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Art, Artists, Tourism and Florida

A Brief History of the Selling of Art in Florida

Florida has somewhat matured over the years, especially in its attraction of artists to the state who come here for the relatively inexpensive cost of living and the sunshine.  It is also attractive because inexpensive housing and a fairly good base of art collectors come through the state.

The earliest art sold in Florida was not to Floridians.  It was to tourists. Artists such as Martin Johnson Heade or Frank Shapleigh rented studios at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine and these artists would paint and sell their wares to the wealthy tourists from up north.  Their cluster of studios became somewhat of a cultural attraction to the wealthy patrons staying at the hotel.  This having happened only over 120 years ago as the hotel opened in 1889.

The works were created generally as souvenirs for the wealthy and would typically be scenes that included flora and fauna typical of Florida or perhaps street scenes as was the case with St. Augustine.  Sunsets, steamers and flowering plants were common themes.  This was the start of the art industry in Florida.

Today, while we have certainly transitioned from the old itinerary using steamers and stagecoach, the fundamentals haven’t changed all that much.  Tourists still come in to Florida and still buy art and take it home with them.  While we don’t know for sure what percentage of art is bought by what are now Floridians, we do know that tourism makes up a significant, if not a majority, share of this as the two major art centers of Florida today – St. Petersburg and Miami – have become tourist destinations in the past century and continue with their international draw today.

But back to the 1880s for a moment, as St. Petersburg and Miami didn’t yet exist as incorporated towns in Florida, this was at a time when the railway ran as far south as Jacksonville and steamers plied the St. Johns River. The typical visitor’s itinerary consisted of a trip to Jacksonville, the largest city in the state, St. Augustine for its history, a steamer down the St. Johns River and another down the Ocklawaha.  There were variations on this itinerary and stage coaches were used to shuttle people from the ports where the steamers would call in to small towns such as Gainesville and Ocala.

The city of Jacksonville has changed dramatically since it was the first transportation hub of Florida tourists in the 1880s.

The city of Jacksonville has changed dramatically since it was the first transportation hub of Florida tourists in the 1880s.

Many of these early tourists were considered naturalists as they had an interest in nature.  There was, in fact, little else in Florida at the time.  While most paintings were nature scenes and landscapes, there were details of some of the flowers of Florida in some of these early paintings.

But the artist colony was focused in St. Augustine as the tourist center of the state was located there.  Tourism was in this case acting as the distribution channel for art.   It isn’t very dissimilar to some of the earliest cultural attractions in the state of Florida.  They relied on tourists to support them as the residents of the state were typically unable, for the most part, to support larger cultural attractions that primarily consisted of museums.

In the industrialized north, philanthropists funded museums and supported artists.  There was no tradition of this in the agrarian south and the model of support became something between fractured philanthropy and cultural tourism from the North.  The state’s earliest “museums” were designed to attract tourists.  These were in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

The Vedder Museum in St. Augustine.  Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida.

The Vedder Museum in St. Augustine. Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida.

Slowly, artists began to locate in areas outside of St. Augustine.  St. Petersburg probably got the earliest start with artists, or visitors who took an interest in the arts, having had an arts club formed in 1917, ten years before the Florida Federation of Art was formed and well before the 1924 founding of the local arts club in St. Augustine.  Earliest museums in the state included the Ringling in Sarasota and the Norton in Palm Beach.  Art was starting to diversify as a commodity in Florida.   In the decades that followed the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg was soon exporting art in the form of reproduction posters throughout the world.

Today we have significant colonies of artists still in St. Augustine as well as Key West, Miami and St. Petersburg.  There are other clusters of artists throughout the state in other towns and cities of course and many towns now have an arts district.

Marketing Art and Tourism in Florida

The point of this article is to consider what is the next step in the maturation of the arts industry in Florida.  If you look at other similar destinations that have art as a common denominator, you’ll find a movement and an eager tourism industry embracing the “local” feel to the area in places such as Ashville, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia and Provincetown, Massachusetts.   In much older destinations such as Paris or Venice, albeit far larger cities, the arts scene has flourished to include museums, cafes, galleries and artist enclaves.  In St. Petersburg, my hometown, a very active group called “Keep St. Pete Local” is heavily involved in maintaining the local character of the city that keeps it well positioned as distinct from destinations where a more chain style of infrastructure exists.

One of the arts districts in St. Petersburg, the Central Arts District, has links to the other districts with a trolley service.

One of the arts districts in St. Petersburg, the Central Arts District, has links to the other districts with a trolley service.

Miami and St. Petersburg are both in a unique position to be able to further develop their arts industries through tourism.  Art Basel in Miami continues to be a strong annual arts-related event that attracts tourists in great concentrated numbers.  St. Petersburg continues to draw cultural tourists year-round in what is developing as an arts fair that happens throughout the year and in multiple arts districts throughout the city.

While Miami has matured to include very high end art, St. Petersburg’s niche has been in accessible art for a much wider audience.   The “authentic” experience that a certain number of tourists are now looking for is readily accessible in St. Petersburg and in parts of Miami.  The Wynwood Arts District is rapidly maturing in Miami and several districts have emerged in St. Petersburg that allows the visitor a more authentic experience that isn’t created, such as was the artists studios at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine or the concentration of museums in some cities.

And while it is always up to the artist to sell his or her art, there are quickly becoming areas in the state that are more conducive to this.  And as always in Florida, it is seasonal.  It is up to the state’s tourism marketing organization and the respective county tourist development councils and convention and visitors bureaus to use the arts districts to attract more like-minded tourists and to direct those who are possibly secondarily interested in the arts to these districts.

Second Saturday Art Walks in St. Petersburg have become increasingly popular with tourists and residents.  Many other tourist destinations use this concept to promote the arts.

Second Saturday Art Walks in St. Petersburg have become increasingly popular with tourists and residents. Many other tourist destinations use this concept to promote the arts.

Where Henry Flagler knew that there was a demand and clustered artists around a number of studios in the back of the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, our present day promoters of tourism, myself included, must make it easy for our visitors to find the artists and their works.

Art galleries, shows, festivals, arts centers, artist cooperatives, pop up exhibitions, and artist studios have all become part of the tourist experience in some parts of Florida.  To succeed in attracting more tourists who are prone to not only visit cultural attractions, buy locally-produced art we must target those tourists and let them know what the experience of visiting may include and that is art.  There are thousands of tourists that come through Florida’s cruise ports and a percentage of them all buy prints of art on cruise ships during art auctions.  They could easily be buying original pieces from Florida artists.

