Arts and Culture ‘Vital’ to Pinellas County’s Tourism Sector

By Tiffany Razzano

Kelly Clark, director of sales and marketing, Residence Inn and SpringHill Suites by Marriott on Clearwater Beach, discusses the national hotel brand’s initiatives to fund the arts in the schools as well as regional efforts to support artists in the Tampa Bay community.

As a brand, SpringHill Suites by Marriott acts as an arts advocate through its Save Art! Program, a partnership with the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Fresh Artists. In the first two years of this collaboration, alone, they raised nearly $100,000. All funds raised through this corporate initiative are used to purchase supplies and fund arts programming in under resourced schools throughout the country. “We strongly believe in (Fresh Artists’) cause along with local initiatives to drive funds to supply our schools with resources to engage young minds with the arts,” says Kelly Clark, director of sales and marketing, Residence Inn and SpringHill Suites by Marriott on Clearwater Beach. “Once a year, we raise money and choose a local school to donate supplies to.”

Clearwater Beach’s SpringHill Suites also supports the arts in other ways. Clark recognizes the impact the arts have on tourism, especially in Pinellas County. Guests travel from around the globe to explore the area’s thriving arts scene and to attend Clearwater’s large-scale arts events, such as the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, the Clearwater Beach Chalk Art Festival and Clearwater Jazz Holiday. “The art tourism sector is just as important to retain as tourism itself,” she explains. “The partnership with culture and tourism is vital in creating unique experiences.” The region’s plethora of museums, galleries and cultural destinations “brings our community alive in many ways, making it memorable, along with driving top ratings with travelers, travel critics and review websites,” she adds. “The arts attract tourists, and the more we can collaborate and deliver truly authentic experiences from a local and global level, the more we can retain our status as the number one beach in America.”

The hotel has been a partner with Creative Pinellas since 2018, when it co hosted a think tank for the arts. The gathering was designed “to engage local artists’ opinions and ideas to further our arts and tourism initiative,” Clark says. “It is very easy for tourism partners to want to drive the arts and feel they have inclusion, but very hard to understand what the artists feel and how they can be best represented while giving them exposure and making it worth their time.” More than 50 artists and community leaders attended the event, which inspired a number of ideas, ranging from an annual art walk to promoting arts-based team-building events.

One idea that became reality following the relationships established at the think tank was Creative Pinellas’ Arts Annual: Beyond the Walls. Last fall, the nonprofit displayed works by several artists who were featured in its 2019 Arts Annual Exhibit in the lobbies of Pinellas County hotels and other tourism-related venues. This program was designed as a way for visitors to experience the breadth and depth of the region’s arts and cultural scene in the hotels where they are staying. SpringHill Suites was the first to sign up to participate in Arts Annual: Beyond the Walls, and in October, the hotel displayed glass sculptures by Catherine Woods in its lobby. The show “was very well received” by guests, Clark says. The hotel also designed a special client appreciation event around the exhibit. “It was a great way to bring more culture to the community and an awareness of local artists,” she adds.

The hotel has also compiled a list of regional artists, cultural destinations and arts events. The concierge relies on this list when guests have questions regarding arts in the area. The sales team also utilizes this list, which includes a wide range of artists – painting instructors, musicians – that visitors might want to book for their conferences or corporate meetings, Clark says. “We’re continuously promoting the arts within our business and, when we can, even helping employ artists. We’re about creating experiences. From a hotel standpoint, we want to have our guests come in and have a unique memorable event, so we recommend these unique opportunities that you’re not going to find at other hotels. And we’re able to support local artists and different arts groups along the way.”

Arts Annual: Beyond the Walls will return in November. If you’re interested in bringing art to your hotel as a partner in this program, contact Leigh Davis, Arts and Culture Outreach Manager for Creative Pinellas, at

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