Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Six Months Back...And...Forth

I thought I'd take a look back at the last six months. Last December we re kick started the Friday Morning Group. Can you believe it has been six months already? I know I can't. Back on December 8th we got the 2006 / 2007 version of the Friday Morning Group off to a rousing start. We reviewed some of the accomplishments from the past. The Manhattan Casino restoration was one of the first projects the group took on. Also, the idea and practice of artists being able to live and work in the same location was spearheaded by the Friday Morning Group. The Studio@620; The new, more casual look of the Orchestra's catalog is a direct result of the groups' conversation with the Orchestra. My favorite little passage is this
A couple of years ago, a reporter from Creative Loafing sat in on one of the meetings of the group. We were discussing the Chamber of commerce brochure that proclaimed on its cover that St. Petersburg was the "City of the Arts". Well, our artists particularly thought that was just pretentious as hell and were pretty contemptible of the whole idea. Yes St. Petersburg is a good place for artists. It could be better. But to proclaim St. Pete as The City of the Arts? Hello.

So we were discussing this foolishness and kicking around ideas. One of our members came up with this:

St. Petersburg is not the City of the Arts, the city is the art.

That comment wound up in print. I think that's a pretty good explanation of the Friday Morning Group. The beautiful City of St. Petersburg is the canvas that is our art work in progress. We continue to put more creative touches on it all the time.

Moving on to January 2007, we talked about this
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.

Later on in January, we had this happy news to report
Last Friday we welcomed back some old faces and greeted some new (to me anyway) faces. Bob Devin Jones brought us up to date on the goings on at the Studio @ 620. The Studio currently is showing a very interesting photography exhibit by Zachariah Thompson. The photographs are of laundromats reminding all of us of the good old (or maybe not so good old) days. The show has been very well received, perhaps because we all can relate to the subject in one way or another.

The multi-faceted Peter Kagayama, current President of Creative Tampa Bay, another old familiar face also joined us last Friday. Peter just returned from some more of his Creative Community globe hopping to Singapore and other interesting far off places. Being the ever so deft communication specialist that he is, Peter dropped the phrase "creative competitiveness"on us. That has a ring to it doesn't it?

Len Neff also joined us. Besides Len's well known work with beaded glass, Len talked about his work with public art in Pinellas County.

And our old friend Nancy Loehr dropped by with County Commissioner Ken Welch in tow.

Moving on into February, we had this
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 Commissioner Ken Welch, we were also able to extend a Friday Morning Welcome to St. Petersburg City Council Member Leslie Curran.

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. ... After Ken left 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. It was clear to Leslie, and she made it clear to us that Ken wanted to help us, but he needed guidance on exactly what we wanted him to vote on.

Well that little session morphed into OMG - We Have a Plan . A group of volunteers got together and came up with the Friday Morning Group Concept Paper which included plans for the "Pinellas Prize" and a Creativity Center.

As time went along, we continued to work on bring the Friday Morning Group Concept Paper to life. But we also talked about the Art of the Homeless and about Attitudinal Change . And we even had time to be wowed by Irish Eyes. That happened when Peter Kagayama brought us a very special guest indeed, Roisin McDonough, 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.

Moving along into April, we began a conversation about implementing the Friday Morning Group Concept Paper at a very tough time for local governments in this climate of tax reform. We talked about being leaders instead of followers and The Value of Art Education .

Lately we have been Looking at the Long Term nature of attitudinal change. Last week we talked about group life cycles and dynamics.

And that is the point. This is your group. It will be whatever you want it to be. Or not.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Group Not Heard From

I'm here to talk about a group you have yet to hear from. It harkens back to the old "Silent Majority" days. Thses folks are the owners of homesteaded property for whom Save Our Homes is working exactly as intended.

You don't hear from them, because for the most part, as far as taxes go, they are reasonably content. Remember these are the people who voted for Save Our Homes not really all that long ago. That's right. Let me repeat that. The voters in Florida voted for Save Our Homes. And it is doing exactly what it was intended to do. Homesteaders are not getting taxed out of their homes.

Now Save Our Homes isn't perfect. It has had the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for folks to sell their home and replace it with another. That is something that should get fixed, and I expect it is going to be fixed in the special session. But for all you people who are here to complain about Save Our Homes, leave me alone. I bought my current home in downtown St. Pete 11 years ago. With exemptions and thanks to Save Our Homes, my taxable value is just under what I paid for it. There are many, many folks who are in exactly the same situation I am in. Start messing with them and you better really learn how to duck and cover in a big hurry.

