Seven months ago, Pinellas County began an experiment in supporting the arts. Following the dissolution of its traditional grant-making arts council, Pinellas County Cultural Affairs, due to budget cuts in late 2010, the county opened the door for a successor agency to be established.
Designed to run on a fraction of the budget of its predecessor, new agency was intended primarily to generate attention for Pinellas artists and arts organizations rather than funding them with the modest resources available — a one-time allocation of $300,000 from the Pinellas Convention and Visitors Bureau, a leftover from the original arts council’s budget, and annual revenue of $30,000-$40,000 from the state’s arts license plate program. With the hiring of local arts advocate T. Hampton Dohrman as director last December, Creative Pinellas was born.
Last week, a major manifestation of the new organization’s mission, the promotional media project called Articulate (articulatesuncoast.com), went live online. Designed to harness the power of informal journalism for arts marketing, the site publishes regular contributions by a dozen community bloggers who include current and former arts journalists, artists of various disciplines and other arts lovers. Along with photos and videos, Articulate offers up their opinionated ruminations on the state of the arts in specific genres (e.g., Pinellas’s literary scene), select events listings, artist profiles and stories about exhibits and concerts.
“It serves the purpose of promoting and marketing artists in Pinellas County because you’ve got it straight from the source of a person who’s embedded with it,” says Mitzi Gordon, Creative Pinellas media manager.
Gordon, who was hired about four months ago to help conceive and supervise the project, is known to many in Tampa Bay’s arts community for her past work at the Dalí Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art. At those museums, she helped develop marketing and membership programs, but her background also includes experience as a reporter and editor for Media General, publisher of the Tampa Tribune, and contributor to VisitFlorida.com, a state-funded website that melds marketing and travel journalism. The company that publishes VisitFlorida.com — Sarasota and Denver-based Miles Media — designed Articulate from the technical side with input from Creative Pinellas.
To her team of contributors, Gordon has recruited seasoned writers Gina Vivinetto, once pop music critic for the Tampa Bay Times, and Scott Harrell, a regular contributor to CL. (Harrell will write about music for Articulate, while Vivinetto’s beat will center on literary arts.)
Artists including poet David William Durney and experimental musician David Manson will offer first-hand insight into their respective genres. Other bloggers include Marysia Lopez and Danny Olda (visual art), Alexis Quinn Chamberlain (fashion), Tony Armer (film), Laura Kepner (writing) and Katie Mulford (theater). They will blog across genres according to their interests.
For the past two weeks, Articulate has been in a “soft launch” phase, Gordon says. Toward the end of the month, visitors to the site should expect to find more content and regular updates. Tracking down news outside of St. Petersburg, the Pinellas city with the most arts activity at both grassroots and institutional levels, is at the top of her to-do list.
“We will be trying to extend coverage to every corner of Pinellas County — Clearwater, Dunedin, Gulfport. But it’s going to take some time and some digging in to help me find out what’s going on out there,” Gordon says.
In the meantime, Dohrman is working on refining other projects launched by Creative Pinellas earlier this year or slated for debut in the fall. One is the FEAST series of dinners (based on a Brooklyn-based project of the same name) designed to raise money for artists’ projects. Diners contribute $30 to attend, eat and watch presentations by artists, choosing one project to receive proceeds from the event; so far, Creative Pinellas has hosted two dinners, raising about $500 in total for two artists. In the fall, Dohrman plans to start a patron-matching program to recruit supporters for individual Pinellas-based artists and groups, as well as an equipment borrowing program (with pedestals, track lighting and other items available for free loan) and a web collection of tutorials on promotional skills for artists like writing a press release.
Such projects are Dohrman’s way of working to extend Creative Pinellas’s achievements beyond marketing — the extent of the agency’s mission before he was hired — into “designing a business model for supporting the arts without any money,” he says.
“You can’t take money away from artists to talk about what they’re doing — that’s not cool,” Dohrman says.
In an effort to turn the agency’s limited resources — a 2011-12 budget of roughly $80,000 and funding for the creation of Articulate from the CVB’s $300,000 allocation — into something more, he has borrowed and adapted ideas like FEAST from around the country, making Creative Pinellas into a kind of test lab for new concepts in arts funding and support. Articulate, too, with its blurring of journalism and government-funded marketing, joins a national conversation about the necessity of “buzz” to thriving arts communities and how to go about generating it. Last year, the Knight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts partnered to fund three “new models” of arts journalism including iCritic Detroit, a (not-yet-realized) mobile video booth where audience members record reviews of local arts events, which are subsequently shared via social media.
How well Creative Pinellas’s experiments succeed remains to be seen, but the agency’s first seven months have made its commitment to redefining the traditional arts council clear.
“The opportunity was there to do something different, and that’s the biggest thing that we’ve accomplished — coming up with a way to do that,” Dohrman says.
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