Episode 033

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03/15/2018 | Episode 033 | 1:04:50

Alex Harris, Co-Founder of Arts Conservatory for Teens

Alex Harris talks his gospel roots, battling fear and shifting the poverty mindset

On this episode of #SPx, Joe and Ashley sit down with professional musician, entrepreneur and founder of the Arts Conservatory for Teens, Alex Harris. Harris has been running the highly successful ACT program for four years, the program has grown to serve nine locations and 800 students this year alone. The program boasts a 100 percent graduation rate in 2009, with 90 percent of students moving on to college studies. Through ACT, Harris and co-founder Herbert Murphy are changing the lives of underprivileged students throughout Pinellas County, chasing out fear and teaching business acumen.

Key Insights

  • Harris' humble beginnings in music. "I started when I was seven years old, one of eight children – something you may not know – and five boys, three girls."
  • Harris and his siblings grew up in Georgia, where his mother was an educator and his father a pastor. He and his siblings formed a family band. "That’s where I got my Southern roots there on the Red Clay Hills of Georgia and really learned what it means to be committed, what it means to be dedicated, what it means to appreciate family."
  • At the tender age of 12, Harris began performing professionally. He toured with his family band, setting up gigs across the country.
  • Fast forward: Five years ago, Harris and Herbert Murphy co-founded the Arts Conservatory for Teens (ACT).
  • Harris met Murphy while "consulting on a very focused initiative to help teens and the underserved, the low income have the experience of private lessons and the experience of a conservatory concept."
  • ACT's outcomes speak for themselves. "100% of our students since 2009 have graduated with a diploma, 90% have gone to higher education institutions, 10% directly into the workforce and doing well."
  • Their services are dispersed through Pinellas County, now with nine locations. "We have five middle schools with an agreement through the public schools around that campus five days a week. We are also at the Enoch Davis Centre, 18th Avenue South. We are also at Jackson, formerly known as Wildwood Rec with our partnership with the city of St. Petersburg. We are at Child’s Park and we are at USF down at the Harbor Hall."
  • ACT has a number of trainings but Harris touched on one specifically connected to the business of performing arts - power networking. "We train the students on how to engage people within your environment for events – so that’s when you’re going out - how do you connect and build and develop relationships?"
  • Networking has been central to Harris' success: "My whole mantra was follow up, follow through. Sometimes people think networking is, ‘I give you a card, I give you my card, I’ll call you maybe.’ My thing is immediately when I meet someone and I have at least two minutes with them I can figure out if there’s something there for us to pursue."
  • On the kinds of mentors ACT looks to hire: "We look for who can connect with people. And that person, that artist has a heart to understand the child and it’s something that they feel is part of their calling to really share their gifts and talents with this child or it’s a group of children that come to the learning moment. And so I think it’s a learning experience."
  • ACT creates an environment for changing mindsets and conquering fears: "That kind of environment - I think - is the awakening moment for the student to fear not and to overcome their learned behavior of fear and to tread new territories with an exploratory mindset."
  • According to Harris, we're responsible for our own fears, "I realized a lot of the things that we are fearful of is our own shadows, it’s like these things that we have created."
  • Sometimes, our biggest fear is failure, but Harris says, "Nothing is a failure if what has happened propels you forward."
  • ACT uses peer tutors, not adult mentors in their programs, "And they get a chance to become peer ambassadors, mentors and help their peers in the institution of ACT after school."
  • On the importance of performing arts in St. Petersburg, "We need to start selling out our Mahaffey, we need to start selling out the Palladium and creating, and really challenging the thought process of people’s perspective on the value of arts in general, not just to commission one piece."
  • At ACT, every student is given a scholarship for between $1600-1800. They are reminded that ACT's programs are not free. Why? "We have to change the mindset from a poverty mindset to a mindset of opportunity and a mindset that not only dream, because if we only dream we only will sleep. But if we awaken from the dream, from the sleep, then we can have vision and when you have a vision is really the pursuit of bringing to reality that which we’ve dreamed of and making it a tangible experience."

"I started to think about all the bridges that surround us here in the bay and said, ‘We should create bridges to success by finding other like-minded bridge builders to ensure that students not only have the access, but have the coaching and all that goes along with to ensure they reach that level and graduate with a diploma."

