A vote to support the progress of the Dali Museum
The Dalí is a non-profit art museum and has long been a cultural jewel in the crown of St. Petersburg. Opening in 1982 and then moving to its current location in 2011, the museum has propelled the growth of the arts in St. Pete, including the opening and growth of many new museums over the past decade, as evidenced by a recent article from the New York Times. The Museum generates considerable tourist traffic and is also popular with local residents. Recent opposition to the proposed expansion, which is at no cost to the public, is puzzling.
In 2019, the Departmental Commission of Pinellas, on the recommendation of the Tourism Development Board, approved a grant for capital expenditure for the Dalí Museum to expand its building to increase its spaces for education, community programming and digital art galleries, in addition to increasing parking. This capital grant program is part of a semi-annual county grant, which provides funding to cultural and sports organizations that have a proven track record of driving economic growth in the county.
Dalí’s project was revised in 2020 to meet the needs of neighboring organizations, including the Mahaffey Theatre. The new design no longer includes parking, despite the fact that the Museum could use it. The new design is also on a smaller footprint – a 40-foot-wide strip connected to the Museum on the west side of the building. While the land on either side is part of Dalí’s 99-year renewable lease with the city, this small strip between is currently owned by the city and so a referendum is included in the November 8 ballot to change the lease and make advance the museum’s expansion project. .
Dalí’s expansion plan takes full account of the needs of the Mahaffey Theatre, and the referendum includes specific language to protect the Mahaffey during construction. With the amenities the Dalí has made for his neighbors, it is surprising that anyone would object to a project that will enrich arts education and foster the cultural growth that is taking place in our community. The referendum was crafted by city employees and unanimously supported by city council, and if passed, lease changes are still subject to the operational needs of the Mahaffey Theater and other partners. Additionally, the theater was operational when the Dalí built its current structure, a much larger project in 2009-2011, with no disruption to Mahaffey operations.
Dalí’s proposed expansion does not require funding from the city or local taxpayers and offers a host of benefits, including increased educational space to complement the K-12 curriculum, additional economic impact on the region, and offers new immersive ways to experience art – all of which will spur innovation, arts education, and connections to the St. Petersburg community. If the referendum passes, it is only the first step in ongoing discussions with the City, the Mahaffey and other organizations in the area on how to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.
I have served on the board of the Dalí Museum since 1987, serving as its president (1994-2017), while the new building was designed, financed and built closer to the heart of Saint Petersburg. In 2017, I founded the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in downtown St. Petersburg, in addition to contributing to many other art institutions in the region. I have also supported the Mahaffey Theater since its inception and believe that both institutions are valuable parts of downtown St. Petersburg. We are stronger together and must work together. Dalí’s establishment in this community is the driving force behind the overall cultural success and is one of the main reasons why St. Petersburg has become a must-visit artistic destination. A rising tide lifts all boats – we must support everyone’s success and growth. Vote yes, let the Dalí expand and continue St. Petersburg’s flourishing artistic evolution.
Tom James is a board member of the Dali Museum. He was previously CEO and Chairman of the Board of Raymond James, the financial services company. He remains on the company’s board of directors.