Many cities and towns in Florida have arts centers including Delray Beach.

Many cities and towns in Florida have arts centers including Delray Beach.

We must target the people who are most likely to buy art and spend time in our destinations.  Today, it is even more easy to focus on this with the demographic and psychographic information available combined with the myriad of distribution channels to reach these people.  For example, a number of articles have appeared recently speaking to the growing and flourishing arts scene in St. Petersburg.  These writers likely were reached through Twitter, blogs, websites and Facebook postings in some way.  Their articles then further reach yet more people and eventually a reputation as an arts center develops amongst those who are inclined to visit arts destinations.  Advertising messages also can be directed to these audiences and those responsible for marketing to visitors have access to make this happen.

It is important to look at the history of arts and tourism marketing to be able to understand how to move forward.  The essence of tourism marketing vis-a-vis the arts is to convince people to visit and buy art.  This is done through reaching those most likely to visit with your message.  Any destination can do this and with the right resources, can do it better than it is doing presently.

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How Museums Survived the Financial Crisis

The Financial Side of Non-profit Cultural Institutions

I recently gave a talk to a group of accounting educators about “the financial side of non-profit museums” while they toured our facilities at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. It was very interesting to them and it occurred to me that this might be an interesting blog post for some others. I will specifically be addressing and referencing (without naming any) Florida institutions since that’s where I’ve spent my 25+ year museum career.

The museum sector experienced the same economic issues as other sectors starting in about 2006-2007 and even a Wikipedia entry was created to reference the period specifically for museums.  Museums are often not as nimble as their profit-focused counterparts and the staff at museums often not as entrepreneurial as their for profit colleagues.  Their mission of caring in perpetuity for artifacts that have been donated combined with their mission of education whether it is history, science, art or something else is sometimes without regard to real cost.  Why then did some manage to survive and others not? Why did some organizations go away while others become absorbed in a government college or university?  And what of the ones who actually did survive and actually thrive?

Culture of Cultural Institutions

Financial constraint isn’t something that a lot of museum professionals understand.  Even in its simplest terms of money out cannot exceed money coming in is not easily understood.  At one institution I recall a number of meetings to come up with new net income ideas.  After a while, it does have an effect and staff begin to understand the true costs.  Costs they don’t see on a daily basis such as insurances, utilities, payroll taxes, the actual cost of those benefits they receive and so on.  It takes time to build a culture of understanding true net income in a museum or arts institution.

When raises weren’t given or benefits cut there were staff who couldn’t comprehend it at the time.  “But I’ve been here for 12 years,” rationalized one staff person to me one day as if that explained why they were due a raise.  “But of course the artifact MUST fly first class with a courier,” underscored another staff person as if completely oblivious to economic reality.  “But so and so NEEDS more hours, you CAN’T cut them,” argued a supervisor.

Budgets were given and freely spent.  “It is in my budget,” was a common museum staff persons cry.  Historically, museum professionals were given a budget and they would spend it for little regard as to where the income came from to actually pay for it.  The transition from one-sided thinking has been a slow one but one that many museums now have completed.  Aligning expenses with off-setting revenue has been one approach taken by many museums.  The more entrepreneurial of employees thrived in this type of environment while the budget spenders didn’t fare so well.

Government Funding

The first things that went in the financial crisis for museums were endowment fund income and balances, followed rather quickly by government support.  Some intuitions would receive federal, state, county and city funding.  An organization too reliant on government support quickly found itself in trouble if it didn’t have a good earned income model.  State of Florida funding was zero for several of these lean years.  During that time, some institutions were absorbed into government schools which somehow still were funded and often received additional operating dollars based on expanding their physical space.

It has a cascading effect.  State money went to nothing or next-to-nothing in the State of Florida.  County government funding could include a county school district or the county government itself supporting an institution.  In some cases institutions found themselves faced with multiple cuts from their county organizations which also included tourist development councils that saw declining revenues from bed tax dollars and also made cuts.  City governments faced declining tax collections and also cut funding to cultural institutions.  Usually the government support eroded within a year or two of each funding source going away causing great strain on the cultural institutions.

Endowments

We all know that the value of endowment funds dropped significantly.  Across the State of Florida auditors were making sure that the principle balance didn’t go below what a donor had given.  Museums were not receiving as much income from their endowments.  And matching endowment programs at the state level completely stopped.  Those institutions who didn’t have endowment funds were obviously less affected by this situation, however, they were not able to start endowment funds during this time period.

Furthermore, there was, and in some cases still exists, a negative feeling by trustees about endowment funds.  Some institutions just didn’t have the financial constraint to not tap endowment funds and spent principal balances.  Obviously, not a practice I condone.

Donations and Foundations

Foundations for the clear reason above found their principals being eroded and cut back on giving significantly.  This had an effect on larger as well as smaller institutions.  Donors, whose portfolios declined dramatically, cut back considerably in their giving.  They simply didn’t have it or believed that they were in a financial crisis themselves despite being worth millions in some cases.

A colleague who ran a museum on Long Island told me that the Bernie Madoff scandal was catastrophic for some institutions there and I’m sure that had an effect on other locations such as Palm Beach County.  It became more important than ever to thank existing donors with fewer (if any) development staff in place which further did nothing to help the situation.

Earned Income

Those organizations that could quickly react to the rapidly growing financial crisis, whose news seemed to grow darker by the month for some institutions, were the ones to survive.  Those who continued to do the same gala events and rely on the same government dollars and the same foundations quickly found themselves in trouble.  Earned income was the way so many institutions survived.  I recall one institution balking at serving popcorn (a highly profitable product) in its theater because someone would have to be hired to clean it and it would ruin the floors.  They sought help from a governmental body eventually for more support.

I’ve written about various forms of earned income elsewhere in this blog.  But let me repeat that small things can make a huge difference and getting staff to understand this is very important because it is they who have to implement any changes and embrace them.  Vending machines, as one example, are often placed in out-of-the-way places or behind walls with no signage so as not to interfere with the art experience by museums, can have a positive effect on cash flow as well as net income.  I know of one institution that regularly received over $20,000 in vending income alone.