"They get a letter from us, that this is a scholarship and how they can lose the scholarship. It is a privilege to be a part, no one is obligated, this is an institution, not a charity. It is an investment, people see your value and want to invest into you."

Table of Contents

(0:00 – 0:52) Introduction

(0:52 – 3:39) Developing a Passion for Music

(3:39 – 10:07) Early Gigs

(10:07 – 10:58) Student Years

(10:58 – 15:04) ACT Success Rates

(15:04 – 20:07) Consultancy Experience

(20:07 – 24:58) Finding Clients and Opportunities

(24:58 – 26:46) Developing Acumen

(26:46 – 28:54) Employees at the ACT

(28:54 – 33:04) Why Teens?

(33:04 – 40:53) Fears and Personal Challenges

(40:53 – 50:47) Getting Paid for Performing Arts

(50:47 – 58:16) The Passion for Arts

(58:16 – 1:02:45) Et Cultura and Upping the Arts Game in St. Pete

(1:02:45 – 1:04:03) Shout-outs

(1:04:03 – 1:04:53) Conclusion

Full Transcript:

Ashley: This is Joe Hamilton and Ashley Ryneska and we are happy to welcome Alex Harris. Alex Harris is the founder and CEO of Arts Conservatory for Teens here in St. Pete. Founded in 2009, running strong today. Alex, welcome to the show.

Alex: Well, thank you so much, Ashley and Joe. It’s a pleasure to be here with you, talk about whatever you like to talk about.

Joe: [laughing]

Ashley: Well, you are a… Is it fair to say you are a bonified music man? So really, your passion is really infused into your mission work today. It started when you were pretty young, right?

Alex: Yes, I think that will be a fair analysis or survey of me. I started when I was seven years old, one of eight children – something you may not know – and five boys, three girls. And I’m in the middle, just so you know, and so that means I keep the balance with the family. Our parents are still living there in Georgia in a little small town where we grew up called Manchester South, East of Atlanta, about 70 miles out East and then about 30 miles North-West a little bit of… Columbus, the Fort Benning area. So that’s where I got my Southern roots there on the Red Clay Hills of Georgia and really learned what it means to be committed, what it means to be dedicated, what it means to appreciate the family growing up with such a large family, therefore we all attracted others and made our family, our extended family, bigger or larger. And so our roots run deep when it comes to importance of family community. And so that same thing is what I think I carry over when I co-founded actually with my buddy, Herbert Murphy, the Arts Conservatory for Teens five years ago.

Ashley: So going back to your roots and you’re the middle child, maybe this is a great way to get attention, but you… developed a passion in entertainment and music.

Alex: That may be how I end up being the lead singer of the band, but… All of us play and sing. I have one brother, he is Alonso, he is a phenomenal musician and he is a musical director in fact, he is on tour now in Europe. And I have another brother, the youngest brother of all, Arceus, he is a producer in New York and one of the producers for a record that’s streaming a half of million – 450 million streams on the new artist that he’s the exec producer. Other two brothers, one is an attorney now running for state representative up in Hillsborough County in the sixty-first district, and another brother in Virginia Beach who is speaking and he’s on his I think fourth book. And I have three sisters, younger sisters. One lives in Tampa, she is an actress and singer, and my other sister she is in academia, she is teaching at the University in Richmond and the other sister is in Washington DC, she works with the government and she also goes out and does a lot of speaking and motivational seminars, etcetera.

Joe: Can you talk a little bit about the early days when you broke in professionally? Were you… just doing tons of auditions? Where did you get those first few paid gigs and then what’s the growth trajectory there?

Alex: Yeah. So growing up in the South, we – our father is a pastor of a small congregation. And so the passion started… technically I should back up – in the back yard. And my first drum set were the buckets from my neighbor’s back yard, he worked as a custodian for the public school, so he had all these buckets and stuff in the back yard. So I wandered up there when I was about five or six years old, in the back yard, running free, had nothing to run from where we were living. And so I would take the sticks from the pine tree branches and… make them my drum stick. My brother who is now the attorney over in Tampa, Norman Harris, he would take the rubber bands from the collard greens and make it his first guitar. So we started doing that, of course our father said, ‘Okay, I think I need to get them some real instruments.’ And so we end up getting our first instruments from Sears when they sold instruments. And then I got into it professionally when I was 12, that’s when we first started getting our paid gigs. I think our first paid gig was 100 bucks. But that was cool, I mean we were like…

Joe: Because you were professionals.