Now I do believe there are some folks who need tax relief. Commercial property, including rental property needs relief. I wish there was more tax refrom focus for those property owners. And the legislature could do us all a favor if they would do something that really fixed the insurance mess. They sure didn't do it in January.

I have lived in St. Petersburg for 51 years. I have seen many, many changes here over those years. I love this City, and I love the direction it is headed. Some call this the City of the Arts. I say the City is the art. Let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Looking at the Long Term

Last week, at the Friday Morning Group, we talked about the long term nature of attitudinal change. Sometimes progress can be agonizingly slow, but it is progress none the less. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back. Nobody likes taking that step back, but you are still one step forward than you were before. Change is never easy, and it really doesn't come rapidly very often. Most times when it seems change is coming rapidly, when you really look at it, you find it has been a long time coming.

Speaking of long term, we talked about an opportunity for next year. The Pinellas Convention and Visitors Bureau has a grant program called "New Product Development". For those of you who don't, know the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is part of the Pinellas County Government. It gets its funding from the bed tax on hotel rooms. This funding stream is not at risk in the property tax reform struggle going on in Tallahassee.

Last year, the CVB had $250 thousand budgeted for New Product Development Grants. They were only able to fund approximately $180 thousand to qualified programs. The purpose of the New Product Development Grants is to draw more tourists to Pinellas County. The County Commission believes in these grants and has urged that they be increased despite the inability to fully fund them last year. This coming year the budget has been increased to $300 thousand.

The reason that this is an opportunity for next year is that the deadline for grant applications for this year was last Friday. That's the bad news. The good news is that we now have a year to develop the FMG concepts into a grant proposal for next year. One other piece of good news is the the CVB has a brand new director. DT Minnich has just come on board from a similar position in Lee County. He has been known to use the community based artists in Lee County as a way to differentiate his area from other Florida beach communities. I think this is a great opportunity for us. We look forward to the opportunity for DT to join us at the Friday Morning Group sometime soon.

Sometimes progress can be agonizingly slow, but it is progress none the less.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Arts and Attitide

I want to start this off by welcoming back Shirley Linde who joined us last Friday for the first time since her unfortunate accident. We missed you, Shirley.

Besides the very welcome appearance of Shirley, we had another lively, engaging discussion last week. There was an update on the Pinellas County Arts Panel grants award meeting. Apparently it did not go as collaboratively as in years past. It seems the panelists were not given to interactivity with the grant requestors and the process was less than pleasant for the grant seekers. The panel seemed particularly tough on the arts organizations from St. Petersburg. These groups received criticism from the panel for being too St. Petersburg-centric. I'm not sure I would totally agree with that characterization. Looks like there is some room for improvement in this process.

An update was also discussed about the progress, or lack there of, on the Friday Morning Group Concept Paper. It is becoming more and more apparent that private funding will need to be secured before any public funding will be available. Even that is problematic given the current status of tax "reform" in Tallahassee. As many of you are aware, the City of St. Petersburg has already given notice to all the cultural and social service organizations that had previously received city funding that none will be available this year. The impact of these property tax "reforms" is going to have a severe impact on local governments. Once again, the arts are right up there on the chopping block, pretty much first in line.

If you would like to let your state legislators know what you think about this, there are several legislative delegation town hall meetings coming up to discuss this. The first one is this Thursday (May 17) at the Saint Petersburg College Seminole Campus Digitorium building. It will be hosted by State Representative Janet Long and will be from 5 PM to 8 PM. The next one will be May 23 from 6 to 8 PM at the Sunshine Center in downtown St. Pete. That one will be hosted by Representative Bill Heller. And State Senator Charlie Justice will host one on May 31st at the Pinellas Realtors Organization building on Ulmerton Road. I would encourage you all to take this opportunity to let your legislators know how what you think about this matter - whatever you think about it.

And I would encourage you all to take the time to drop in on our Friday Morning Group meetings. We are going to need all your insights and ideas about how to make this a better community for artists - and everyone else - going forward.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Local Elections This Year

Before we get to the Presidential Primary here in Florida, we have local elections in St. Petersburg and Largo. The St. Petersburg primary is in September. Four seats are up, two are open due to term limits. These elections will be a test of organization capabilities.; Although officially non partisan, almost no one really believes that.

Follow me for a look at how these races are shaping up.

Running for Re-election

Two seats are held by incumbents running for re-election. Herb Polson was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Rick Kriseman. So far, no one has filed the necessary paperwork to run against Herb.

Jamie Bennett is running for re-election to his District 5 Council seat. Jamie has yet to draw oppostion. However, the Republicans have targeted him for defeat. Jamie is looking forward to the challenge.

