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There we were. Cramped in Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts Jaeb Theatre today from 9am – 3pm. It was dark and cold, many of us dressed in black artsy business attire and clutching our coffee with our papers and pens, iPhones and laptops spread open before us. As I arrived to the premier or 1st annual 2011 Culture Builds Florida conference just a few minutes late, I was seated up in the third mezzanine looking down. There was a certain excited and hopeful energy, especially as Florida’s Division of Cultural Affairs prepared to launch economy to us art advocates and business development types. We listened with keen ears to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s warm welcome.
There were just a few minutes to read Governor Rick Scott‘s welcome letter and the prelude that the cultural industry puts Floridians to work, stimulates tourism, and provides accessibility to quality community services attracting skilled workers. Governor Scott explains that the Division of Cultural Affairs will, through the Culture Builds Florida campaign, highlight the vast numbers of Floridians who participate in Florida’s great diversity and vibrancy through cultural activity.
Florida Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning spoke on his view that culture is a powerful tool for personal and collective survival, perhaps akin to life and death. Creative industries are the third largest among all industry clusters in Florida based on the number of establishments. In describing the creative arts as industry, Secretary Browning pointed to Visit Florida and their efforts to combine entertainment industries, arts, tourism and travel as a viable business model. He also stated we are living in a historic time in Florida, With continued declining revenues continuing to impact a 70 billion dollar budget. Many felt the Creative Arts Industries could very well be one of Florida’s strongest hopes for the road to interdependence and independence. Attendees were willing to examine ways Florida could be used as a model state for promoting culture as economic engine. As traditional business looks to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) development for our technology future, one savvy artist asked what perhaps may have been the pivotal question of the day. Why doesn’t STEM include the Arts as STEAM for recovery?
This was followed by a set of three vignettes depicting cultural and business successes in Florida: Fran Powers & Powerstories Theatre; Gus Nick Paras, Architect AIA (who spoke on the benefit of architectural heritage and QRC codes); and Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse of Mickett/Stackhouse Studios. Mickett and Stackhouse, who have been collaborating since 1999, exhibited how they recently took a public arts award of $250,000 and recycled it back into the community of Knoxville/Chatanooga Tennessee for their bronze and brass walk-through sculpture Place In The Woods. A press conference then ensued in the downstairs lobby. I was unable to elbow my way in to speak directly to the Secretary. Believe me, I tried.
Joining the conference from Tallahassee was a panel of Legislators including Senator Nancy Detert, Representatives Seth McKeel and Rich Glorioso. The polite question and answer session was moderated by Malinda Horton, Executive Director of the Florida Association of Museums, with the forewarning that even as Occupy Tampa was protesting just a few hundred yards away, as a group we needed to concentrate on solutions, be thankful for the presence of the Legislators, and not get mired in the muck of arts and culture programs either failed or no longer supported. Of interest was Senator Detert’s urge for those in cultural industries to look at what they contribute much more in the sense of a business model, but certainly not the traditional ones. The good Senator encouraged organized arts activities, collaborations and creative proposals that tell, show and demonstrate stories, make connections, and hold power for change, re-invented economy, and growth for all of Florida’s 67 counties. I believe Citizens for Florida Arts spurred a vibrant dialogue involving the viability of using the Florida Artist as conceptual creators and problem-solvers for big business challenges.
Maestro’s Restaurant hosted attendees with boxed lunches for a second presentation by the Secretary of State and the Florida Humanities Council highlighting Viva Florida 500 Festival, celebrating La Florida’s rich cultural heritage from 1513 – 2013. Arts organizations should look to this event for upcoming exhibition opportunities, partnership avenues, and enhanced arts collaboration venues through Project Pier. Project Pier is a web-based project management platform that provides a snapshot of all activities throughout the state for events and programs.
Participants then had the opportunity to choose between seminar series with Ann Shaler, Senior Vice President, Tampa Bay Market Manager of Bank of America on “Collaborating for Culture: Introducing Innovative Partnership with the Business Community”; or a talk led by Carla Lynne Hall of Creative Capital Foundation on “Untangling the Web: Marketing Arts and Culture through Social Media”, generously sponsored by Citizens for Florida Arts, Inc. Ms. Hall’s presentation covered community building, ambient awareness theory, a thousand true fans theory, biomarketing, and an example of a musician’s cross-platform social branding.
Randy Cohen, Vice President for Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts delivered an entertaining and historically based slide presentation and talk on the statistics of cultural assets as economic engine, based on several in-depth studies. Cohen concentrated on the per capita dollar brought into the state by non-resident tourism/travel and typical profiles and spending habits of the average culture consumer as evidence that under-tapped revenue streams do exist both for businesses and job seekers.
EcoArt South Florida communicated that they are fusing art with environmental science and community engagement to protect and preserve fragile and endangered ecologies, particularly in Florida’s five watersheds. They’ve developed an artist apprenticeship in collaboration with the Arts Council of Martin County. Here are some other interesting facts: