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.

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