Ticket sales, memberships, retail sales, exhibit and artifact loan fees, licensing, food and beverage income, alcohol sales, real estate (by which I mean unused office space or a store-front or any tangible property that could be positioned as income earning) and more are all ways some museums are closing the gap between expenses and income.  Much is written about Unrelated Business Income Tax and there are times when museums are subject to UBIT should their earned income go too far away from their mission.  For example, an art museum would be exempt from selling reproductions of its collection but might be subject to income tax on coffee mugs that just have the name of the city in which the museum was located on them.  So, be careful with venturing too far into earned income without understanding any tax implications.

Expenses

While labor is usually the number one cost for a museum, some institutions waited too long to cut too few.  Some institutions simply could not see some expenses as “unnecessary” and continued to spend.  Some institutions continued to do larger exhibitions without regard for recouping expenses.  The cost of travelling exhibitions for institutions is significant.  In fact one museum director, when asked by yours truly when I sat on a grants panel, couldn’t explain what accounts payable was to me properly.  He reiterated to me that it was expensive to do large exhibitions (which I have done and know quite well) and that is the reason for his accounts payable which I noted had increased from over $100,000 in one audit to over $300,000 the following year to his most recent year which was approaching $600,000 in accounts payable.  It wasn’t long before the museum was absorbed into a government supported school.

It is a careful balance that must achieved in the great financial web that museums find themselves in and a qualified director is probably the best resource an institution has.  It is easy for finance committees to discuss line items and details and even make changes to museum budgets without understanding the ramifications.  In other cases, it is necessary for boards to intervene when directors cannot themselves understand the complicated financial model of running an institution that needs a diversified revenue stream and a positive cash flow.

After prolonged cutting there comes a time when it really is impossible to cut more without having serious ramifications on the mission of an organization.  But this usually isn’t the first or even second round of cuts for most organizations.  Some institutions cut dozens of jobs and the average person wouldn’t even notice it if they were a visitor.  The marketing gets cut and visitors decline which is all about revenue.  If a curator is cut, there usually isn’t an off-setting revenue line that is affected which was an area that was a target by some museum directors during this time.

It is this challenging balance game of mission and net income that museums now must face though since the economic recovery began it has become a bit less stressful for cultural institutions and they are much stronger and more nimble and entrepreneurial than they were just a decade ago.

Summary

So the strongest museums were able to survive during this crisis and make cultural changes within their organizations that hopefully will allow them to thrive into the next economic cycle.  They were nimble, entrepreneurial, financially restrained, innovative, and exceptional.  Any museum professional who sat around a management table and focused on what had always worked probably found themselves without a job or, worse, without a museum.

I haven’t tried to point any fingers in this but to summarize a talk to accounting educators that found the real life applications of accounting interesting in a museum environment.  One instructor came up to me afterwards and we chatted about it more.  I’m now fairly convinced that a good understanding of accounting and finance is critical to an institution’s success.  And that doesn’t mean just having a well-qualified CFO – which helps – but a staff that understands accounting and finance at some level.

For more information on museums and professional operations I strongly encourage anyone to really go through the American Alliance of Museum’s web site as the organization is an invaluable resource to museums and has been incredibly helpful and advanced as an organization in helping institutions make it through the financial crisis not only by surviving but of course by thriving.  It just takes the right mix of staff and entrepreneurial spirit and having some fun along the way.

 

Earned Income for Non Profit Arts Centers and Museums

Earned Income for Arts Organizations

This series of blog posts will relate to increasing earned income at non-profit cultural attractions.  This has become a necessity for a variety of reasons and hopefully this will help guide some through the change.

Background

Earned income has been a challenge for non-profit organizations for many years.  It has been particularly a challenge in the state of Florida where state funding, and, indeed, in many cases, municipal funding has been something that governments have either reduced significantly or eliminated altogether.  This in a state that hasn’t had a great history of support for the arts to begin with.

This will be a series of examinations of how our cultural non-profit organizations can expand their revenue streams and search for new earned NET income.  But first a little background so you understand where I am coming at this from.

Many years ago, as Director of Marketing for the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, we had a problem in that no governmental agencies believed they should support such an institution.  In those days (the early 90s), grants panels were made up of purists who, for whatever reason, didn’t believe in the support of that particular institution. and therefore that institution wouldn’t receive government funding.

It probably was a blessing in disguise as the Dali Museum became self-sufficient and extended into programs that didn’t generate net income only as it could afford to have the operation subsidize them.  It was very judicious at making sure the operation was sustainable.  In fact, during the eight years I was there we were able to buy three significant pieces of artwork and spend nearly $2 million to do so.

I spent some years also at another museum whose revenue model was almost all earned income – MOSI – the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa.  Prior to that I produced blockbuster exhibitions for the Florida International Museum whose operational budget was solely based on earned income while some capital improvements were funded by the state (no longer an option in Florida).

That said, it takes time to build a culture of discipline, especially in an arts organization. This is especially true when an organization has been habitually subsidized and has not had time to learn how to live within its means or earn its own NET income.  Each museum I’ve been with has has its share of successes and failures in the earned income foray.

Take stock of your intellectual capital

Who do you have on your team?  What are their strengths?  Without doing a full SWOT analysis complete with flip charts, really look at who you have and run a filter on who the most entrepreneurial ones are.  This really doesn’t require a lot of over-analysis.  Do they understand the basic concept of revenue less expenses equals NET?  Do they comprehend that part of the expenses are insurance, mortgages, accounting fees, advertising and other overhead expenses?

Not every employee will need to “get it” but most do.  In very rare situations of heavy government subsidies or endowments are curators allowed to control exhibition and conservation programs without much check.  There usually needs to be offsetting revenue to cover these types of expenses and museum and arts administrators have really started to take notice of this business model that for many of them is fairly new.

I will remind everyone that with no money, there is generally no mission.  It is fine to have people strictly mission-based, but there needs to be a balance and more often than not in the past decade we have seen a co-mingling of staff focused on mission as well as NET.

You will hear some in the rank and file who perhaps don’t understand this new model state things like “our only mission is to make money” or “it is all about chasing the almighty dollar.”  Certainly I’ve heard it in the past and I doubt I it is the last.

Sales and marketing oriented individuals will be where you will want your staff to gravitate.  You will recognize employees who can only grasp the concept of being given a budget to spend.  This, unfortunately, is a good portion of the work force.  This is in no way to say there is no room for those individuals in an organization.  They may have invaluable talents that many others do not possess.

Earned Income

What exactly is earned income?  Well, it isn’t local, state or federal grants.  It is income that you, the non-profit actually earns.  You make something and sell it for a profit (hopefully) is an industrial example.  Or you provide a service, for example, your facility for an evening with a tour to a group, and you charge a fee for it.

