At 28-years-old, T. Hampton Dohrman -- a USF graduate and entrepreneur whose background fuses business and music -- fits the profile of "young professional'' coveted and courted by chambers of commerce and economic development groups.
But after several years of attending meet-and-greet cocktail parties in the Tampa Bay region, Dohrman felt that he wasn’t becoming deeply involved or making a difference in the community by participating in networking groups geared toward 20- and 30-somethings.
“My experience with traditional networking -- the young professional model -- was that we all hung out and drank and didn't do much,” Dohrman says.
Chief among his dissatisfactions was that networking groups were rarely deeply engaged with the visual and performing arts (or they were devoted to supporting a single institution). In 2009, he met someone who shared his frustrations -- 33-year-old lawyer Ann-Eliza Musoke Taylor. As the two chatted outside an art exhibition held in a cigar factory in West Tampa, they wondered whether a young professionals group geared specifically toward championing the arts in various forms could succeed in Tampa Bay. Though it would take them a year to officially launch the group, Taylor and Dohrman hatched the initial concept for PYT, or Philanthropic Young Tampa Bay
, that evening.
"The goal was half networking and half helping people get connected with some of the really awesome arts resources that we have in the Bay area,'' Dohrman says.
On Oct. 13, PYT hosts the latest in a series of monthly events that the pair began in February. Dubbed the "Postmodern Cocktail Experience,''
the event blends experimental cocktails (mixed by members of the Left Coast Bartenders‘ Guild
) with experimental music (provided by Cephia’s Treat
) at the Roosevelt 2.0
, an experimental arts venue in Ybor City. It also serves as a fundraiser for PYT’s second philanthropic project of 2011 -- group sponsorship of a Dec. 2 concert by the Florida Orchestra
that will be free for PYT members and concert goers under age 40.
The goal, Taylor explains, is to take the young professional networking model -- booze plus schmooze -- and turn it into a recipe for philanthropy through small-scale individual contributions in the near term, while grooming PYT members for life-long commitments to funding the arts. In concept, the group’s model is reminiscent of Kickstarter.com
, the online fundraising platform that helps people raise several thousand dollars (or more) to publish a book or launch a small dance company in increments like $10, $25 or $100.
PYT raises small contributions in a variety of ways: through an annual $50 membership fee that includes benefits; admission charges to events like the "Postmodern Cocktail Experience'' ($20 at the door, $15 in advance; $10 PYT members); and corporate sponsorships of events by companies hoping to place their brand name in front of affluent young art lovers.
Since PYT’s objective is to keep existing members pitching in the piecemeal donations that fund projects while also attracting new members, the group’s philanthropic prowess depends on the organizers’ ability to plan regular events with interesting cultural hooks, Taylor says.
"People can be really interested for the first couple of events, but what gets people to come back every month?'' she asks.
So far, the 8-month-old group has nearly 50 members who have attended events at the Tampa Museum of Art
(a tour with TMA director Todd Smith), The Bricks in Ybor
and Fly Bar & Restaurant
in downtown Tampa (talks by video artists Santiago Echeverry and Kurt Piazza, respectively) and Bleu Acier
(a tour of the printmaking studio with owner Erika Schneider).
Geared toward exposing attendees to contemporary visual arts and to TMA, those events netted PYT $2,500 that the group plans to donate to the art museum to help fund the production of a catalog for the museum’s solo exhibition of New York-based artist Janet Biggs.
Taylor and Dohrman had initially hoped that the group would raise $5,000 to purchase one of Biggs’s video artworks for the museum’s permanent collection. The upshot of raising less -- which the museum opted to allocate toward the catalog -- is that PYT members will each get a copy of the catalog for their own bookshelves, Taylor explains.
In the meantime, the group has gained a fan in TMA director Todd Smith, who expresses enthusiasm for the emergence of PYT as a new, if fledgling, model for philanthropic giving in the Tampa Bay region.
"What I really liked about the group is its interest in a range of giving opportunities within our community. PYT accepts the fact that donors have varied interests and want choice in how they give,'' Smith says.
The group’s fall initiative, sponsorship of the Florida Orchestra concert on Dec. 2
, switches PYT’s focus from visual arts to music, and monthly events follow suit. After experimental music on Oct. 13, booze-and-schmooze evenings in November and December include talks on classical and Latin music.
Dohrman says the group has raised half of its $2,500 sponsorship goal for the FLO concert, which features performances of works by Mozart, Haydn and Bruckner and will coincide orchestra’s launch of "Wolfgang,'' its own young professionals group. Response to the project from PYT members, who consist largely of lawyers, architects, entrepreneurs and artists, was overwhelmingly positive at the group’s July event.
At that same event, however, several PYT members interrupted Dohrman’s announcement of the project to protest (to laughter among the group) that they were older than 40, suggesting that PYT’s strength has been in attracting burgeoning philanthropists who are neither so young that they can’t afford to give nor so far along in their careers that they don’t still need an introduction to the board room.
And to grow their members into more seasoned philanthropists, one of Taylor and Dohrman’s next projects is to place PYTers in advisory capacities on the boards of directors of local arts organizations. They hope to encourage the PYT donors who are giving $10 and $25 each month today to become people who give thousands, or even millions, of dollars down the road and who provide the kinds of leadership that arts organizations of all varieties require to thrive.
“As they get older, PYT members will have a personal connection to the arts community,” Dohrman explains.
Megan Voeller of Tampa writes about art as visual art critic for Creative Loafing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.