From Grassroots to the Halls of Power, Mitzi Gordon's Transforming the Arts in Pinellas County.
If you’ve attended a festival or two in Pinellas County in the last three years, you’ve seen Mitzi Gordon. She was probably standing in front of her Bluebird Books Bus, inviting kids and adults inside to pick up a free book or two. She financed and founded the rolling library, which in recent years has been a fixture at shindigs like Localtopia and First Night.
And if you’re actively involved in the local arts scene, you probably know Mitzi by name – for nearly a decade, she’s been serving in a variety of roles at local institutions like the Dali Museum, and new projects like Bloom Art Center. The Bluebird Books Bus has even helped inspire other projects like the Nomad Art Bus.
The Bluebird bus doesn’t get out as much as it used to, though, because Mitzi has taken on an even bigger role. A bit over a year ago, she was appointed Executive Director of Creative Pinellas, the county’s arts agency (technically, it’s an affiliated nonprofit).
Mitzi’s main goal has been helping the county bounce back from arts cuts triggered by the recession. Creative Pinellas was actually created in 2011 as a new, much leaner replacement for the Pinellas County Cultural Affairs Council, which was closed as part of broader post-recession budgetary cutbacks.
PCCAC awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of local arts grants annually, but Creative Pinellas entire budget has generally been in the mid-five figure range, which is why Mitzi, an independent contractor, is the organization’s only full-time personnel. The agency’s role has been largely limited to promoting area events online, and organizing a few events of its own.
But all that is about to change. Mitzi has spent much of the last year workshopping and promoting a $300,000 budget for an expanded Creative Pinellas, and in June, the Board of County Commissioners gave initial approval to $200,000 in new funding for 2016.
Mitzi’s viewpoint on arts funding is simple: “The return on investment in the arts is fantastic.” That’s true on many levels. Arts institutions like the Dali are huge tourist attractions, while the culture of gallery and street art, including the explosion of murals in recent years, has helped make central St. Pete a destination for both new residents and job-creating companies. Property values and revenues throughout the county have rebounded strongly in the last few years in part because of the arts.
The expanded budget will mean at least two new contract positions at Creative Pinellas, allowing for increased local outreach and more fundraising for big projects. Tentative plans include more support for programs like Veterans Creating for Community, which helps soldiers battling PTSD, and Creative Clay, which provides arts programs for the disabled.
Then there’s the big kahuna – the return of a county-level grant program for artists and public projects, which went the way of the dinosaurs when PCCAC was shuttered. Next year, though, Mitzi says there’s $100,000 earmarked for grants.
Now that she’s done the heavy lifting of pushing all these big changes through the political process, Mitzi has decided to take a role that’s a little more in tune with her sensibilities. One of the new positions in the expanded Creative Pinellas will be a Community Relations Director, and she’s hoping to transition into it once her board decides on a good replacement for her as Executive Director. That will mean a little less lobbying and a lot more working with the artists and community members she loves.
St. Pete Threads is thrilled to have Creative Pinellas going big. To celebrate, we’re launching a Creative Pinellas shirt.
You can learn more about Mitzi Gordon and her many amazing projects at www.mitzigordon.com.