Alex: Yeah, we were professionals, it started paying, but then – well, it did awaken something in me, I was like, ‘Oh my, we can get paid.’ And so my inquisitive or curious mind, creative mind, I found this book – I cannot remember where I found out about this book, it was in a magazine, of course we didn’t have the internet like we have now. And it’s not that I’m old , it’s just the technology is growing so fast very quickly. It was a book about Book Your Own Tour. And so I asked our mother, I said, ‘Will you buy me this book?’ And so she did, and she bought the book and I got the book and I was really excited to get the book and read all the different venues and… the contract. So I wrote – I’m not the attorney in our family now, but I was the person to write the contract and I utilized that contract, outlined it and copied and typed it up. And now I’m like 13-14 years old and I created it and of course they looked at it and everything. And that’s what we started using to start getting paid. And so we went from 100 bucks to 300 bucks, then to 500 and eventually I remember we started getting like 1,500. And then – we were pushing it and then we take the money, we open an account at the bank and… everywhere we go. And so because we grew up and we were doing some churches, so we wouldn’t call it… we would call it a letter of confirmation for some of the churches so that in fact they would quote and go paying. Other churches felt some kind of way if you use that word, I guess that was a sinful word to use. But we utilized that and then we were able to take the language to – letter of confirmation that we were going to be performing, it’s gonna be this, how long we’re gonna perform or the day, the time, address… And we’d call it the honorarium, and some people call it a love offering. And so we actually knew on the established honorarium, what it was gonna be.

Joe: So who is it at this point?

Alex: That was me as the main person and negotiation… one of my sisters, Mary –

Joe: Performing?

Alex: Oh, we… performing. It was all of us… yeah, for a while. Then the sisters stopped singing. And so we were A boys and girls, because all the brothers have an A name. And then the sisters is… they didn’t have consistent names with us as far as letter, so it was antipodes – Andrew and Icas, it was… Norman, Andrew and Icas, Alonso, Arceus, then we had a godbrother who just happened to have an A name, Antonio. And of course, Alex. And Arceus. So we were A boys, later we became known as A7, so if you ever Google A7 music you’ll see that we actually made the billboard from coming up, competing – you see our name and… traveled every summer when we were out of school all over the United States. We were counting one time and I said, ‘Oh man, we’ve been to 40 of the States and we’re doing all these different places out of the 50 States.’ So it’s rather cool, we traveled all over the US.

Joe: How did you get in those gigs? And before the Internet were you able to book people?

Alex: It was… and before we had flight rate plans. So calling… in the book they would have different – in that Book Your Own Tour book, and I don’t know who wrote the book at this point, but I’ve put it together they had numbers you can call. And so I was the kind of person to look for leads and if this person said, ‘Hey, you need to call this person,’ then we would have to package it up, go to the post office, send out the CD with a bio, with a picture and then follow up and call and say, ‘Did you get the package?’ ‘Oh, we haven’t looked at it yet.’ And so when we got on radio the first time that’s what it was, and I called this lady who is a legend there, we have met her, Dorothy Norwood. And this one we were doing more inspirational, urban soul, more in the gospel genre. And she had heard us and we befriended and I asked her if I could write for her record and she said yes, she invited me to her house and we sat to the piano and we played, we went to the studio, recorded the demos. And after then she had heard our music and she said we need to call her friend Jerry who is in North Carolina. And I called him, we sent him the CD and it was in a pile he told me, he said pile of CDs, and we were at the bottom he said, ‘but I’m gonna look through it and see if I can find it.’ And he found it and he told me – that’s when he told me it was at the bottom of the stack. And he played it and next thing we know we were on all radio stations and started getting calls and stuff like that, and that’s around ‘87. But that led me to the whole idea of success comes through dedication, commitment and that’s what it is, it shouldn’t be measured or compared to someone else’s success. It was a very laser focus where we love music, we wanted to do it, we did it and we pushed it hard and we continued. And so that’s really much as far as our organization what we offer. And so that’s – I just got my – we all got started in the music industry, three of us remain heavily in the music industry.