This series will examine earned income possibilities for non-profits and specifically cultural attractions and museums.  While not every example is going to be applicable it helps to pull yourself away from your organization so that you don’t immediately say things like “that will never work here” or “we don’t allow that.”

Earned income can include the following:

– Food and Beverage

– Facility Rentals for Events

– In-house Events

– Landlord/Tenant relationships

– Retail Items

– Wholesale Items

– Licensing

– Location fees

– Membership

– Sponsorships

– Artifact or Exhibit Rental fees

– Endowment Income

Keep an open mind and we’ll help you look at ways to improve your non-profit.  It all takes buy in from your board and staff though and a shift in culture.  We’ll look at some ways to accomplish this without considerable capital expense.  These will be actual cases of increased income.  There is no shortage of ideas out there.  But fundamental changes to the way you do business that will increase your earned income has been much harder to find.

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 4

The Product and Who Was Promoting It

As previously mentioned, the product has been a mix of cultural facilities: visual and performing, antiques shops and malls, bookstores, unique neighborhoods, city parks along the waterfront and the events that took place there, along with art galleries and restaurants.

The opening of the then Stouffer Vinoy Resort in 1992, refurbished by Fred Guest for just over $90 million, contributed significantly to the city’s image. Finally, the city had a resort that complemented its museums. This was at a time that the failed retail and entertainment concept known as Bay Plaza was becoming apparent.
It was also in 1992 that a group of people formed a group called Common Ground that promoted downtown St. Petersburg and held monthly street parties along Central Avenue. This group of marketing-oriented professionals also spent social time together and the friendships formed helped speed along the work to get behind marketing downtown St. Petersburg as a cultural destination.  I had mentioned this in more detail in Part 2.

With improving neighborhoods, real estate agents became involved in the process as they marketed homes in the downtown neighborhoods, all within close proximity of the cultural facilities mentioned before.

In 1996 a small group of people, coordinated by the Downtown Partnership with Marty Normile and Eric Carlson, formed to discuss downtown transportation. After many meetings, the City of St. Petersburg, after great involvement by Anita Treiser, agreed to donate to a new non-profit group one of the former trolleys that ran in operation at The Pier. The group included the museums, two hotels, the downtown merchants association and the Pier.  Here is the first brochure and timetable for the Looper – downtown St. Petersburg’s trolley.

FAM 017

A route was developed and each of the stakeholders made a contribution to the trolley. Plans were made to sell advertising. Professionals who had jobs to promote their own facilities did all this. I remember one hot day climbing over seats at Carlisle Ford with David Blackman and Mary Lee Hanley measuring spaces that could be used to sell advertising to help support the trolley, which we named The Looper.

wayne terri david

Wayne Atherholt of the Dali Museum, Terri Garnhart of the Museum of History and David Blackman of Great Explorations all cooperated regularly in jointly promoting the museums. This picture is circa 1993.

We managed to contract with a gambling ship which operated shuttle buses to handle the daily driving and maintenance. Unfortunately on the first day of operation the Looper had major engine problems because the oil was low. Our first major setback had just occurred. Undaunted we continued with the assistance of the city and the stakeholders and today the Looper is still in operation connecting the major cultural facilities, lodging establishments, entertainment complexes, antiques malls and all the downtown galleries, restaurants and retail shops. Of course, office workers and tourists became the target audience for using the system.

An early article on the Looper trolley appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

An early article on the Looper trolley appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

At about this time the Welcome Guide Map and its owners, Jim Wray and Chuck Wray, got involved as a commercial operation to promote St. Petersburg with a map specifically aimed at the downtown to help position the area as a cultural destination. Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions, under the leadership of Drake Decker, also helped in many ways by distributing cooperative materials for the cultural attractions such as Museum Month.  I also recall Darlene Kole putting together a coop ad for us in SEE Magazine.

A VIP card included admission to four downtown museums and was sold through the Vinoy and AAA.  An ad that appeared in SEE Magazine promoting the museums.  An insert into key zip codes through Val-Pak promoted four downtown museums.  And finally, a colorful poster was produced and made available to area hotels and businesses to promote the museums of St. Petersburg.

A VIP card included admission to four downtown museums and was sold through the Vinoy and AAA. An ad that appeared in SEE Magazine promoting the museums. An insert into key zip codes through Val-Pak promoted four downtown museums. And finally, a colorful poster was produced and made available to area hotels and businesses to promote the museums of St. Petersburg.

Cooperative Marketing of the Product

Much of the cooperative marketing has been mentioned in the prior pages; however, it cannot go unsaid that these efforts included many low-cost techniques: maps, press releases, joint efforts, group efforts, events, neighborhood parties, happy hours, brochures, posters, and a great spirit among those involved helped make the hard work a lot of pleasure.

Mayor David Fischer held visioning sessions in the mid 1990s that further solidified what the marketing people already knew; downtown St. Petersburg indeed was the center for the arts in the Tampa Bay area. It wasn’t until the travel editor Gerry Volgenau from The Detroit Free Press visited that we finally got someone who could see our vision and write about it.

The fact was, our common vision had become a reality. At the time the article was published, it featured the headline “Florida’s Culture Coast” (reprinted on page 29) with a dateline of St. Petersburg. It was finally recognized that St. Petersburg had become the arts center of the West Coast of Florida. This was the first time, in 1996, that we finally got some major coverage of what we had been working so hard to achieve — recognition that the arts and culture were transforming the city, contributing to its economic success, and making downtown St. Petersburg a lively and exciting place.

The story that finally broke for downtown St. Petersburg being recognized as the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.

The story that finally broke for downtown St. Petersburg being recognized as the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.

Museum Month continued despite storms and even an oil spill that sent visitors packing away. The First Night organization helped start the event in St. Petersburg under the leadership of Pat Mason and Jim Durning.  This was another event that took many of the arts organizations under an umbrella and packaged them to show a critical mass of arts and culture.  It most recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in St. Petersburg.

Another major turning point for the city took place during the run of the Titanic exhibition, which drew over 830,000 visitors to downtown St. Petersburg.  The brochure promoting the exhibition also included wording on the other cultural attractions of downtown and briefly went under the branding of the QuARTer.   A group of developers were visiting the city to consider a large entertainment complex near the museum on vacant land used to park school and tour buses. A line extended outside the museum building as people waited to buy tickets for the first available tour – and it was at night.

