On Wednesday, January 31st, the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg Student Government hosted a community panel discussion, moderated by ACT (Arts Conservatory for Teens) Co-Founder, Alex Harris.

The event, titled “Color St Pete: The Art of Community,” gathered change-makers, thought leaders, elected official, and business executives in a lively round table panel discussion. LGBTQ community representatives included Councilwoman Darden Rice and Studio @ 620 owner, Bob Jones. Also present were Frank Wells (President and CEO of Venture House), Eileen Kennedy (Sr. Vice President of Marketing at Sykes), Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, and community activist and philanthropist, Craig Scheer.

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Harris introduces panel to audience members at USFSP (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

Discussions centered around equality and access, education, job creation, transportation, and the arts.

The evening started off with a question posed to Bob Jones, “How have we been successful and how can we build onto that success?”

Jones answered, “The way to create greater success, it’s like a making cornbread. You need a leavening agent. Create what you already have going right here. I’m a big believer of doing the thing and not just talking about it.”

“We already have great things going,” Wells added. “We will build on and preserve what’s already here.” He then went on to discuss initiatives already used by the community to keep artists living and working in town, emphasizing that St. Petersburg is ahead of the curve when it comes to the arts.

Kennedy chimed in and said, “Corporate social responsibility is also a hot topic. It’s important for business to reach out to other businesses in the community to give back.”

As a follow-up to that comment, Harris asked, “In the business community, how do you think our businesses can work in partnership more effectively for our communities that are underserved?”

Scheer answered first. “It’s a team sport. We need four things – a strong religious base (whatever that is) to provide core values and morals, education, a fun place to live, and a strong business community. We need job creation. It’s great to build great condos, but someone has to live in them and pay the rent. The business community needs to do their best to create jobs. We also need to work on public transportation. If you have a plethora of jobs, you need the ability to get there.”

Darden discussed past incentive programs used to drive businesses to town and then added, “Sometimes a mandatory program is more affection. We’re now building a new police headquarters. We’re building a new pier.” She also emphasized the importance of looking beyond four year degrees, and create job opportunities for those with two-year degrees or high school diplomas. “We need to get away from this notion that success is only for four year liberal arts degree students. I think St. Petersburg is right for that. I want to be a part of that success.”

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The Color St. Pete installation is on display at Poynter Park, where passersby are invited to leave a colorful note on the 8-foot letters. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

ACT’s latest initiative is a art installation called “Color St. Pete.” The public work is made of 8-foot wooden letter cutouts that spell out “Color St Pete.” The installation has been placed in parks around St. Petersburg and currently resides in Poynter Park. Passersby are invited to write something on the cutouts in bright colorful markers.

“Color St. Pete is about giving and engaging,” said Harris. “We wanted to do something where people can come by and color St. Pete, literally. It’s a way of collecting the energy of the community.”

To learn more about ACT, click here.