Candidates and the Arts: F. Peter Romano

QUESTION #1

The policies of any government should allow for the development and fostering of arts and cultural/historic tourism, and certainly not stifle or regulate their development. It is not government’s role to judge art. Having lived for over 20 years in Portland, Oregon before coming to St. Augustine in 2000, I directly experienced the positive impacts of a city with a well thought out and comprehensive plan. Portland embraced its creative, historic and entrepreneurial resources to improve citizen and visitor quality of life.

Recent decisions by St. Augustine commissioners have resulted in the elimination of “public performance” in our city. Other cities, such as New York, Munich, Portland, Prague, Florence and Savannah, to name just a few, have a thriving public entertainment environment. In New York and Portland, for example, self-governing artist guilds serve as a conduit for a vibrant performance
atmosphere. Walking through Grand Central Station, you can see signs asking for artists to apply to a guild in order to perform in the subways of New York.

“Art” is embraced, fostered and protected in New York, without the interference of city officials. I believe that such an organization in St. Augustine could effectively expand art, both performance and other, to benefit the public and tourists, thus
eliminating the current government censorship.

Historically significant locations such as Williamsburg, Sante Fe, Savannah, and Charleston benefit both economically and “quality of life” through creative expansion and development of arts and historical venues. Much of this is accomplished through effective use of public and private philanthropy, an area that has not been actively tapped by St. Augustine.

QUESTION #2

I have long supported the European concepts and have traveled to many cities and enjoyed the street life. These cities are able to accomplish such activities as a result of regular reviews of their comprehensive plans, something that St. Augustine officials ignore. Our comprehensive plan is dated 1997 and does not address real “quality of life” or “walkable city” issues – it takes a myopic view of the city rather than a comprehensive view. European cities have been proactive in promoting such concepts because of their historic emphasis on quality of life, higher energy costs and compactness – they have long wanted to preserve their countryside and beauty, recognizing that this improves tourism while sustaining their cultural and historic identity. They effectively utilize and preserve their historic buildings in new and sustainable ventures. We are just now dealing with crumbling infrastructure, significantly higher energy costs, limited resources and the impact of unconstrained growth. Making St. Augustine a more livable city, through walking, biking, access to public rail transportation such as the trolley system that existed until 1930, and an active street life is key to bringing our city into the 21st century while also becoming a more attractive tourist destination.

As noted in question 1, I would applaud a self-governing artist guild. I would also expand the community discussion to new urban concepts and comprehensive planning.

QUESTION #3

While city government should focus on the safety of its residents, businesses, and students, it should not be making decisions on “what is art”. It does however have a responsibility to limit scams and public nuisances. It must enforce vagrancy, hygiene, petty theft and other safety rules. St. Augustine cannot afford to have its reputation negatively impacted in the press. That being
said, I do believe that government can foster a creative industry in St. Augustine.

From a University of Florida study, our city has some of the lowest paid workers in the county and state. Expanding the number and breadth of creative positions within our community can only improve these statistics and make for a more vibrant community.

It would attract younger families and creative entrepreneurs to make our city their home.

Again, a self-governing effective guild system much like what is done at Portland’s Saturday Market would assure venues, availability and quality of arts, music and crafts without government control. Within they city budget, $4.2 million is spent on heritage tourism, of which approximately $1 million goes for personnel. Most of these positions are patronage positions rather than being filled by artists. I would be a proponent of ensuring that experienced and qualified personnel are in these positions to make a real difference and “think outside the box”.

The city should consider making its public property more easily available for cultural and historic activities, especially underutilized areas near the garage or historic buildings (a la Williamsburg). The city should coordinate with the county on usage of property such as the Galimore Center, Calvin Peet or the Amphitheater to expand activities and access. Similarly, an outreach program
with Flagler College could benefit the educational needs of residents. Having “destination” programs such as culinary or art vacations in St. Augustine would also attract tourists, artists and other craftspeople to the area.

For example, could Riberia Street sustain new art such as glass blowing, ceramics, textiles and sculpture workshops, classes and retail outlets?

I would engage the cultural institutions, neighborhood associations and their residents, philanthropy, business and educational experts in expanding creative and historic use of our St. Augustine resources.

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