A Woman Champion in the Business of Supporting the Arts
by STEPHANIE POWERS
In times like these, when art doesn’t seem to be much of a priority in the country’s current climate, the community should count their blessings for people like art champion Susana Weymouth. With constant threats of cutting such programs as National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Weymouth is a reassuring entity and leads the way in the progression and stability of the creative community in the Bay area. As the Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts (TBBCA), a nonprofit that fosters businesses to build relationships and support the arts community, Weymouth works daily to ensure that art has a place here and that it’s not going anywhere. Why? “A thriving arts and cultural ecosystem creates jobs, helps attract and retain talented employees, and significantly contributes to our economic prosperity.”
And the numbers, even locally, are there. “I don’t just feel the arts are important to our communities, I know it,” she says with certainty.
“And this is demonstrable drilling down to the local level, too,” Weymouth adds. “Data from the recent Americans for the Arts AEP5 study show that in 2015: In Hillsborough County — nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generated $433 million in annual economic activity; supported 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs; generated $52 million revenue to state and local government; leveraged $258-million event-related spending by audiences. In Pinellas County – the nonprofit arts and culture sector generated $241 million in total economic activity; supported 7,211 full-time equivalent jobs; generated $155.2 million in household income; delivered $29. 8 million to local and state government revenue.”
Weymouth and TBBCA aren’t all talk either. They create monthly Cultural Encounters, which help offer presentation opportunities and support for both individual and group artists, new and established. both individual and groups. Their Chalk Walks are a huge success and create a free event that families can enjoy. They have an Emergency Fund for jazz musicians that provides crucial need-based grants and support for arts education through The Charlie Hounchell Art Stars Scholarships. 65 high school students have been awarded scholarships, the majority from public schools, helping with tuition expenses at colleges. There is also the Culturepreneur Leadership Intern Program. “TBBCA provides individual mentorship and experiential learning opportunities for high school, college and post-grad students to gain critical business and career development skills while training them to become the next generation of cultural enthusiasts, advocates and supporters, Weymouth added.
And where did Weymouth get this passion from? “I was fortunate in that my family was not only knowledgeable but really passionate about the arts, with interests ranging from Latin American and Oriental paintings to world music and architecture. My father, an international lawyer now retired from his career at the Inter-American Development Bank, founded in the 1960s the IDB’s first ever art gallery, a highly respected program that continues through today. I have in my home a painting by a Chilean artist from that first exhibition. From the time I was growing up in Washington, D.C., graduated from Georgetown University, and began my professional life in our nation’s capital, every weekend, and more often, I made the most of the D.C. area’s rich arts and cultural offerings. Whether it was the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian’s network of museums, galleries and exhibitions, or wide-ranging performances and concerts at the Kennedy Center, National Theatre, or more intimate ones like the Shakespeare Theatre Company, or Alvin Ailey and classical ballet troupes, it was natural for me to learn about and engage and fall in love with the arts.”
Her young adult life helped nurture her business sense. Traveling the world didn’t hurt the continuance of her love of art and culture. “I have led a very interesting and productive life,” Weymouth shares. “At 21, I was a young, successful working professional in D.C., then NYC, Beijing, Paris, London, Miami and other cosmopolitan business and cultural centers. I think that as a result, I am an intellectually curious thinker, self-motivated, goals-oriented, with a very, very strong work ethic. I have a true appreciation from a global business perspective for the value of arts and culture, and so I am passionately dedicated to carrying out to the best of my ability TBBCA mission-driven programs and activities for the benefit of our community.”
And what would Weymouth like to see for the future? “I aspire to expand the understanding of the value of the arts beyond their demonstrable and significant economic value to their critical benefits for the wellbeing and social fabric of our communities. The goal is for business leaders and organizations who are investing in our local economy and development efforts to embrace greater investment in arts and culture, because it makes both social and economic sense. I would like to see stakeholders at all levels join TBBCA and come together to champion a thriving ecosystem that ensures everyone who works and lives in and visits Tampa Bay has equitable access to excellent, diverse, inclusive, interconnected and meaningful arts and cultural opportunities, offerings and creative activities. And I hope we can continue to amplify the power of the arts to bring people together and to think critically about the most pressing issues facing us.” With people like Weymouth on our side, the priority of art in our community will rise and we will thrive because of it.