Let’s review the proposal of the Cultural Arts Center • St Pete Catalyst

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It is encouraging to read in Catalyst and other media last week that city staff and city council discussed the development of an arts economic generator zone by linking the Dali, the Mahaffey, the Grand Prix (!?) and possibly Al Lang Field under a nickname Center for the Arts.

Every major city should have a cultural and arts center that engages the community. Although St. Petersburg has individual word class centers including the Dali, Morean Arts Center, and Duke Energy Center for the Arts Mahaffey Theater, we do not have a comprehensive and inclusive cultural arts center. Our city needs a true arts center for the arts, not just renaming a neighborhood for development purposes.

I urge city leaders to revisit two recent initiatives that have actively engaged citizens throughout the community for several years, including hosting numerous meetings inside City Hall. I fear that these two reports have been pushed aside and forgotten in the light of yet another “new” idea.

St. Petersburg’s comprehensive arts strategy was developed in partnership with city, business and education leaders to develop actionable recommendations for building on St. Petersburg’s existing arts infrastructure to create economic growth for the whole community.

I urge city staff to read it, as it sets out what it will take to become a true city of the arts – including a recommendation to develop an arts centre. Experts and volunteers studied a dozen arts centers in other cities to develop a plan for St. Petersburg.

In 2018, the Arts Alliance of St. Petersburg drew up a proposal for a Cultural Arts Center (CAC) and recommended that it be located at the new Trop site. CAC’s proposal was discussed with City leaders and staff, as well as the two consulting firms the City employed in the first and second rounds. In fact, the inclusion of a cultural arts center was a requirement listed in the RFP for developers, and many have called me and others asking for advice and suggestions during of developing their site proposals Too.

Integrating all artistic disciplines, the proposed CAC would offer programming that could serve as a real cultural link for the community and for the artists and artistic enterprises that will settle here. Located in the central site of Trop, the pedestrian-friendly CAC would bring communities from south, north, west and east of St. Pete together more easily than could be achieved on the waterfront; and also serve as a gateway to the Pinellas Trail.

A city-wide festival office, flexible 400-seat theater and much-needed dance space could form a performing and visual arts campus that supports artists who create, perform and exhibit new work; developing new audiences; and connecting the arts to the community. The center would house educational facilities for groups such as the Conservatory of Arts for Teens and other non-profit organizations.

The CAC could also complement and support the much-desired St. Petersburg Conference Center by providing a theater that can be used for corporate presentations and smaller events. The conference center itself could be designed as a unique art gallery for glass, clay and fine art, setting it apart from cookie-cutter conference facilities across the country and reflecting our city single arts.

The Cultural Arts Center proposal outlines these and other potential uses that enhance rather than compete with our existing arts institutions and organizations.

Anything that can be done to improve the visitor experience of the Dali and the Mahaffey should be embraced. However, I would insist that it not be presented as the “Arts Center” of our city to the detriment of the two proposals already developed by our community.

John Collins is the founder and former executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

William E. Bennett