St. Petersburg businesses find art good for bottom line

Years ago, well-loved local artist Bill Woo, known for his iconic grouper paintings and friendly personality, entertained crowds as he painted live in downtown St. Petersburg in front of Steve Westphal’s 400 Beach Drive Seafood & Tap House restaurant.

Woo passed away in 2012, but his paintings still adorn Westphal’s restaurant, which also showcases other local talent, including etched glass from glass artist Sam Brewster, metal sculpture from Clayton Swartz and marine life prints by Jim Roberts.

A long-time St. Petersburg entrepreneur who owns several downtown restaurants, Westphal says that “without a doubt, collaborating with the arts, whether individual artists, arts organizations or arts festivals, can be a good decision for downtown businesses.”  

In fact, Westphal’s newest venture, the Annex, a café and retail shop he plans to open later this year next door to 400 Beach will also showcase the arts.  

“We’ll be exhibiting work from local artists and inviting artists to paint live on the sidewalk in the front of the café, similar to what Bill Woo did,” says Westphal. He’s also planning a hands-on arts experience for guests by hosting wine and painting nights at the new café.

The Annex will be located in a portion of the space to be vacated by the Chihuly Collection, which is moving to larger quarters on Central Avenue. “With the Chihuly leaving, this is an opportunity for us to preserve a spot for the arts on Beach Drive,” says Westphal.

Art adds value

Westphal is not the only local business professional embracing the arts. John Collins, executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, says there is a growing number of success stories that serve as a testament to effective business collaboration with the arts.  

The Staybridge Suites St. Petersburg is one example.  The hotel, located not far from Tropicana Field, is partnering with ARTicles Art Gallery & Custom Framing in St. Petersburg’s Edge District. The hotel has transformed its lobby and dining area into a showplace for artists represented by ARTicles. 

The hotel’s first Art Night kicked off in October 2015, with work by local artist Nathan Beard.

“I had been working with ARTicles as an art installer and also had some of my work on exhibit at the gallery,” says Beard. “They asked me if I wanted to have a show at the Staybridge so I was sort of the guinea pig and mapped out everything with them as to how we were going to do it.”

The event was a success and now the Staybridge hosts a new show every three months with an Art Night reception bringing in anywhere from 50 to 100 people, says Beard, who now works with ARTicles and the Staybridge to curate all of the shows.

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship -- we are always referring people who stop by ARTicles to the hotel and the hotel is referring guests to our gallery,” says Beard.

The hotel has also gone out of its way to add a little of its own creativity to the art exhibits. For example, for the opening night reception of a show by Robert Phelps, who specializes in pet portraits, the Staybridge chef created a special pet-friendly treat to add to the menu for the reception – a perfect addition since the hotel is pet-friendly.

For an exhibit of plein air art by Robert J. Simone, the hotel allowed the artist to paint a downtown cityscape from the hotel rooftop a week before the reception.  

“Plein air is a style where artists paint the landscape while working outside,” says Beard. “Robert is the founder of the Plein Air Colony of Pinellas and wanted to promote the organization. We had originally thought of the group painting on the hotel rooftop but for safety, only Robert did that.”

Reciprocal relationship

Alejandro Quintero-Reina, owner of D-Gallerie is curating exhibits in the Premier Sotheby’s International Realty office, which is located in the luxury Ovation condo tower. 

“We’re located across the street from Sotheby’s and the exposure for our artists is fabulous,” says Quintero-Reina, whose gallery specializes in colorful original art from South America and Florida.

Similar to the partnership between ARTicles and the Staybridge Suites St. Petersburg, the relationship between D-Gallerie and Sotheby’s is also a win-win.

“We can refer our customers to the exhibit at Sotheby’s and Sotheby’s can send their clients over to our gallery if they’re interested in seeing more of the artists we represent,” says Quintero-Reina.  

Art for lease

Art at Work is an art-leasing program sponsored by the Morean Art Center. It gives artists who have a lot of inventory the chance to rent their work to businesses looking to furnish bare walls, says Collins.

The Morean has been partnering with the Diagnostic Clinic in Largo for about six years on an art-leasing program, says Amanda Cooper, the curator of exhibitions for the Morean Arts Center.

“We arrange for artists we represent to have their work on display at the clinic and in exchange, the artists gets a monthly stipend,” says Cooper.

Cooper is also finalizing plans for a new partnership between the Morean Art Center and the Hermitage, a downtown luxury residential development that is expected to open later this year.

“We are the curators for the new art gallery space that will be part of the Hermitage when it opens,” says Cooper.  “Local artist Marcy McDonald will be the first to be displayed at the show in the fall.”  

Each show will run about four months, giving local artists good opportunity for exposure.  

The St. Pete Store & Visitors Center, a new collaboration between the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Petersburg, is yet another success story that demonstrates how the arts and business communities are working together, says Collins.

The new center is designed to give visitors a “taste” of St. Petersburg’s many artists and crafters with a rotating showcase of locally made work, ranging from soaps and candles to T-shirts, jewelry and more.  

To date, more than 40 artists have been represented. And the art is selling; the Chamber has been able to return over $19,000 to the local artists, says Chris Steinocher, President of the Chamber.  

“The store is allowing both visitors and residents the chance to build relationships with local artists and it’s a great marketing opportunity for the artists,” says Steinocher. “We’re in the midst of the most amazing arts renaissance for St. Petersburg. This is how we show support for each other and how we demonstrate the economic development impact of the arts.”

One of the many hats that John Collins wears is to help connect the dots and raise awareness that “art is great for business.”

A 2015 Arts and Culture Economic Impact Report produced by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance in collaboration with University of South Florida St. Petersburg found that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in the city generate an impressive economic impact of over $200 million. And as John Collins points out in the report, that dollar amount “doesn’t include the income and resulting ripple effect that artists and creative for-profit businesses generate for our economy.”

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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