While St. Petersburg’s local arts scene has thrived over the past decade, a number of the artists responsible for this renaissance haven’t. That’s spurred the group St. Pete Supports Arts to use the upcoming municipal election in St. Petersburg to advocate for the idea of guaranteeing artists a monthly income of some sort.

What You Need To Know

  • St. Pete Supports Arts is a group that formed this year to advocate for local artists

  • It is advocating for a guaranteed income program for St. Pete-based artists

  • The city of St. Petersburg currently does distribute some grants to artists through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance

The artist advocates are using the framework established in San Francisco earlier this year as a model. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced the city would provide a guaranteed monthly payment of $1,000 for around 130 artists for six-months (it’s now been expanded to 180 artists). Similar programs have been initiated in Long Beach, California and in St. Paul, Minnesota, where that city is now working with a nonprofit to offer $500 checks to 25 artists over the next 18 months.

“We’ve interviewed 12 candidates for mayor and city council and most are very receptive,” says Rissa Wray with St. Pete Supports Arts. “We give some money to the arts, and there are a lot of arts organizations that work in conjunction with the city and the county and then it gets to the artists. This is just another way that the city can help artists more directly.”

“[The candidates] agree that there is a need that the city should do more for artists,” says Kofi Hunt, a community activist and Wray’s partner with St. Pete Supports Arts. “We’ve even been given tips from some of the candidates on sources of income that we can find (and) organizations we can work through.”

St. Pete Supports Arts has been reaching out to individual artists about the idea of a basic guaranteed income. They then went and recorded them, asking direct questions to the candidates about what they could to make life better for artists in the city.

“When we conducted our interviews with candidates on Zoom, I just screen-shared and pressed ‘play.' And so, it was really like we could be a conduit so the artists could speak for themselves to the candidates,” says Wray.

The videos are short and to the point.

“Why do you continue to allow out-of-state companies to buy up homes to rent out when people here can’t afford or buy a home?” asks artist Reid Jenkins in the video he recorded. “Where’s the safeguard for us? The people that live here?”

Other artists ask if the city truly values the artist community.

“It’s a really great vibrant scene, full of magic and beauty. But what I think the problem is, people see the art, and everyone loves the art, but people don’t see the work that it’s taken. They don’t see us,” says sculptor and muralist James Oleson. ”They don’t see how hard we’ve worked to create this art and to put it into the cit,y and how much time and effort that we’ve spent making this scene what it is.”

“How can you help us to continue to provide the services that we’re providing at the rates that actually equal out to us living at least comfortably enough to not sweat every single check?” asked St. Pete artist Zulu Painter.

Wayne Atherholt, the city of St. Pete’s cultural affairs director, says that for the past six years or so the city has been has issuing out $1,000 grants annually to around 15 artists, contracting through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, “But they include a community engagement component as they need to meet/serve a public purpose.”

He adds that Pinellas County has “significantly more funding operations” than the city does to provide such grants, referring specifically to the county’s ability to collect tourist development taxes.

A number of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County-based artists, arts organizations and creative small businesses did receive some financial relief when the pandemic hit last year, after a coalition formed to create the Pinellas Arts Community Relief Fund, which distributed more than $100,000 in local aid.

Hunt says that while a guaranteed basic income is one concrete example of having the city invest in artists, it's not the only one, mentioning art incubators — public spaces rented out to artists at minimal costs.

St. Pete Supports Arts says that its work will continue through the November election. The organization has scheduled a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe to continue the public conversation about the guaranteed income proposal.