Tag Archives: Great Explorations

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