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Photo via Creative Pinellas/Facebook
The Jason Hackenwerth 'DARKMATTER' at Creative Pinellas.
Much has changed in the seven years since Barbara St. Clair took the helm at Creative Pinellas.
During her tenure, the arts agency grew from a staff of 1.5 independent contractors to six full-time employees. They established successful partnerships with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and Pinellas County Public Works. They developed programs with the Tampa Bay Rays, American Stage, The Florida Botanical Gardens, Heritage Village, Pinellas African American Heritage Celebration, and Pinellas County Schools. They converted the shuttered Gulf Coast Museum of Art into the Gallery at Creative Pinellas. They rebranded their online arts journal as Arts Coast Magazine and expanded it to include more art writers (this writer included). They brought new murals to the Pinellas Trail, St. Pete’s Lealman Park neighborhood, and the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. And they created a new online Arts Navigator that helps tourists add art to their Tampa Bay vacation.
“Creative Pinellas would not be the force that it is today without the leadership of Barbara St. Clair,” said Creative Pinellas board member and local arts writer David Warner in a press release. “Thanks to her financial savvy, keen instincts, and passion for the arts, she was able to grow a small organization with limited scope into a nationally esteemed non-profit Local Arts Agency that is playing a huge role in asserting Pinellas County’s identity as Florida’s Arts Coast.”
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Photo by Sandrasonik
Barbara St. Clair
How did St. Clair grow Creative Pinellas? In a word: marketing. “Creative Pinellas didn’t know what it was or what it was supposed to do," says St. Clair. “So the board went around to the community, and the community said, ‘We want grants, we want workshops, and we want a really good art website.”
St. Clair spent her first 90 days at Creative Pinellas shaping these community needs into a brand identity. From there, success was just a matter of listening to the Pinellas County arts community and providing it with what it needed.
Community responsiveness is responsible for many Creative Pinellas accomplishments, including their revival of the Gulf Coast Art Museum gallery space in 2017. The Professional Association of Visual Artists (PAVA) had a Christmas show every year, but in 2017, Irma blew the roof off the space where they usually hosted the show. “They asked us if we thought the County would let them have their Christmas show in the gallery,” says St. Clair.
At that point, Creative Pinellas had only used the space once for a single emerging artist show. (The Emerging Artist Exhibition, now in its seventh year, opens May 5, 2023.)
“Because of the hurricane, the County was really trying to help the community, and they said yes,” St. Clair told Creative Loafing. “So the Botanical Gardens has their Christmas lights here, and when the gallery was closed, people would walk by it, and it was really dark and not at all inviting,” says St. Clair. “Suddenly, PAVA had their Christmas show, and they were selling art. People came to the lights, and then they came to the gallery. So after that, we talked to the County and said, ‘If you allow, we can program the gallery.’” Once again, the County agreed.
“That’s the story of Creative Pinellas in certain ways,” says St. Clair. “A door would open…We would sort of recognize a need, or an opportunity would show up, and we’d say, ‘Oh. We could respond to that.’”
When we asked St. Clair which Creative Pinellas projects she’s most proud of, she said, “I like the fact that we've been able to develop a lot of different programs that support artists.”
By awarding ten professional artist grants and ten emerging artist grants annually for the past 6-7 years, St. Clair figures they’ve helped about 200 Pinellas County artists pay their bills.
In addition to providing artists with grants, Creative Pinellas also helps them acquire the business skills needed to make a living as an artist. Their 10-week-long Co.Starters course (https://tbinnovates.com/steam), provided through a partnership with Tampa Bay Innovates, is free for Pinellas County artists and arts-related businesspersons upon application approval. Like the artists and writers whose work she’s supported these past seven years, St. Clair hopes to spend more time creating when she retires.
“I think I would like to be a creator for a while,” says St. Clair. “And I'll also probably do a little bit of consulting…”
“I don't want to be an administrator anymore,” St. Clair continues. “But I have loved being an arts administrator. I think it’s the best job in the world. Art is so important, and it touches everybody. To be able to be an advocate and a champion for the arts is a real dream come true.”