The Florida International Museum received coverage all over the world for its record-breaking Titanic exhibition that spanned 27,000 square feet and 830,000 visitors in six months.  All group tour operators, wholesalers and travel media received this piece on the destination that focused on downtown St. Petersburg's arts and cultural appeal.

The Florida International Museum received coverage all over the world for its record-breaking Titanic exhibition that spanned 27,000 square feet and 830,000 visitors in six months. All group tour operators, wholesalers and travel media received this piece on the destination that focused on downtown St. Petersburg’s arts and cultural appeal.

The hardest selling point for the developers was whether anyone was going to go downtown St. Petersburg to a movie or restaurant at night. They took one look at the line around the Florida International Museum and the rest is now history. Baywalk, an entertainment complex featuring multi-screen cinemas, retails shops, restaurants and nightclubs continues to be successful — and a cultural institution was primarily responsible for convincing them to give St. Petersburg a try.

Conclusion

Each city and town in Florida, or across the world for that matter, can benefit from some of the lessons that St. Petersburg learned. Many of the people involved in the early days of transforming this city are now scattered around the country.  Each of them were creative and passionate people who were enjoyable to be around and had positive attitudes.  It wasn’t something borne of money or power, changing St. Petersburg was borne from the spirit of so many dedicated individuals whose passion was not profit but challenge.

The critical key, in my opinion, to creating a common goal was to create an atmosphere that was conducive to these creative people to gather, have fun, work hard and work together. Downtown St. Petersburg became such a place with its many features described in this brief overview of how the city became a cultural destination.

A creative culture was born that exists today making St. Petersburg the cultural center of the west coast of Florida now with multiple unique arts districts, including Beach Drive with its concentration of museums, the Central Arts District with its galleries, arts retail, arts education and artist studios, the Grand Central District with multiple arts facilities including commercial arts education facilities and the Warehouse Arts District south of Grand Central that features the largest working pottery in the southeast in an old freight railway station plus single artists studios in old warehouse space.

Today St. Petersburg is without a doubt the cultural center of the west coast of Florida and could very easily be argued to be the cultural center of the state.

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 3

The Product takes shape

As mentioned earlier, there are the core cultural facilities such as museums that were the original focus of cooperative marketing, but as non-profit galleries and for-profit galleries developed or were recognized for their importance in creating a destination, these were included. The performing arts facilities were also included as were events as witnessed in the Artworks! Festival material.

I remember going to Tampa with David Blackman to look at this float for the Festival of States parade to promote the then-five downtown Museums.  We all participated but I recall the woman from the Museum of History having mole crickets run up and down her hoop skirt during the parade.  It was a lot of effort and collectively we figured it would be more cost-effective to focus on doing other cooperative things.  This was about 1994.

I remember going to Tampa with David Blackman to look at this float for the Festival of States parade to promote the then-five downtown Museums. We all participated but I recall the woman from the Museum of History having mole crickets run up and down her hoop skirt during the parade. It was a lot of effort and collectively we figured it would be more cost-effective to focus on doing other cooperative things. This was about 1994.

The secondary product in the cultural arena was the antiques malls and the bookstores that also contributed to attracting visitors. Some of the tertiary product included the Pier, the area hotels, parks, architecture, restaurants and the like; but we recognized that all of these elements were needed to create a true cultural destination.

The article in the Sarasota newspaper states "St. Petersburg is bragging - again. And with good reason - again."  Museums Month focused on the great destination that could be created by combining forces among the museums to highlight the city as a cultural destination.

The article in the Sarasota newspaper states “St. Petersburg is bragging – again. And with good reason – again.” Museums Month focused on the great destination that could be created by combining forces among the museums to highlight the city as a cultural destination.

Another factor was people. There really needed to be people and pedestrian traffic in a safe environment. Many of the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area had become magnets for prostitution and drug dealing and included many vacant and boarded up houses and former rooming houses. But this is the subject of another section on neighborhoods that is covered next.

Neighborhoods

Many of downtown St. Petersburg’s neighborhoods had become infested with outdated housing stock, drug dealers and prostitutes along with homeless people and petty crime. This type of environment keeps visitors away. It is also not a place most people interested in cultural life would live. Nonetheless, several groups of citizens started working on improving these neighborhoods that bordered the downtown area early on, notably in the Vinoy Park, Old Southeast and Round Lake neighborhoods.

Frequently these groups were at odds on how to best improve the area, with some wanting higher density, others wanting low density, and both groups with a somewhat antagonistic approach to City Hall in this author’s opinion.

The Round Lake area expanded its scope to include four other in-town neighborhoods which eventually became known as the Uptown Neighborhoods comprised of Round Lake, the southern part of Crescent Lake, Euclid and the St. Anthony’s area.  It was not until David Fischer became mayor at the same time as a change in city charter to strong mayor from city manager form of government happened at the same time that something seriously happened that would have an impact on downtown St. Petersburg for many years to come.

The first new-construction home in the downtown area for many years was built just north of the Round Lake area in what is now broadly known as Uptown.  This picture was taken for the St. Petersburg Times showing National Night Out Against Crime where the two community police officers from the Uptown neighborhoods attended along with others in the neighborhood to celebrate the new home being built at 1022 Eighth Street North.

The first new-construction home in the downtown area for many years was built just north of the Round Lake area in what is now broadly known as Uptown. This picture was taken for the St. Petersburg Times showing National Night Out Against Crime where the two community police officers from the Uptown neighborhoods attended along with others in the neighborhood to celebrate the new home being built at 1022 Eighth Street North.

The day after the elections Dave Fischer called me into his office and Operation Commitment was started, focusing every city effort on the Uptown Neighborhoods in a test that proved successful at cleaning this area up, raising the property values and increasing the tax base for St. Petersburg. It was officially announced in May, 1993.  New construction followed and new commercial activity started to happen in an area that was all but considered a crime haven.  It also provided a safe and upcoming neighborhood for the professionals moving to the area due to the cultural attractions and emerging growth climate of downtown.

Other neighborhoods followed in the coming years but this was the first effort that was truly a citywide effort to clean up a targeted neighborhood. There were no stops pulled with all city departments being active and much work being done in concert with the neighborhood associations. With nicer neighborhoods, the city was able to attract better paying jobs, enhanced cultural facilities and provide better housing for those who were coming into the city to work.

