Whether you realize it or not, St. Petersburg, Florida is receiving recognition on a global level as an arts and cultural destination. The Huffington Post even named it one of the Best Street Art Cities in March of 2016. While the beautiful murals outside are visible to most eyes, there is also an entire population of artists including writers, dancers, glassblowers, tattoo artists and everything between. Fortunately, there is one organization that acts as the umbrella and supports all art disciplines. The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, founded by John Collins (the fundraising guru with the groovy spectacles), is key to the arts community due to their focus on advocacy, education and economic growth that the arts bring to the area.
Although the 501(c)3 nonprofit is only about four years old, according to their website, The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance (SPAA) is the only nonprofit solely dedicated to raising money and advocating for the entire creative community. This includes artists, arts and cultural organizations, and creative businesses. The SPAA raises money through individual and corporate gifts, event sponsorships, and state and federal grants that support community-wide arts efforts.
“Creativity needs organization to succeed, but it needs a champion,” Collins stated during our chat in his office at the Chamber in Downtown St. Pete. Our city truly adores him because he is that champion and has created an organization to support creativity of all forms. He is passionate about helping the artists – whatever their art form may be. (By passionate I mean that this man works around the clock everyday to ensure that our local artists have the support they need to continue their work. Plus, he is able to attend just about every art function and he seems to genuinely love what he does.)
Collins continued by explaining that the SPAA looks at what art can do for the city as a whole and how it can help brand and market St. Pete. He noted that there is an eclectic group of people who now call the area their home (whether they work, live, or play here in DTSP). Collins called them the “new beautiful people” and as he pointed out the tattooed sleeve on my arm he said, “that’s the new life of the city.”
Did you know that between 2002-2013 the number of artists, performers and writers who moved to the St. Petersburg area increased 44%?(John says he has the numbers to prove it and with his extensive knowledge, I trust him!) With an escalation like that, it generates places in Downtown St. Pete such as the Artist Enclave in Historic Kenwood Neighborhood. This became the first area that legally allowed artists to have home-based studios in a residential zone.
Just how did this marvelous man create something that plays such a grand part in the Downtown St. Pete community? He began as volunteering on the city arts advisory committee through the leadership of Leslie Curran (who is an established custom-frame designer and has become a Downtown St. Pete business leader) and the help from City Council member Jeff Danner, they supported the idea of creating an endowment fund for the arts in the city. One thing lead to another and John Collins was then hired as an Arts Consultant for the city around 2010.
What they all quickly learned is that the arts community needed money now, not ten years from now. Luckily, another cool thing about St. Pete is that if you raise your hand to help out, it is not difficult to get involved. He laughed as he said that no one elected him anything. John Collins simply raised his hand and the city accepted his recommendation to establish The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance as a separate 501(c)3 (thanks for stepping up and creating SPAA – now that’s cool!). DTSP sponsor and fellow arts champion, historic event venue NOVA 535, applaudes John and his tireless efforts to raise St. Pete’s global brand recognition.
Among many other wonderful collaborations, The City of St. Petersburg office of Cultural Affairs, The Suncoasters and St. Petersburg Arts Alliance come together for the month long celebration of arts – St. Petersburg Festival (SPF). The Shine Mural Festival will kick SPF16 this September again while also highlighting Fine Arts, ArtWalk, and Craft Art. In addition to that exciting week, the SPF16 (check back, their website coming soon!) will feature performing arts and family arts festivals.
Collins noted that as much as St. Petersburg was founded on tourism, people are falling in love with the welcoming community. The inviting vibe of the city is attracting more people because, let’s face it, we want to be tourists living in paradise forever (and that’s exactly why he and his wife moved here from Boston)!
As Downtown St. Pete is flourishing, DowntownStPete.com is evolving as well. We only feature the 5-star places to go, delightful things to do and wonderful personalities to meet who add to our community and make it unique (just like John Collins of St. Petersburg Arts Alliance!). To stay informed on what’s going on and where to go in DTSP, create a free profile on DowntownStPete.com. Get involved by posting your favorite photos enjoying the area onto Downtown Now and interacting with other members who work, live or play here!