[This stems from an original post by Danny Olda on FB about how the MSG's move from Saint Pete to Miami would affect Saint Petersburg's becoming an "Arts Center"]
Danny asserted that he felt the MSG was our "foot in the door" to that possibility. As influential as MSG was during its time here, I do not believe any single gallery, individual or institution can do that, although it can act as a strange attractant. In that sense, the ripples of influence that MSG sent through this community continue to have an effect, one that will significantly influence our future.
I hear a lot of hype and delusionary optimism in Saint Pete about the arts. There is a sea of bobbing pom-poms, cheerleaders and booster types out there who are aghast at any mention of reality. I think they are unwittingly slowing down, if not paralyzing, real progress in the arts. I know Florida was literally built on hype, but it doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere in the arts sector. To propel ourselves forward, we need to at least have a toehold on reality.
Unsurprisingly, the main factor concerns money. Asheville, for example, has an arts economy twice the size of Saint Pete's. 2X. Our reality would be very different with that kind of money. Miami may as well be in another universe. Leaving out educational levels, the cultural plurality, etc., in 2009, it was the richest city in the United States in terms of per cap expenditures. Globally, it was #5.
In one week last year, Art Basel Miami generated more money than Pinellas County's entire arts economy has generated in the past quarter-century. The 2012 Miami arts economy generated about fifty to seventy times (50X-70X) what the Pinellas art economy generated during the same time. These are hard, stark numbers. Let's face it, we are not about to become an Arts Center bearing any similarity to Miami in any sense involving money.
Should we fold up the tent, suck a thumb, and go fetal? By no means! There are a lot of factors in becoming a more significant art center than money, and there the playing field is a little more level.
The need for realism is so we simply have a baseline. It is our point of departure into the future, where we come from.
We have no shortage of Moseses telling, not showing us they know the way to the Promised Land. Largely unseen and unheard, we also have people contributing their time and energy to make things happen. It would be great to leap into a plush future, but more likely, and far less glamorous, we are going to have to claw and fight for every inch forward.
There are so many fronts and problems, that there is room for anyone to address one or a part thereof, ideate approaches, put together a team and begin working on it. If you do not do it, no one will. We should become an Arts Center in our own image, with our own flavors, and attitude, not conform to what is already a dated model.
The exodus from Beach Drive (and elsewhere, other shoes have yet to drop) is a call to get going.
Looking at the future in my crystal ball er...leaky snow globe...If the movers and shakers of Saint Pete get their way, ten years from now downtown and big patches of Central will be condo canyons, and the City a Sarasota mini-me, only with a fraction of the money. Most galleries will be sterile, homogenized decorative ones selling what I call Condo Candy.
If a butterfly's wingbeat can change the course of a hurricane, imagine what you can do.