Further contributing to St. Petersburg’s commitment to the neighborhoods was the appointment of a Neighborhood Czar, Mike Dove, and staff. The Council of Neighborhood Associations developed a Neighborhood Leadership Program about the same time that was modeled after the successful Leadership St. Petersburg.

There were many other things that contributed to St. Petersburg’s neighborhood improvements, from the passing of legislation to allow a Nuisance Abatement Board and grants to plant more trees, to the efforts of neighborhood activist and architect Tim Clemmons’ pushing the allowance of sidewalk cafes.

Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber’s involvements included the neighborhoods as Rick Baker, then president of the Chamber, helped coordinate and start this program with the first meeting being in the home of Jon and Hilary Clarke. I attended along with Dave Prior from the Uptown Neighborhoods. This program helped develop leaders for the neighborhoods and continues today.  Rick was also instrumental in showing the efforts of the Uptown Neighborhoods groups work to future governor of Florida Jeb Bush.  I remember a homeless man walking through the park with a twelve-pack of Bush beer.  Jeb made a comment about the beer to him as he passed and said just like the President.  The homeless man said yeah, and he has a brother in Florida who is running for Governor.  This was 1992 long before Jeb was widely known.

The Chamber was also instrumental in assisting with the Artworks! Festival previously mentioned. The president, Paul Getting, provided the office space and infrastructure to allow the chamber to become the umbrella organization for the festival and it was all done very inexpensively.  The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes importance of culture in a 1995 publication that can be viewed by clicking the link.

In addition, several museums worked with the St. Pete Beach Chamber, and Penny Mathes its director, whom we sent on a joint sales mission to South America in the early 1990s.  The beach chamber was the one focused on tourism.

The Dali Museum also participated in a sales mission to Brazil when that market was emerging by sending Portuguese-speaking docent Charlotte Smythe. This was done in conjunction with the then-Tampa Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Bureau and really helped lead the way for South American tourists to the area who in turn visited museums and discovered the concentration of culture in the downtown. It was after some of these grass roots efforts that the sales arm of the Pinellas County TDC (Discover Florida’s Suncoast) started to focus on this market and eventually hired a South American representative.

The chamber also helped contribute to the positioning of St. Petersburg in its visitor guide, and the tourist information centers soon were distributing materials that promoted all the museums and cultural facilities.

Government’s Role

While the thrust of changing St. Petersburg came from within, the assistance of various governmental agencies certainly contributed and the individuals involved were a great reason why. The Pinellas County Arts Council, under the directorship of Judith Powers Jones, was always available to help and provided small grants to organizations. But, like the CVB was a county organization and the promotion of one area over another wasn’t good policy.  The city also contributed significantly by co-sponsoring events that allowed for police, fire and trash removal as an in-kind donation to the event.  And as I mentioned before, Anita Treiser with the city, had a passion and a vision that was shared by the core group of people who worked to position St. Petersburg as a cultural destination.

New product development grant money was available and the museums applied as a group.  It took some coaxing and there was still some push-back that bed tax money shouldn't be spent promoting cultural attractions in downtown St. Petersburg. But it passed and this black and white scan shows a little of the brochure that was produced focusing on the seven downtown St. Petersburg museums.

New product development grant money was available and the museums applied as a group. It took some coaxing and there was still some push-back that bed tax money shouldn’t be spent promoting cultural attractions in downtown St. Petersburg. But it passed and this black and white scan shows a little of the brochure that was produced focusing on the seven downtown St. Petersburg museums.

In addition, a city staff member, Anita mentioned above, was assigned to assist the museums and form a group that met periodically to discuss matters of common concern. The city also assisted with Museum Month by printing collateral on the city’s presses, promoting museums through the city television channel and water bill inserts.

The City of St. Petersburg was one of the few cities to provide financial support to the arts in 1992 with $225,446 in its budget as a line item to be granted to 21 cultural organizations.

Continued in Part 4

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 2

A Cultural Destination takes aim

With four museums in downtown St. Petersburg operating in the late 1980s it was critical to help create a destination out of what existed. Even the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) did not include a lot of information about the museums in its promotional material in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, I remember quite clearly being told by then-director of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council (the precursor to the CVB), Bill Sheeley, who asked me “why on earth would people leave the beaches to visit a museum in downtown St. Petersburg?”  It was shocking to say the least but it was the thought by virtually everyone in the hospitality industry at that time.

A 1998 advertisement in a tourist guide promotes the cultural diversity of downtown St. Petersburg in a cooperative effort among museums and galleries.

A 1998 advertisement in a tourist guide promotes the cultural diversity of downtown St. Petersburg in a cooperative effort among museums and galleries that was coordinated by the museums and iniated by them.  The sales reps and owners of these publications shared our understanding of creating a destination.  Specifically SEE Magazine and Darlene Kole; Chuck and Jim Wray with CJ Publishers and Drake Decker with Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions.

A lot of work had to be done.  The international significance of the Dali Museum was the sole draw for me in taking the position as the first marketing director.  That those in charge of promoting tourism internationally didn’t recognize the potential was disappointing.  But we soldiered on in our work.

The growth of the international market for Pinellas County in tourism, a change in leadership and the interest in the Salvador Dali Museum’s increasing international tourism figures, led to the CVB being interested in, first, the draw of the Dali Museum, specifically with German visitors, and second, the cultural scene in general in St. Petersburg which was favored by tourists who were looking for a more cultural experience.

The late 1980s also saw a lot of crime and downtown store closings in St. Petersburg which was late in its downtown decline compared to a lot of cities. Understanding that the Dali Museum opened in 1982 and Great Explorations adjacent to it in 1988, it was only natural for the two museums to cooperate to attract visitors to the south side of downtown St. Petersburg. This became the start of cooperative marketing in St. Petersburg.

It was during this time also that the Downtown Core Group – a grass roots organization – started promoting events and shopping plus a group called Common Ground – a group that consisted of the major downtown marketing directors – started the First Fridays events.  The first First Friday was an experiment to see if anyone would stay downtown after 5 PM on a Friday.  I remember pulling beer taps that night with Toni Tassoni from the Pier and others to a crowd of about 100 people.  And that might be on the high side.  We were thrilled.

But as late as 1995, I recall speaking with a friend who was hired to handle marketing and sales for the Florida International Museum. She was from Boston, and asked me when we were speaking about downtown, “where are all the people?” Clementine Brown, who is a pioneer in cultural tourism in Massachusetts, became a dear friend and colleague as we worked toward the common goal of letting people know what downtown St. Petersburg really had to offer but I get ahead of myself by a few years.