Ashley: What kind of student were you?

Alex: Growing up in school… we pretty much homeschooled. My parents, they’re both educators – my dad’s a pastor but he’s also an educator and our mother is an educator as well. He’s retired.

Ashley: You performed well, though?

Alex: Yeah, we performed well, I’m gonna get to that. So our private school thing, so the curriculum that they use – I think the curriculum they required for you to basically be more of a – at least to b-student. So what my dad and mother did, they raised the bar so we could make below 90, from K through 12 we did, we had to repeat the whole system. So I never repeated it. But that’s what we knew, but that was our final outlet. But we did go to college, to a small college there called LaGrange College, all of us attended that. And our dad taught there for a short period.

Ashley: Correct me if I’m wrong but your… but ACT currently lauds 100% success… 100% graduation rate from college, so I’m curious, you probably weren’t cognizant of it at the time, what influence your musical endeavors were having on your performance.

Alex: Academic, exactly. So when I came here I was a consultant over at the Royal Theatre, and that’s where I met Herbert Murphy, consulting on a very focused initiative to help teens and the underserved, the low income have the experience of private lessons and the experience of a conservatory concept. So I had been working on this in this development as it relates to curriculum for that when I lived in Boston prior to coming here. Remember, I’m Georgia guy. But I lived in Boston prior to moving here ten years ago. And so I was consultant, first artist-in-residence on the South side, it’s 22nd street South. And it was a great adventure for us, for three years we piloted with 30 students and then from there… actually it was supposed to be 30, ended up going to 60 and at the end of the three years we launched what we know today as the Arts Conservatory for Teens. And thanks to a gentleman by the name of Carl Lavender, that Herbert and I had actually met and we realized that our thought process was pretty parallel, very similar backgrounds, it was really arts and education and our family has been like… his family wasn’t as large as mine, but his whole engagement and what he had experienced growing up with being a first chair trumpet guy in high school and then getting into engineering and loving academia and all that – so I said, ‘You know, we should really not just focus on the moving, acting, dancing and singing and stuff. We should really challenge our students,’ or ‘expose them to opportunities’ is the word I prefer to use; ‘expose them to the opportunities that are in the world and then provide the access or build bridges.’ I started to think about all the bridges that surround us here in the bay and said, ‘We should create bridges to success by finding other like-minded bridge builders to ensure that students not only have the access, but have the coaching and all that goes along with to ensure they reach that level and not graduate with a certificate of completion but graduate with a diploma.’ So some students were nearing dropout, some had basically, technically dropped out, we got them back in school or coached them into the matriculation from 12 grade to graduation walking across the stage to get that diploma. So since our efforts as a pilot in 2009, even at today, that’s what our focus has been – utilizing the arts as a vehicle, but primarily ultimate goal is to get them graduated so they can have the opportunity to pursue higher education or to go to the work force. So 100% of our students since 2009 have graduated with a diploma, 90% have gone to higher education institutions, 10% directly into the workforce and doing well.

Ashley: And to put that into perspective starting with the pilot of 30 and now you have North of 1,100? 1,100 that have gone through the program?

Alex: 1,100 have gone through the program, but this year we will serve 800 students this year alone.

Ashley: How is that?

Alex: Right now we’re serving over 500 a week.

Ashley: And where are they coming to you from?

Alex: We have nine locations that we service throughout the county, we have five middle schools with an agreement through the public schools around that campus five days a week. We are also at the Enoch Davis Centre, 18th Avenue South. We are also at Jackson, formerly known as Wildwood Rec with our partnership with the city of St. Petersburg. We are at Child’s Park and we are at USF down at the Harbor Hall. And we will be also soon at two other locations for the Rec center. So our goal is to have our stat go throughout the city. That’s one thing, but more so, again, can I emphasize enough? That’s our vehicle for educating, empowering and enriching our students.

