Unite and conquer

A new cultural group bands together to promote north Pinellas arts.

click to enlarge Artwork on display at Gallery 1356 in Clearwater, where gallery owner and sculptor J. Harrison Smith is acting chairman of the NPCA. - Mitzi Gordon
Mitzi Gordon
Artwork on display at Gallery 1356 in Clearwater, where gallery owner and sculptor J. Harrison Smith is acting chairman of the NPCA.

Pinellas serves an alphabet soup of arts and cultural support organizations: SPAA, CP, CAA, WADA. In order, those initials represent the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, Creative Pinellas, Clearwater Arts Alliance, and the Warehouse Arts District Association, and they only comprise a few that make a brew to nourish the region’s creative community, each in a different way.

Combining Forces Too 
Thurs., April 7, 9 a.m. in the Heye Great Room at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall. Attendees can pay a $1 pre-registration fee online or reserve a box lunch for $15.50 to $19 that includes cost of registration. There is no fee at the door day of event.

Some educate and connect artists with tools to power their success: funding opportunities, marketing strategies, accounting and legal support. Others lobby on behalf of the arts, encouraging business partnerships and studying the link between cultural arts and economic development.

So how do they intersect, and is there room at the table for more?

The answer in north Pinellas appears to be a hungry yes, as emerging nonprofit North Pinellas Cultural Alliance (NPCA) joins the ranks supported by funding from six area cities — Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Dunedin, Largo, and Tarpon Springs — aiming to promote their combined charms to culturally-oriented visitors while boosting homegrown audiences.

Venues such as the Leepa-Rattner Museum, the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre, and others all hope to benefit from NPCA’s collaborative marketing of the region.

“More is always better,” said Ken Hannon, NPCA board member and vice president of the popular Dunedin Fine Art Center. “More arts, more people talking about it, more people focusing on culture in the places they call home. Ultimately what we’re about as an organization is making those connections.”

The cities of Oldsmar and Safety Harbor each agreed to contribute $2,000 to the fledgling alliance. Clearwater chipped in $5,000, Dunedin and Largo $4,000 each, and Tarpon Springs $3,000. Pooled with private donations, the NPCA now holds about $20,000 in start-up funds.

Their next step: Combining Forces Too, a daylong conference created to “consider initiatives for the promotion of cultural activities.” Put more simply, it’s an opportunity for administrators, artists, and anyone else with a stake in the pie to sift through concepts brewing at NPCA and decide where best to focus energies.

Topics on the menu include a creative festival linking all six cities via the Pinellas Trail, a public art partnership with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority placing local art on bus shelters, and opportunities to share in collaborative marketing.

The alliance vision also includes a future membership program, signature events, and a promotional website now under development. NPCA board member Maria Zouves, of Palm Harbor, said their goal is inclusivity with a measured approach.

“It’s a great project, but it’s going to take time, and we want to do it right,” she said. “This project isn’t going to be built tomorrow. We’re doing it carefully.”

click to enlarge Colin Bissett, executive director of the fledgling North Pinellas Cultural Alliance - North Pinellas Cultural Alliance
North Pinellas Cultural Alliance
Colin Bissett, executive director of the fledgling North Pinellas Cultural Alliance
Zouves, who with husband Sherrill Milnes co-founded the VOICExperience Foundation for aspiring vocal artists, helped found the NPCA and develop its strategic plans. With alliance executive director Colin Bissett, she presented the concept to city managers, eventually gaining their support and funding.

“I think people underestimate the amount of art that’s happening in the north Pinellas sector,” Zouves said. “We believe that there is vital art here.”

Debb Pauley, marketing specialist for the city of Oldsmar, said it’s hoped the alliance will have impact as a “centralized organization” for arts and cultural groups in the area.

“It creates a platform to educate Oldsmar residents, foster growth for our artists, and inform visitors of the growing public art world inside our community,” Pauley said.

Clearwater Cultural Affairs Specialist Christopher Hubbard would like to see a partnership between the North Pinellas Cultural Alliance, Creative Pinellas, and the Clearwater Arts Alliance grow to raise awareness of cultural arts throughout Clearwater and north county.

“They are, if you will, umbrella organizations of each other that support a unified message of arts awareness and marketing,” Hubbard said. “It’s meant to serve as a touchstone that joint ventures can happen from.”

Fundraising events and membership drives are planned to keep NPCA rolling through the year, but ongoing sustainability likely requires some future reinvestment on the part of those six cities, and perhaps others.

Safety Harbor City Manager Matthew Spoor said the expectation long term is that the organization will become self-sustaining.

“It’s our cheerleader,” Spoor said. “Safety Harbor has a very active creative community with many different non-profits putting on activities and events. Hopefully this cultural alliance will serve as the voice that brings everyone together.”

The NPCA board and advisors, some 20 people strong, currently includes sculptor and gallery owner J. Harrison Smith, artist Junior Polo, Zouves, Hannon, and other arts representatives from all six contributing cities, as well as from Pinellas County schools.

“There was no unified voice to do this in the county,” said Bissett, who wants to take a “more cohesive approach” to promoting north Pinellas arts and culture. “Working together is what it’s all about.”

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