Hello St. Petersburg. This is a personal note to my city: Yes, you are my birthplace, my definition of home. You were the landscape of most of the greatest moments in my life and most profound experiences. You raised me, taught me about life, love, disappointment, forgiveness and redemption. I know you well. You know me well. I’m worried about you.
Your downtown area has come a long way since my childhood, but not without cost.
You’re much more beautiful than I remember–landscaping, building renovations and a really cool strip of art galleries, restaurants and shops streaming down Central Ave. First Fridays were a brilliant idea. Even with all of this, your arts culture is quite understated. Possibly more understated than in the 70s and 80s when it was still just a toddler, learning how to walk on your city streets.
Then, people were on fire about possibilities and growing the culture. There was a successful, dedicated, for-profit local arts magazine, and people were excited to volunteer, promote and fund-raise for the arts. They were passionate about attending concerts, exhibits and shows. Now, well, things are a bit less passionate–a community more difficult to motivate and patrons and benefactors are increasingly challenging to cultivate.
I understand the economy is nothing short of frightening. I understand that the arts may not be top on the list of priorities and initiatives to charge revitalization and business sustainability in St. Petersburg for its citizens. I get you. I really do. I’m asking you to try to put all the fear aside for just a moment right now. For just this moment, think only in terms of possibilities and opportunities. Think about vision. What do you see? I challenge you to consider that he arts may very well be the one thing that matters most in St. Petersburg RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW.
You need to improve education: the arts are an immeasurable vessel to introduce youth and young adults to applied interdisciplinary studies and to help cultivate creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills (I’ll write a separate post on this next–I promise). You need to attract big talent in business, commerce, investing, entertainment and design: just give them a reason to be here. Give them a place where they, their families and their peers will be fed and inspired. They’ll come, and they will help you solve any additional problems that may come with a sudden spike in population, because they know how to solve problems and they want to stay and invite others.
Why is St. Petersburg the best place to do this thing? At the start, you have two–TWO incredible museums, the likes of which no other Floridian city can compare: 1) St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts & 2) Salvador Dali Museum.
Let’s be clear–the value (artistic, monetary and historical) standing collection in the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts is nothing less than a priceless prize. The collection is so exquisite, just in its standing collection alone (e.g. Monet, O’Keeffe). Very few museums today would ever be able to afford a collection like this–one that we are blessed to have right along our waterfront.
Salvador Dali, a consummate leader in the Surrealist Movement, he later moved into scientific and religious subjects and finally into the classic style, his mastery of painting technique is not criticized. Never confined to a style nor artistic medium, Dali also left behind sculpture, film, performance art and photography for us to enjoy. The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg houses the most comprehensive collection of Dali’s work, and the museum has an incredible reputation of continuously finding innovative ways of exhibiting and showcasing this extraordinary art.
Not to mention, St. Petersburg, you have a sensational presence of galleries, a concert hall, small theatres and outstanding resident visual and performing artists and arts teachers. All of these treasured buildings and art collections mixed with incredibly talented people–ah, the people. Yet, the world still does not think of St. Petersburg, Florida as a substantial creative locale–a place to be culturally fed and nurtured with small-venue opportunities for artists and aspiring artists to learn and practice, hone their craft and debut the next BIG thing in the arts. Why not?
St. Petersburg has everything it needs to be the primordial ooze of artistic development–to cultivate and nurture outstanding, world-class visual and performing artists. It has all of the elements needed to be the birthplace of progressive artistic and cultural movements.
Concerned about cost? It’s free! Well, at least low-cost, and certainly fodder for prime grantwriting opportunities (wink, wink, nudge, nudge): National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities on just the federal level alone.
St. Petersburg, what we are lacking is a targeted, unified vision; an organized, passionate movement; and sincere belief that this will come to fruition–that this is the destiny of St. Petersburg’s future. So, what will it be, St. Petersburg? What do you have to lose by trying and giving it your all? What would you have to gain? Will you share in the vision? Will you dare to be great?