Joe: I think it’s fascinating that you’ve gotten deeply into art music performance but equally deep into business. I think that’s unusual. And then of course there’s even now a philanthropic and social enterprise aspect to your business. When you said you were consulting for the Royal Theatre I believe, can you talk about that part of your life? How did you set yourself up as a consultant, how did people find you, what were you offering them and how did your engagement specifically look as a consultant?

Alex: Yeah, that’s a good question because I meet some of my friends today or other people that I run into and they’re like, well, they gotta get a website, they gotta do this, they gotta do social – you know, the social media. Only social media I used when I was in – when it actually came out, when I was at graduate school early 2000, Facebook that was. And now you got a fan page, you can create all that. So I didn’t do that. What I did learn, the power of networking. I started something called Executive Creative Consulting, so ECC is my acronym, Executive Creative Consulting. And I took on national clients like the American Heart Association, was one of the clients at the time when I was doing consulting at the Royal Theatre, which was the Arts arm out of 4,000 clubs in the country, for the boys and girls club, period, brand. Of course, they were directly under the umbrella, or the arm or a branch of the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast, they were a branch of that. But they were all arts, no swim, no gym. And former mayor Rick Baker was a part of that launch along with the former president of the Boys & Girls of the Suncoast, Carl Lavender, and the executive director for that center was Herbert Murphy. So my consulting came in – I actually met them through an actor, friend of mine, Lamman Rucker who comes on television on I think – I think he still comes on on Wednesday nights. And my friend Suhmed(?) who was living here at the time in St. Petersburg. So I was back and forth flying here, I was doing consultancy at Boston University and teaching a graduate course on how to develop courses in their communities from a theological and faith-based angle because it was at the school of theology. And one of my graduate degrees is theology and the other is in social work and that’s just my graduates. And then my doctorate studies are in organizational leadership, minor curriculum, but the idea for consulting had all to do, of getting into that field, with networking. And that’s the reason why with the Arts Conservatory for Teens today in one of our product services – we have four – we focus on power networking and we train the students on how to engage people within your environment for events or even – so that’s when you’re going out, and how do you connect and build and develop relationships? These are relationship I was able to monetize, not just say I have a friend, but I was able to monetize, find a way I can connect with something that they may be doing or someone within their network is doing that could become a contract for me, because if I don’t have a contract then I… I don’t eat, I don’t keep the lights on, I don’t have a shelter over my head. So it was very non-traditional the whole idea of executive creative, and so the reason why I am in executive creating was because I saw myself as bringing, pulling from my creative world to the business world or to where some, many – a couple of the cases were non-profit like American Heart and the Royal Theatre. So I brought the creative either in something that they were not already in – of course the Royal Theatre was already music so I was bringing a specific creative touch or development to an area they wanted to explore. American Heart had no creative approaches in how they wanted to get the message of cardiovascular disease to a specific population, which these populations were African-American and Latino-Hispanics, around cardio-vascular disease. And so instead of getting people to come to a… with American Heart, a seminar workshop to hear about this information that most people probably will not come if you say, ‘I’m gonna tell you about heart disease.’ Who would want to hear about that, right? But if I do a comedy show called, ‘No strokes, no jokes’ if I work with them I work with them in that in both Marcus, New York and in Framingham and some in Boston, Massachusetts. And I produce and come up with the entire concept for doing the event up at Apollo Theatre. Also other activities included, happy hours where we would have… basically happy hours turned into these red-carpet Hollywood type events where we’re able to not just give people information but integrate the messaging into every aspect of the event. Now I’m having an opportunity to creatively educate people that it becomes a part of their everyday life and they’re able to process it in a way that it doesn’t seem like they are in a lecture or anything.

Joe: Oh, we had Nate Schwagler on who runs the Innovation Lab at the Dali.

Alex: Yeah.

Joe: And one interesting point that came up in that conversation was how do you introduce those concepts to large corporations? Because they typically have vendors set up for accounting, for finance, for things like that. But were you coming to them and introducing the idea of presenting their content creatively or do they have that spark internally and find you?

Alex: Right. So I came to them, I met the – he was an incoming vice president who was over the entire culture health initiatives. And I met him, actually he went to law school with my brother. So while I didn’t know him, and I was living in Boston even when my brother was in law school, I met him once or twice but I was able to make a pitch to him and say, ‘Listen, what are you doing?’ And, ‘Let’s do this.’ And a lot of time… again, it’s networking and ability to follow up. So my whole mantra was follow up, follow through. Sometimes people think networking is, ‘I give you a card, I give you my card, I’ll call you maybe.’ My thing is immediately when I meet someone and I have at least two minutes with them I can figure out if there’s something there for us to pursue.

