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.

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