ST. PETERSBURG — Since arts funding was slashed in the recession, St. Petersburg artists have complained that city is benefitting from its Bohemian reputation while doing little to help the local arts community survive.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s first budget did little to change that, with just an extra $38,000 added to the $175,000 former Mayor Bill Foster set aside last year for grant funding for arts groups.
The City Council now plans to almost double that, voting 4-3 Thursday to allocate $1 million over five years to boost the city’s burgeoning arts scene. The money will come from the Weeki Wachee Fund, a $14 million endowment fund established following the sale of two plots of land in Hernando County
The sale was approved by a city-wide referendum with the promise that proceeds would only be used for parks and recreation projects. But city attorneys recently advised that the eastern parcel portion of the land is not bound by the referendum as it was not designated as waterfront property. The council must still approve an ordinance authorizing the repurposing of a portion of the money.
“It brings jobs and tourists to St. Petersburg,” said Councilman Charlie Gerdes, who proposed using the money for the arts. “We need to find a stable, permanent funding source to make certain the arts stay here, that they grow and that we continue to benefit from the economic opportunity.”
Jim Kennedy, one of three council members who voted against the plan, said he was concerned about depleting the fund and wanted more information about how the money would be spent.
“You have to pull out more money than I want to pull out to have some impact,” he said.
The money will be distributed by the city’s Arts Advisory Committee, a 12-member board appointed by the mayor. Typically, the money goes toward local arts non-profits such as Creative Clay, American Stage and freeFall Theatre, said Elizabeth Brincklow, the city’s Arts and International Relations manager.
While there is no direct funding for independent artists, Brincklow said many of those groups provide an income for local artists by hiring them as educators, workshop leaders and administrators.
“It will have a substantial impact,” she said. “Arts organizations stretch every dollar. This will only maximize what they can do.”
City funding for local arts grants fell from $400,000 annually to $175,000 during the recession. The $38,000 increase this year was the first in several years.
Kriseman has pledged other support for the arts, including beefing up the city’s marketing budget and allocating $50,000 to the Arts Alliance, a group that supports for-profit studios and galleries.
Early next year, the city also is planning to add a check box on utility bills for residents who want to contribute to the local arts scene and has pledged to put $50,000 toward the Artists Enclave, a proposal to buy and convert a project on 22nd Avenue to provide low-cost living and studio space.
Still, some council members said the city should be doing more and that the Weeki Wachee money is only a stop-gap measure.
“I don’t understand why we can’t fund the arts in a more substantial way from general funds for economic development and wear it on our sleeve and be serious about it,” said Councilwoman Darden Rice. “I’m frustrated; I think we can do better.”
In other action, the City Council agreed to allocate $25,000 toward a study of where to build a proposed $1.5 million regional skateboard park. The project was once planned for the city waterfront, but officials now hope to find a site in Midtown, with a plot on 22nd Street South and 3rd Avenue being considered. The project also would be funded through the Weeki Wachee fund.
-- St. Petersburg Tribune