Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Advocating for the Arts

St. Petersburg City Council Member Jeff Danner joined us last Friday morning at the Friday Morning Group. Jeff came in begging off speaking after using up his voice at the City Council workshop the day before. But some how he hung in there and filled us in on what is happening with the allocation of city funds to the arts, and some future plans as well.

Jeff Danner is the City Council member assigned to the the City's Arts Advisory Committee. In that post, Jeff worked with that Committee to present a coherent plan to the City Council for the allocation of the funds the City did manage to find for the arts and social services. Essentially the plan was to use last year's split of funding to arts organizations and social service agencies to split this year's available funds between the two. That ratio last year was approximately 60% to social service agencies and 40% to arts organizations. That concept to split this year's available funds was adopted by City Council at their workshop last Wednesday.

The next step was to get the Council to agree to let the Arts Advisory Committee plan to allocate that 40% share of funds amongst arts organizations. Jeff was successful in getting Council to agree to that proposal as well. This process will be occurring sometime later this month. The amount to be split amongst the organizations is $175 thousand. Considering that earlier this year the amount was going to be zero, that is something, anyway.

So that's the story of arts funding for this year. However, it pretty much leaves arts organizations in a pickle going forward given the budget pressures cities and counties are currently under. To alleviate that strain, Jeff told us about a couple of possibilities that are being looked at to provide a dedicated funding source for the arts.

The first of these involves some way of charging groups that use city parks for events such as concerts, for example, to pay the City for the use of the park. Currently these organizations pay for the cost of city services provided to their event, but they do not pay for the actual use of the park itself. The idea is that that money would then be used to fund arts and cultural organizations. This proposal is currently being examined by city staff.

The second idea is to establish a trust fund for arts funding. One of the ideas being considered is pretty interesting. The city has a pot of money that it received for the sale of City owned property in Weeki Wachie. The sale of this property had to be approved by voter referendum. As part of that referendum, the money from the sale was set aside in a separate fund. The income of the fund is to be used for recreational and cultural uses. The current idea being floated is that income from the Weeki Wachie fund could be used to establish a trust fund for arts funding. Stay tuned.

Jeff was asked what he thought would be the best thing that arts supporters could do to impress upon City leaders the value of supporting the arts. Jeff suggested a couple of things. One would be to make sure that the Mayor and Council members are invited to arts openings and other events so they will be reminded of the vibrancy and the importance of the arts to our community. The other idea is to come to City Council meetings and speak at Open Forum to extend those invitations and to talk to Council Members about arts events in the City. the advantage of that approach is that anyone watching the Council meeting on TV will hear about these events. Maybe they will attend themselves. Or maybe they would become more aware of the value of arts to our community. A couple of good ideas, in my opinion.

I want to extend my personal thanks to Jeff for coming to the Friday Morning Group last week; and despite having nearly lost his voice fighting for the arts the day before, speaking at length with us about the state of the arts in St. Petersburg.

And I want to extend to each of you my wish to see you this Friday.

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