Early Cooperative Marketing

There has been cooperative marketing in the cultural attractions for many years across the state of Florida.  There have been attractions associations at local and regional levels whereby attractions cooperated with brochures and certainly at the state level when, in 1949, a group of attractions formed the Florida Attractions Association.  But museums in Florida at that time really were in their infancy and were best represented by the Ringling Museum and its Circus Galleries and the Lightner Museum of Hobbies.  I will write more on the state level for another article.  Back to St. Petersburg and museums in particular.

The first cooperative marketing among the museums, took place in 1990 when friendship struck up between Mary Lee Hanley, director of marketing for Great Explorations, and myself, then director of marketing at the Dali Museum. We both had major announcements and both believed that downtown St. Petersburg had so many of the elements of a great cultural destination but that they really weren’t linked. In early 1990, stationery was created that linked the two facilities as the “Museums of Bayboro,” named for the Bayboro Harbor that both were next to.

One of the earliest pieces of cooperative work between the museums of St. Petersburg was this joint press reception under the banner of The Museums of Bayboro between the Dali Museum and Great Explorations in 1991.

One of the earliest pieces of cooperative work between the museums of St. Petersburg was this joint press reception under the banner of The Museums of Bayboro between the Dali Museum and Great Explorations in 1991.

It more than likely started on a cocktail napkin, but nonetheless, we were off and running with our cooperative marketing and joint press release that included an offer of a media familiarization tour to include the Dali Museum’s new purchase of a major painting that was being unveiled and the announcement of a new exhibition at Great Explorations.

The media mission included a recommendation to “include the Museum of Fine Arts, P. Buckley Moss Gallery, Florida Craftsman Gallery, The Arts Center and The Pier, all within minutes of Bayboro Harbor.” If I recall, these were selected due to their uniqueness in St. Petersburg and their cultural focus.

We were fortunate to have Karen Smith, who was the travel writer for the Fort Myers daily newspaper who produced a nice piece on the openings and St. Petersburg. Our goal was always to promote the museums but to ensure the destination was treated as a cultural one with Smith and the other journalists who attended this press event.

Another cooperative effort, this time under the umbrella of the Chamber of Commerce, was the Artworks! Festival. Organized by a friend, Kathleen Pazourek, this festival in 1991 included some great artwork from Phillip Gary Design, a local design firm whose owners, David Meek and Jeff Papa, were extremely talented graphic artists. The event included the American Stage in the Park Shakespeare series, a Kid’s Art Festival, A celebration of Salvador Dali’s birthday, the Mainsail Art Show, a music concert and Art Express which was a gallery hop of 14 museums and galleries. This festival helped people to understand the large number of cultural attractions and facilities that already existed in St. Petersburg.

Another small, but significant piece, was the creation of a generic pamphlet entitled “Downtown St. Petersburg, The Heart of the Arts in Tampa Bay,” which was produced by the Dali Museum and included other arts organizations along with a map of downtown St. Petersburg. It was printed at no charge by the local Sir Speedy print shop. This became a piece that was included in all the Dali Museum press packets and distributed to travel writers and travel agents as the Dali continued to expand its marketing to become a global entity. This was the first printed piece that included all the museums of St. Petersburg and had distribution beyond the city’s limits.

The Artworks! flyer, as simple as it was, created a focus on the arts through events in downtown St. Petersburg in 1991.  This piece was inserted into cable bills.  The flyer to the right, which was produced on various neon paper, was produced at no cost to any of the arts organizations and was distributed through Dali Museum press packets and group tour operator packets in addition to other outlets and highlighted the concentration of the arts facilities in downtown St. Petersburg.  It was used by the Dali Museum as a sales tool to bring in groups and promote the city to travel writers as early as 1990.

The Artworks! flyer, as simple as it was, created a focus on the arts through events in downtown St. Petersburg in 1991. This piece was inserted into cable bills. The flyer to the right, which was produced on various neon paper, was produced at no cost to any of the arts organizations and was distributed through Dali Museum press packets and group tour operator packets in addition to other outlets and highlighted the concentration of the arts facilities in downtown St. Petersburg. It was used by the Dali Museum as a sales tool to bring in groups and promote the city to travel writers as early as 1990.

In 1993, the first Museum Month was developed and was a cooperative effort among the Dali Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Great Explorations and the Museum of History. It involved friends and colleagues: Mary Lee Hanley, David Blackman, Don Baldwin, Anita Treiser and I.

The first Museum Month in 1993 is celebrated at City Hall with Mayor David Fischer, Michael Milkovich (Museum of Fine Arts), Mary Wyatt Allen (St. Petersburg Museum of History), Wayne Atherholt (Dali Museum), Eileen Smith (Great Explorations) and Anita Treiser with the City of St. Petersburg.

The first Museum Month in 1993 is celebrated at City Hall with Mayor David Fischer, Michael Milkovich (Museum of Fine Arts), Mary Wyatt Allen (St. Petersburg Museum of History), Wayne Atherholt (Dali Museum), Eileen Smith (Great Explorations) and Anita Treiser with the City of St. Petersburg.

Anita was with the City of St. Petersburg and was instrumental in making this happen as the city agreed to print the brochures that were used to promote the event. Each of us had committed to making sure downtown St. Petersburg was a success and the success of downtown St. Petersburg was essential to the institutions we served.  Here is a link to a Museum Month brochure from 1995.

A press release from 1995 publicizing Museum Month in downtown St. Petersburg.

A press release from 1995 publicizing Museum Month in downtown St. Petersburg.

The tasks were divided up, usually at a happy hour somewhere downtown.  And back then the selection of places for happy hour consisted of about four locations.  Someone took on the job of compiling the events, creating and distributing press releases, creating a poster and brochure, faxing information sheets to area hotels and other tasks to make the first “Sunsational Museums Month” a success and gain publicity for the fact that there were four excellent museums all located in downtown St. Petersburg.  Keep in mind this was all done before the internet.  We had word processors and fax machines in those earlier days.

Continued in Part 3

Another cooperative effort for Museum Month was sponsored by USAir.

Another cooperative effort for Museum Month was sponsored by USAir (Nell Iba, a friend from my airline days helped on this) and the St. Petersburg Times.  We also got a hotel stay that was coordinated by the Stouffer Vinoy Resort that had just opened in St. Petersburg.

