Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Art of Livin'

It was a fairly quiet Friday Morning Group meeting last week. Some of the usual suspects were talking about a wide range of things. We discussed the weekly Swing dancing on Wednesdays at the Gulfport Casino. The discussion moved to the Bleau Acier Studio on Columbus Avenue in Tampa. This is the venue where Erika Schneider plies her art as a master printer, engraver, block printer and etcher.

Then in walked Norman Jones of the Art of Livin' Art Gallery. This is the home of the African American 20th Century Cultural Exhibition. Norman had brought with him some photographs from the St. Petersburg Times Negro pages, and they were absolutely fascinating. Most of the photos looked to be 50 or so years old. They described a rich palette of life from the time when the civil rights movement was first beginning to emerge.

So. you just never know who is going to walk in the door on any given Friday morning.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

This Week in St. Petersburg

It was an interesting week in St. Petersburg, my hometown. It started off at the home of Larry Newsome. Newsome, the developer of the Midtown shopping center anchored by SweetBay, graciously opened up his home in support of Gershom Faulkner. Faulkner is running for the St. Petersburg City Council seat being vacated by the term limited Rene Flowers.

Faulkner lined up an impressive host committee for this event. Former Florida House Speaker Peter Wallace and and current County Commissioners Ken Welch and Calvin Harris were joined by restaurateur Dan Harvey as headliners on the host committee.

The question of the night was, what was Bob Kersteen doing there? Kersteen is running against Herb Polson. Polson, the City's long time lobbyist, was appointed to fill the seat vacated by now Representative Rick Kriseman. Look for Jack Latvala to continue his losing streak as Kersteen has hired him to lead the smear campaign against Polson. Kersteen and Jack Latvala. There's a recipe for electoral failure right there.

Thursday saw the St. Petersburg City Council approve the Greater Childs Park Strategic Initiative. The consultant for the City produced a plan document that certainly passed the weight test. There are two glaring problems with the Childs Park plan. First is the fact that it was adopted by the City just as the full extent of the first round of property tax cuts were being examined. That does not bode well for the ability of the City to actually spend the funds needed to implement the plan.

The second problem was a statement both in the covering memo and the plan itself. Every table at the City's first public meeting on the plan listed crime and crime related problems as an issue. However, somehow the consultant determined that crime was not a predominate issue. It remains to be seen if that was an accurate statement.

On Friday, the City Council received a briefing from Mayor Rick Baker on his suggested budget cuts resulting from the first round of property tax reforms signed by the governor this week. In all, the mayor recommended that 70 positions be eliminated, including 25% of the Codes Compliance Department. As he threatened to do earlier, the Mayor suggested cutting off all funding to social service agencies and arts organizations. Only Council Member Leslie Curran suggested that cutting all funding to the social services and arts organizations was maybe not the best way to go.

After the somber budget briefing, Council Members Herb Polson, Jamie Bennett Jeff Danner and Ernest Williams attended the Tiger Bay luncheon featuring Florida CFO Alex Sink. Sink showed her growing political maturity by deftly handling the lead off question. An unapologetic boor Republican hit man tried to to rattle Sink with a question about her religion and homosexuality. He failed to rattle Sink and also failed to win the coveted Tiger award. Just another example of the failed conservative worldview that is going the way of the dinosaurs.

And that brings us to the scoop of the week. County Commissioner Bob Stewart was asked about the rumor that he may not run for reelection. His response (with a twinkle in his eye):
There may be some truth to that.

The week is going to end on a high note for St. Petersburg. A portrait of Governor Charlie Crist will be unveiled at the St. Petersburg History Museum on Saturday afternoon. Crist, the first native of St. Petersburg to occupy the governors mansion will also headline a fundraiser for the museum at the former Rutland Estate.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Smart TV and Looking for Writers

We were joined last Friday morning, by Tom Taggart, Director of Planned giving for Florida West Coast Public Broadcasting, Inc., more commonly known as our own community PBS station, WEDU Channel 3. Tom engaged with us in a very stimulating conversation about the possibilities for community produced programming for WEDU, particularly focusing on art education.

Tom reminded us of the Gulf Coast Journal program that is produced at WEDU featuring Sarasota County. This is an extremely well done and well received program. It was funded by a grant from Sarasota county interests and features retired NBC News reporter Jack Perkins as the on air face of the program.

Tom told us that WEDU is always interested in producing more community based content, but the funding challenge is one that must be met at WEDU as it is anywhere else. Twelve programs typically cost $250,000. The funder usually gets about $50,000 worth of on air in kind promotion making the net cost to the funder $200,000. However, the value of a well produced program is inestimable.

We discussed the possibility of looking at the Pinellas Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) as a potential funder for a community produced art education program featuring our community based artists. We are still looking to bring the new CVB director to a Friday Morning Group Meeting soon.

Herb Snitzer brought 3 books with him to our meeting last week. All three of these books were written by authors living in our community, including the newly published book on Mickey Mantle by Peter Golenback. Herb brought these books to illustrate that we have successful authors living in our community, but we do not seem to be attracting them to our Friday Morning Group.

This points up something I have been remarking about lately. That is that we all could be better ambassadors for the Friday Morning group. I would encourage all of you to reach out to any creative thinker that you encounter and extend them an invitation to join us at the Friday Morning Group.

