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Arts scene won't be a draw for next mayor

sandra thompson
THOMPSON
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By SANDRA THOMPSON

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003


To hear them tell it, at a forum Monday night presented by the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts, all the candidates to be Tampa's next mayor just love culture and the arts. Except maybe Bob, but he pointed to Linda Saul-Sena in the audience, an activist for the arts, and gosh, he knows her, so that's almost the same thing.

Why, Charlie played coronet as a kid! And Frank's mother took him by the hand to all -- and there weren't many -- performances in Tampa. Pam upped him on that one; she lived in Florence, Italy, while she was growing up and her father was teaching there. Neil (Cosentino -- you may not know him as he's not at most forums) kept using the word "Bauhaus," referring to the early 20th century art and architecture movement. He wants that to happen here, only it would be called "Bayhaus." Don said, "Politics is the art of happiness." I can't remember whom he was quoting, but at least he spared us his childhood experiences.

All to the good, those early exposures to art and culture, but not one candidate said anything to suggest he or she had actually experienced any of the city's cultural institutions as an adult.

No one mentioned, for instance, the terrific show at the Tampa Museum of Art, Magna Graecia, culled from several archaeological museums in southern Italy. Two Sundays ago, the museum was filled with enough people to create a real buzz -- and an afternoon lecture was standing room only. No mention, either, of Rafael Vinoly, the new museum's hot architect.

No one commented on the hefty and wildly enthusiastic crowd that turned out for the Washington Ballet that same weekend at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, or on any other performance there.

No one gave thumbs up to the Pedro Almodovar film Talk to Her, that just played at the Tampa Theatre, where the forum was held, or to any other film or performance there.

No one said the words "Florida Orchestra," a point not well taken by Leonard Stone, the orchestra's executive director, who, in the audience Q & A, asked point blank why they hadn't mentioned it. At that time, the candidates fell all over themselves saying how much they liked the orchestra; they even went as far as to speak for their opponents in praise of the orchestra. No mention of ever having heard the orchestra, or of its new music director, Stefan Sanderling. And no concern that the orchestra has no home in the cultural arts district.

I wish I could say that the art lovers in the audience set things straight. But, with a few exceptions, those who lined up to ask questions had their own agenda. Where does my organization or my neighborhood fit in? What's the city gonna do for me? Gosh knows, as Bob would say, there are enough other forums where they could push their non-arts agenda!

But no, we heard an impassioned plea by Joe Robinson for the USS Forrestal Sea Air Space Museum. Charlie pointed out the aircraft carrier is so big it would take up the whole port. And while candidates effused over aircraft carriers in general, Don said, "At this point in time, I'd be against it because it's such a bloody war symbol."

Kelly Benjamin asked a relevant, if somewhat testy, question: "Ybor had a blossoming organic arts district. The cultural arts district is a sterile bogus replica to commodify art. Is it really going to support artists here?"

To answer, Charlie said something about Ferdie Pacheco. Neil reiterated his view that the next artist community should be Palmetto Beach. (Not a bad idea. It has charm, and it's cheap.) Don wants a themed art show tied to the Gasparilla run. Frank reiterated his view that the arts district will have "a ripple effect" to other neighborhoods, and Pam reiterated hers that the arts district will be a catalyst for a vibrant north end of downtown.

Whatever. Unless there are some really good cafes, don't count on seeing your next mayor there.

-- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at tampa@sptimes.com . City Life appears on Saturday.

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