valued;
  • Most artists live in abject poverty at about 20% of the average income in Northern Ireland.

I could ramble on for quite some time about this fantastic FMG meeting. However, I am going to stop here. If you would like more context and to hear different viewpoints, I am providing a list of the participants below. If you want to learn more about Roisin, Peter has provided her CV which is also posted below.

I look forward to seeing you all next Friday.

Partial ist of participants last week:

  • Peter Kagayama
  • Michelle Teagle
  • Bob Devin Jones
  • Bob Barancik
  • Bill Moriarty
  • Cindy McFerrin
  • Patrice Pucci
  • Grace-Ann Alfiero (and her sidekick Jenny)

Roisin McDonough

Roisin McDonough is the Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland which is the government body charged with supporting artists and arts organisations across the region. It distributes public subsidy to both artists and arts organisations and is the main agency in Northern Ireland for the arts. It advocates the value of the arts to wider society; it seeks to build audiences and participation in the arts and to strengthen the capacity of arts organisations and artists to pursue their objectives.

It supports projects in hospitals, schools, youth centres, local communities and internationally. The current Rediscover Northern Ireland Programme which is being rolled out in the run up to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on Washington’s Mall, where Northern Ireland’s folklife culture is being presented, is but one example.

Roisin has extensive experience in local government, central government regeneration initiatives and in community development as well as the arts.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Liberal Media Myth Exposed

The St. Petersburg Times has just given us the smoking gun to expose the myth of the so called "Liberal Media". Your recent editorial regarding the adding of domestic spending to the Iraq "Emergency" Supplemental Appropriations bill is that smoking gun.

You have bought the conservative frame on this spending hook, line and sinker. The folks who were spending like drunken sailors when they held the gavel are now calling the appropriations added by the Democrats "pork". In your editorial, you repeat this characterization. The same folks who had no problems giving billions to Big Oil and billions in no bid contracts to Haliburton claim these domestic spending addons are "pork" and you fell into their trap.

The same folks who didn't pass appropriations bills before the elections are now bemoaning the fact that the new Congress has a different take on spending priorities. Barbara Boxer was dead on last week when she held up her gavel and said "Elections have consequences". Since the Republican controlled Congress would not make the hard spending decisions before the election, the new Congress controlled by Democrats will.

The very idea that the now five year old Iraq war requires "emergency" supplemental appropriations should be raising red flags aplenty. The American people spoke loudly and clearly last November that they wanted this country moving in a different direction. Part of that different direction includes the domestic agenda.

Katrina relief spending on the Gulf Coast, better care for wounded veterans and much needed aid to farmers stuck by their own catastrophes are not "pork". They are the consequences of the election. Big Oil will have to take a back seat now to the Big Needs of the American people.

I'm more than OK with that. It's what I voted for. The fact that you bought the "pork" frame of the Republicans points out the extent to which the "Liberal Media" misstates the facts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Attitudinal Change

If last Friday's meeting was any indication, we clearly have our work cut out for us. We have been talking on Friday mornings for a long time now about making this community better for artists. Herb Snitzer put it to County Commissioner Ken Welch that it was about "respect and recognition".

As a result of Ken's visit in early February, a hearty band from our Friday Morning Group put together a concept paper for Ken. You can read the paper here:


One of the components calls for a prize modelled after the Kennedy Center Honors to recognize
accomplished artists who reside in Pinellas County in recognition of their lifelong artistic work.

This prize would be accompanied by a $50,000 annual stipend for the Prize Winners for a two year period. All in all a modest proposal for a County who's Cultural Plan has a goal to
Value and assist artists and creative workers as fundamental to a vibrant community

And that's really what we are talking about here. We need to work to create an attitudinal change about the value of artists to our community. We have the ear of one County Commissioner. But if we want to see these concepts come to fruition, we are going to have to start working on building constituencies outside of our own group to support our concepts.

Last week we were visited by Judith Powers to give us some feedback from the County staff about our concept papers' proposals. Judith is the head of the Pinellas County Cultural (formerly Arts) Council which has recently been absorbed into the County Government.

There are two proposals in the Concept Paper. One for the creation by the County of a "Creativity Center". The other is the Pinellas Prize. We spent no time last Friday talking about the Creativity Center. All the discussion focused on the prize. Judith 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".

What is problematic is that a County who has a goal to "Value and assist artists and creative workers as fundamental to a vibrant community" has a problem placing a $50,000 value on "accomplished artists who reside in Pinellas County in recognition of their lifelong artistic work".

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. To bring our concepts to reality, we need 4 yes votes from the County Commission. To get those 4 yes votes, we've got to get all the communities that we interact with to talk about changing our attitudes about valuing artists. If we get the Commissioners hearing enough different voices in favor of our concept, we can have that attitudinal change we are seeking.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Art of the Homeless

Even the Friday Morning Group can not avoid the topic of homelessness in St. Pete these days. At both meetings in the last two weeks the topic has come up and been addressed in various ways.

The week before last, City Council Member Leslie Curran joined us again. She reminded us of the St. Petersburg Homeless Summit that was to be held the next day. Herb Snitzer participated in the charette style meeting that was held at the USF Saint Pete Student Activity Center.

Leslie 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. I spoke to Grace-Ann about this at the summit. She indicated she was still willing to look at the idea. However, she rightly insisted that sufficient funding would have to be forthcoming to get any such plan to happen.

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. There will be a pre-show event at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club on March 24th. Mike is looking for a home for a post-show event. If anyone has any ideas, let Mike know.

On the topic of keeping artists from becoming homeless, Sandy Tabor reported on how our concept paper was faring at the Pinellas County Government. Commissioner Ken Welch has shared the concept paper with an Assistant County Administrator and with Judith Powers of the County Cultural Commission and asked them to study it. Judith will be joining us this Friday to discuss the concepts with us.

Entirely away from the homeless topic, Bob Barancik brought a new friend on Friday. Lynne Warburg is a photographer living in Sarasota. She has leased the Ringling family's "party house" there and has restyled it as the Ringling Art House. She is using the space as a communal space for artists showings. There is a new show opening Thursday, March 8th at 6 PM. The Ringling Art house is in Sarasota at 7715 Westmoreland Drive. Anyone interested is asked to call 941-296-5942 to RSVP (and to get directions).

Other ongoing and upcoming events:

Herb Snitzer told us of a new show at Salt Creek. Among the featured artists is Herb's wife and a fine artist in her own right, Carol Dameron. Pedro Jarquin of the Nation of Poetry reminded us of his show upcoming at the State Theatre on Sunday, April 1st. Tickets are $10 and can be had by contacting Pedro at 727-698-3998. Advanced ticket sales will help Pedro with some last minute funding needs for the show.