Speaking of creative thinkers, we also discussed a new group that has formed in St. Pete. The St. Pete Creative Network had its first meeting recently. It seems to be heavily weighted towards graphic artists, which we also do not seem to be attracting to our Friday Morning Group meetings.

This Saturday at 4 PM a portrait of St. Pete native, Governor Charlie Crist will be unveiled at the St. Pete History Museum on the Pier approach. No mention has been made of the artist in the newspaper coverage of this upcoming event. Imagine that. However, it should be an interesting crowd. I am looking forward to seeing the portrait and meeting the artist.

And with that, I am going to just repeat that I am going to increase my efforts to be a better ambassador for the Friday Morning Group. How about you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Art Happenings and Other Stuff

Last Friday morning was a bit of a reprieve from talk of cuts to arts funding and their impact on the community. Not that it didn't come up at all. But the bulk of the discussion last Friday was more about art happenings. Imagine that.

A Center for Photographic Arts is soon to open at 316 Central Avenue. This is below the parking garage of the former Florida Federal building, which provides them with a good amount of storefront window space to display photographs. It sounds like it is going to be something of an artists cooperative. Amongst the organizers is Richard Stewart, a member of the Artists Gallery Royale.

The Friends of the St. Petersburg Police is going to be commissioning a sculpture to honor fallen police officers. The sculpture will be situated on a plaza to be built in Demens Landing. The winner of the commission will not only create the sculpture, but will be responsible for the overall construction of the plaza. Sounds like an interesting project.

We also had a discussion about a more creative use of the band break time at the Saturday Morning Market. It has been proposed to the organizers of the Market that the band break time be used for clips or short performances by various community arts groups. Say the Palladium, or the Studio@620 for example. Stay tuned for more on this.

Of course we could not get through a morning without a discussion of the topics of contemporary concern. We did discuss the idea that potentially more arts funding is available from the County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Their mission is to deliver tourist dollars to Pinellas County. One of the ways that they do this is to provide arts funding for cultural tourism. And they are looking to do more of it. They have a new director who, while in a similar position in Lee County (Fort Myers - Sanibel), marketed their community based artists as a way to break through the clutter of the other Florida beach communities. We are going to arrange to have him visit us some time in the not too distant future.

And that brought us to a discussion about getting more organized. Actually, this was a rather lively discussion. If we are going to advance the concepts in our Friday Morning Group Concept Paper directly, that will definitely require some sort of formal organization. However, sentiment ran strongly that the Friday Morning Group functions best as a "think tank" or an idea incubator. That is the unique feature of this group. Just a place where people can go and kick around ideas.

Some of the ideas that have gotten kicked around or germinated in the Friday Morning Group discussions have taken root here in the community. That has been largely due to individuals or groups of FMG members taking these ideas and working them into reality outside of the group. Or it has occurred because of the influence that our groups' discussions have had on other organizations. No doubt if some of these particular ideas that have been discussed are going to be implemented, that process will have to be repeated.

In the meantime, we will continue to talk about what interests us. And hopefully, we will continue to give others something to talk about.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Faulkner Campaign Flexes Its Muscles

In a show of strength for his fledgling campaign, Gershom Faulkner was treated to a star studded fund raiser tonight. Faulkner, 36, is a candidate for St. Pete City Council District 7 seat being vacated by the term limited Rene Flowers. Among the hosts for the event at Mid Town Sundries were State Senator Charlie Justice and State Representatives Bill Heller and Rick Kriseman. Sending their regrets at not being able to attend were County Commissioners Ken Welch and Calvin Harris. They were at a county budget hearing.

The fund raising event was organized so that the state legislators could participate before heading to Tallahassee for the special session on property taxes. Senator Justice said some very kind words of support for Gershom Faulkner. Faulkner's campaign manager, Mitch Kates, gave a rousing talk about the need to get out and work hard to make sure that Gershom is elected. Faulkner thanked the crowd of approximately 50 for showing their support. He promised to work hard to continue to earn their support and was looking forward to serving the community. Faulkners' experience in the process, having worked as a legislative aide to State Representative Frank Peterman for 6 years and his current work for Congresswoman Kathy Castor have prepared him to hit the ground running on Day 1 at the City Council.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ideas Bouncing Around All Over the Place

Last Friday, the Friday Morning Group was one of those meetings you wanted to be at. 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.

For those of you who may not know, 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.

So, the first part of the meeting, Jamie ran through some figures for us about what kinds of impacts various levels of revenue reduction would have on the City's budget. It was pretty clear under just about any scenario, the Arts are definitely on the chopping block. Jamie was very sympathetic to us, but he is only one vote on the Council. And they are all facing some very hard choices.

So, we started kicking around the usual ideas. You know, contacting our state legislators, contacting the Governor. The problem is, most of our local state legislators understand that severe restrictions on local revenues will have serious impacts on the quality of life here. And the governor is all for cutting taxes for the people.

So 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. This idea could be dubbed Pennies for Progress or Coins for Quality. That idea sparked a whole series of ideas about how to deal with a situation of reduced government support for the arts.

Other ideas flew around fast and furious after that. Asking art patrons to perhaps donate pieces that were excess to their needs to be auctioned off to support the arts was one idea. Others were mentioned. But the whole idea is that it got people thinking creatively about how we could make lemonade out of the lemons we are sure to be experiencing soon.

I was glad I was there. Stay tuned for what happens next.