Continued in Part 3

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 1

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 1

This post is part of a series that looks at how St. Petersburg, Florida became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.  This series is an update to a presentation to the annual Florida Association of Museum’s conference in 2008.  A little background on myself during the time period that this historical perspective takes place is important to understanding the series and it is important to understand that this is one person’s perspective.

From 1989 to 1997 I served as Director of Marketing for the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg followed by three years with the Florida International Museum creating and promoting blockbuster exhibitions.

I lived in downtown St. Petersburg’s Uptown Neighborhood for eight of those years and was active in many downtown-focused activities and built the first single-family home in the downtown area for many years.

During this time I was responsible for over 3 million guest visits to a downtown St. Petersburg Museum.  Being involved in the neighborhoods and the arts business downtown afforded a unique perspective on how this story unfolded.

Historical Perspective of St. Petersburg and its Museums

To understand what St. Petersburg was like in the late1980s you would have to have been there. But there are some key points to understanding it for those who were not. Firstly, it was the brunt of many jokes relating to retirees. It was known for them, though by the 1980s many of them had long since left for the suburbs and less crowded parts of Florida. Many of the rooming houses that catered to the snowbirds had become home to prostitutes and drug dealers. This, of course, forced more of the stable retirees out of St. Petersburg and left an abundance of two bedroom, one bath homes that had little appeal to working families.

In fact, let me quote from a 1992 (July 22-28) issue of Creative Loafing, a Tampa Bay alternative weekly publication, on what the writer, Steve Baal, pondered the image of St. Petersburg:

Somnambulant septuagenarians scuffing along stark, silent streets; their gait, a strange two-step, choreographed by age and arthritis, measured by the stabbing stretch of aluminum walkers? Or maybe, row upon row of sturdy green benches, populated by gray-manned ghosts in waiting, periodically pitching popcorn to the pigeons?

The article was focused on the possibility of major league baseball in downtown St. Petersburg and what was already there from an arts and culture standpoint. The point was that there was a lot of art and culture already centered in downtown St. Petersburg and that many of the art executives believed it just needed packaging.

A 1992 story in Creative Loafing focused on downtown St. Petersburg.

A 1992 story in Creative Loafing focused on downtown St. Petersburg.

Continuation of the 1992 story on downtown St. Petersburg in Creative Loafing.

Continuation of the 1992 story on downtown St. Petersburg in Creative Loafing.

This is just a short background to place the reader in the time frame of the 1980s when the story of cooperative marketing started with the cultural facilities of St. Petersburg. Let’s take a look briefly at the history of St. Petersburg’s museums.

The first Museum to appear in St. Petersburg did so in 1920 when the St. Petersburg Historical Society (now the St. Petersburg Museum of History) was founded by Mary Wheeler Eaton in a small stucco building that formerly held an aquarium. It was only the third museum to be founded in the state.

The Museum of Fine Arts, along St. Petersburg’s bay front, has been an institution only since 1965 when it was founded by Margaret Acheson Stuart. For more than a decade these were the two institutions that comprised the Museums of St. Petersburg.

Then in 1980, a St. Petersburg Attorney, James Martin, read and article in the Wall Street Journal that featured a couple who had the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s works in the world. His thought was to have that collection in St. Petersburg and then assistant city manager Rick Dodge assembled a team of community leaders and convinced Reynolds and Eleanor Morse to locate their collection in Florida. The State, under Secretary of State George Firestone, also cooperated and assisted in the financial matters to get the facility started.  It opened in 1982 and drew approximately 65,000 visitors a year for most of the 1980s.

In 1988, another museum, founded by the Junior League of St. Petersburg opened adjacent to the Dali Museum.  Great Explorations, The Hands On! Museum, as it was known, was within blocks of crack and prostitution problems but it was adjacent to the Dali Museum. These were both located on the south side of downtown St. Petersburg in an area that had a bad reputation.  The two museums operated and attracted visitors to the area while sharing less than 5% of their total attendance making for some great opportunities.

The birth of the Florida International Museum meant big things to St. Petersburg. Organized in 1992, it opened its doors to its first major exhibition, Treasures of the Czars, in 1995. It occupied a former Maas Brothers department store and the success of downtown St. Petersburg has since caused the building to be razed and the museum to be re-located and re-positioned as a far less risky facility that does much smaller exhibitions and was part of St. Petersburg College until it was closed.

The Florida Holocaust Museum, one of the largest of its type in the country, relocated from Madeira Beach, where it opened in 1992, to downtown St. Petersburg about five years later.

In addition to the museums, a number of galleries were operating in the downtown area in the same time period. Notably, Evelyn Cobb Galleries and P. Buckley Moss Gallery were very active in the cooperative marketing efforts. The fact that Haslam’s Bookstore billed itself as Florida’s Largest Used Bookstore also created a further reason to visit downtown St. Petersburg. The result was it attracted the same cultural tourists as the museums. Those interested in arts and culture are frequently collectors and the Gas Plant Antique Arcade, which billed itself as the largest antiques mall in Florida, further contributed to the critical mass needed to attract cultural tourists and appeal to culturally attuned travel writers. They all helped St. Petersburg rise above other destinations and became part of the cast of cultural characters.

The Arts Center, which traces its history as an arts club in the city to 1917, and Florida Craftsmen Gallery, which is a state-wide organization headquartered in the city that features exhibits and a unique arts-oriented retail gallery of Florida artists works both added weight to the cultural destination portfolio.

The state headquarters and gallery for Florida Craftsmen is located in the Central Arts District of St. Petersburg.

The state headquarters and gallery for Florida Craftsmen is located in the Central Arts District of St. Petersburg.

The performing arts also contributed in many ways with American Stage being the only professional acting company in the Tampa Bay area and it was, naturally, located in downtown St. Petersburg. The Mahaffey Theater and the historic Coliseum, purchased by the City of St. Petersburg in 1989, followed by the Palladium in 1998, further solidified St. Petersburg’s position as a cultural destination though those facilities mostly catered to locals but their programming often was sufficient to stand out from other cities.

Another early part of the renaissance was the re-opening of the State Theatre into a venue that was both historic and located in another area that was starting to build cultural significance that was anchored by Florida Craftsman Gallery, Art Lofts and the Arts Center.  Today, years later, this area of St. Petersburg is known as the Central Arts District.

Continued in Part 2

The State Theatre, St. Petersburg.

The State Theatre, St. Petersburg.

Continued in Part 2