A Cultural Destination takes aim
With four museums in downtown St. Petersburg operating in the late 1980s it was critical to help create a destination out of what existed. Even the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) did not include a lot of information about the museums in its promotional material in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, I remember quite clearly being told by then-director of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council (the precursor to the CVB), Bill Sheeley, who asked me “why on earth would people leave the beaches to visit a museum in downtown St. Petersburg?” It was shocking to say the least but it was the thought by virtually everyone in the hospitality industry at that time.
A lot of work had to be done. The international significance of the Dali Museum was the sole draw for me in taking the position as the first marketing director. That those in charge of promoting tourism internationally didn’t recognize the potential was disappointing. But we soldiered on in our work.
The growth of the international market for Pinellas County in tourism, a change in leadership and the interest in the Salvador Dali Museum’s increasing international tourism figures, led to the CVB being interested in, first, the draw of the Dali Museum, specifically with German visitors, and second, the cultural scene in general in St. Petersburg which was favored by tourists who were looking for a more cultural experience.
The late 1980s also saw a lot of crime and downtown store closings in St. Petersburg which was late in its downtown decline compared to a lot of cities. Understanding that the Dali Museum opened in 1982 and Great Explorations adjacent to it in 1988, it was only natural for the two museums to cooperate to attract visitors to the south side of downtown St. Petersburg. This became the start of cooperative marketing in St. Petersburg.
It was during this time also that the Downtown Core Group – a grass roots organization – started promoting events and shopping plus a group called Common Ground – a group that consisted of the major downtown marketing directors – started the First Fridays events. The first First Friday was an experiment to see if anyone would stay downtown after 5 PM on a Friday. I remember pulling beer taps that night with Toni Tassoni from the Pier and others to a crowd of about 100 people. And that might be on the high side. We were thrilled.
But as late as 1995, I recall speaking with a friend who was hired to handle marketing and sales for the Florida International Museum. She was from Boston, and asked me when we were speaking about downtown, “where are all the people?” Clementine Brown, who is a pioneer in cultural tourism in Massachusetts, became a dear friend and colleague as we worked toward the common goal of letting people know what downtown St. Petersburg really had to offer but I get ahead of myself by a few years.
Early Cooperative Marketing
There has been cooperative marketing in the cultural attractions for many years across the state of Florida. There have been attractions associations at local and regional levels whereby attractions cooperated with brochures and certainly at the state level when, in 1949, a group of attractions formed the Florida Attractions Association. But museums in Florida at that time really were in their infancy and were best represented by the Ringling Museum and its Circus Galleries and the Lightner Museum of Hobbies. I will write more on the state level for another article. Back to St. Petersburg and museums in particular.
The first cooperative marketing among the museums, took place in 1990 when friendship struck up between Mary Lee Hanley, director of marketing for Great Explorations, and myself, then director of marketing at the Dali Museum. We both had major announcements and both believed that downtown St. Petersburg had so many of the elements of a great cultural destination but that they really weren’t linked. In early 1990, stationery was created that linked the two facilities as the “Museums of Bayboro,” named for the Bayboro Harbor that both were next to.
It more than likely started on a cocktail napkin, but nonetheless, we were off and running with our cooperative marketing and joint press release that included an offer of a media familiarization tour to include the Dali Museum’s new purchase of a major painting that was being unveiled and the announcement of a new exhibition at Great Explorations.
The media mission included a recommendation to “include the Museum of Fine Arts, P. Buckley Moss Gallery, Florida Craftsman Gallery, The Arts Center and The Pier, all within minutes of Bayboro Harbor.” If I recall, these were selected due to their uniqueness in St. Petersburg and their cultural focus.
We were fortunate to have Karen Smith, who was the travel writer for the Fort Myers daily newspaper who produced a nice piece on the openings and St. Petersburg. Our goal was always to promote the museums but to ensure the destination was treated as a cultural one with Smith and the other journalists who attended this press event.
Another cooperative effort, this time under the umbrella of the Chamber of Commerce, was the Artworks! Festival. Organized by a friend, Kathleen Pazourek, this festival in 1991 included some great artwork from Phillip Gary Design, a local design firm whose owners, David Meek and Jeff Papa, were extremely talented graphic artists. The event included the American Stage in the Park Shakespeare series, a Kid’s Art Festival, A celebration of Salvador Dali’s birthday, the Mainsail Art Show, a music concert and Art Express which was a gallery hop of 14 museums and galleries. This festival helped people to understand the large number of cultural attractions and facilities that already existed in St. Petersburg.
Another small, but significant piece, was the creation of a generic pamphlet entitled “Downtown St. Petersburg, The Heart of the Arts in Tampa Bay,” which was produced by the Dali Museum and included other arts organizations along with a map of downtown St. Petersburg. It was printed at no charge by the local Sir Speedy print shop. This became a piece that was included in all the Dali Museum press packets and distributed to travel writers and travel agents as the Dali continued to expand its marketing to become a global entity. This was the first printed piece that included all the museums of St. Petersburg and had distribution beyond the city’s limits.
In 1993, the first Museum Month was developed and was a cooperative effort among the Dali Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Great Explorations and the Museum of History. It involved friends and colleagues: Mary Lee Hanley, David Blackman, Don Baldwin, Anita Treiser and I.
Anita was with the City of St. Petersburg and was instrumental in making this happen as the city agreed to print the brochures that were used to promote the event. Each of us had committed to making sure downtown St. Petersburg was a success and the success of downtown St. Petersburg was essential to the institutions we served. Here is a link to a Museum Month brochure from 1995.
The tasks were divided up, usually at a happy hour somewhere downtown. And back then the selection of places for happy hour consisted of about four locations. Someone took on the job of compiling the events, creating and distributing press releases, creating a poster and brochure, faxing information sheets to area hotels and other tasks to make the first “Sunsational Museums Month” a success and gain publicity for the fact that there were four excellent museums all located in downtown St. Petersburg. Keep in mind this was all done before the internet. We had word processors and fax machines in those earlier days.