Open Seats

Bill Foster and Renee Flowers can not run for their respective seats due to term limits. That leaves District Three and District Seven looking for new Council Members. Several people are looking at these two seats.

District Three covers Snell Isle and Shore Acres and other parts of northeast St. Petersburg on the mainland. Only one person has filed the paperwork to run. However, at least two other folks are looking at this seat. Bill Dudley, who was defeated by Bill foster 4 years ago, has filed to run again. The Democrats have some one lined up to run for the seat. This person could conceivably keep the number of females on Council at two. The Republicans, not wild about Dudley's chances for winning this seat, have asked someone else to get into the race. This person is experienced in running campaigns for this seat. He should also have a lot of support from the Albert Whitted Airport crowd. These folks are very vocal and very active.

District 7 has already drawn two young men who have filed to run. Wengay Newton and Gershom Faulkner are set to run in the September primary. Wengay's brother is head of the local firefighters union. Speaking of active, the firefighters are a group that every candidate attempts to woo. But Newton has effectively taken them out of play for Faulkner. However, Faulkner, a long time aide for state Rep. Frank Peterman, is no stranger to running campaigns in this district. He was Congresswoman Cathy Castors deputy campaign manager with primary responsibility for the Pinellas part of the district. He currently is the Outreach Coordinator for Castor.


I admit to not knowing as much as I should about the Largo races. but with the Steve / Susan Stanton escapades recent in most Largo voters minds, this should be pretty interesting. Mayor Pat Gerard, who supported Stanton, is running for re-election this go round. If no one has filed yet to run against her, I am sure someone will. I am going to have to do some more research before I can say anymore on the Largo races.

We are going to have some live fire training this year to test our abilities to get our message across and to get out the vote. I am looking forward to the challenge.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Participatory Art

There was a spirited discussion at the Friday Morning Group last week. Most of the discussion centered around how to put the ideas that have been bounced around at the Friday Morning Group into action. This would include the ideas espoused in the Friday Morning Group Concept Paper and other ideas about making the community better for artists.

Here's what we came up with. We are asking as many of you as possibly can to join us this week. We are going to attempt to put together an action plan to move these ideas closer to fruition. We need you to participate both in the planning and the execution of the plan. Consider this a participatory art exercise. We have the rough idea for subject matter and a blank canvas (or piece of paper, or computer screen) in front of us. We need to bring this rough idea into life. And we need your participation to do it.

Herb Snitzer and I began our quest for private funding for our concepts last week. We met with Dick Jacobs of the law firm Trenam Kemker. Dick, besides being an accomplished attorney, is also a skilled photographer. He is also the former chairman of the Art Center Board of Directors. And his firm has the largest collection of photography in the Southeast US. If you know of any other folks who could be helpful to us in the acquisition of private funding, please let Herb or me know.

In other news:
  • The annual NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet will be held June 2nd at the Coliseum. Tickets can be had from Herb Snitzer.
  • Patrice Pucci related her experience at the Destin Jazz Festival. Despite being held on the Redneck Riviera, there was a very heavy flavor of African American participation in the audience.
  • The City of St. Petersburg has sent letters to all the recipients of cultural and social grants informing them to expect no money from the City this year. This included more than $100 thousand for the Florida Orchestra and funding for the Black Nativity. This is a result of the pending property tax "reform" that is bouncing around the state legislature. The legislature will be back for a special session in June to deal with property taxes.
  • To help us understand the impact that this tax "reform" will have on St. Petersburg and our quality of life, St. Petersburg City Council member Jamie Bennett will join us on Friday, June 1st.

Please plan to join us this Friday for a little participatory art.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Wide Ranging Discussion: Arts and Society

Last week's attendees at the Friday Morning Group engaged in a wide ranging discussion of the Arts and their impact on society (and vice versa). 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 he met the lovely director of an African American museum in Jacksonville. They are going to be working on a possible showing of Herb's work and tying it into the Civil Rights movement. That developed into an interesting discussion on the diversity of cultural offerings in Jacksonville - museums, galleries, restaurants and art exhibits. Jacksonville has a rich cultural background, fueled in part by its traditional role as the financial capitol of the state.

There was also a discussion of the City's situation with the Public Arts program given the current tax "reform" climate. Arts are way down the list of people's thoughts, particularly those 1 1/2 paychecks away from being homeless. There was also a comment that art is messy - it causes creative thinking. We generally agreed that the arts potential for this community is great, but that perhaps the governance isn't there for it - yet. Anyone interested in a discussion of the value of art education can find it here.

So, that's a brief rundown of what you missed last Friday. Why not stop by this week and experience it firsthand?