Ashley: What do you look for in that two minutes?

Alex: In that two minutes I’m looking for… First, I need to find out what that person does and I can do that by asking them just straight forward, ‘What is it that you do?’ And then if I need further explanation I will ask the question – whatever the response is, that leads at least to another question. And then the second part to that is once I hear what they are doing, then now my brain is going through my little Rolodex in my head trying to figure out okay, does it…? – because I’m always thinking creatively on projects. And most of the time I’m trying to find if is it something that I’m already doing that I’m looking for other opportunities for to scale it or to, within the space that I’m in, to magnify it more? Or maybe even add to it, which will be part of the scaling, so…

Ashley: Do you comb for keywords? Like if somebody says ‘academia’ or somebody says ‘performance’, or someone says a name like a local business, like American Stage or… you look for different…?

Alex: I don’t look for keywords. My thing is in the creative process you gotta think of it being a blank canvas. So I don’t like to engage a conversation. For example I just left a meeting before coming here. And I’m sitting down… while I know what the end goal, I want them to be involved, I can go and say, ‘Hey, I want you to do this, this, this.’ Because I already know who my audience is and I already know what they do and all that. But even then, and definitely if I don’t know you this is my approach, is to approach that specific moment as a blank canvas to a certain extent. So in the situations where I know the context I may approach the moment with a blank canvas meaning that I don’t know exactly how I’m going to approach them for this day, why? Because I don’t know what kind of day the person has. First, I have to get there and engage. So I know what my end goal is so I have all my tools with me, but I don’t know if I’m gonna either leave the pamphlet with you, am I gonna go right directly what I need to ask or if I…?

Ashley: Don’t jump ship!

Alex: Don’t jump ship! I think the take away for the listener would be to always be present with the moment. So again, if I’m empowering at work I’m in that moment listening. I already know all the projects that I have, how they can lead unto something completely brand new or something innovative. So with those two thoughts – so consciously, always if I touch something I awaken something and if that person says something it’s like a buzz that goes off because I’m always attuned to what –

Ashley: Like a keyword.

Alex: As a keyword, basically. Yeah, it’s a keyword, it’s like, it starts to – so it’s not a specific keyword that I’m looking for…

Ashley: Just – yeah, it is… Right, like…

Alex: …but it is the buzz, whatever buzzes it. But if nothing buzzes and I just say okay, great.

Ashley: Right.

Joe: That’s one of my favorite things in life. The consulting things that I end up with always start with those kinds of conversations and I think how you demonstrate your acumen is in the questions that you ask.

Alex: Right.

Joe: It could be a plumber and at the end of that conversation I’m gonna know… Because plumbers are experts at the business of plumbing…

Alex: Yes, that they’re doing.

Joe: …and they’re experts at their craft. And everybody… you get as deep as you can into what they do and then if there are spaces where you’ve had experience or you have some knowledge that can help them, the deeper you get into it with them – a) you’re establishing that relationship, you’re showing that you understand the subject matter and you can interact with them almost instantly on a pretty deep level. And even if it doesn’t lead to a business engagement you’ve come out with some education yourself. And that process to me, I could do that all day, just talk to people about their work.

Alex: It does.

Ashley: So without having a context of your previous lives professionally and before you came to St. Pete and you connected with the right people at the right time to start your business, transferring from the acumen of consulting into the acumen of business management and operations of your business, so today all the lease agreements that you’re creating, all of the staff that you now have to employ for your business – did that come naturally for you? How did you develop that acumen?

Alex: Most of it did. Not all of it. The Human Resource department is something that people in Human Resources even have a problem with. So I can’t say that – I think that was a lot of trial and error and exploration on my end of how my creative engagement can start to discern this person working with me for the long haul? It’s one thing to have a resume and to do it and it’s another thing to have an interview. And it’s another thing to actually start the work job. And that’s what I’d learn later. And so people can do great resumes because they can one, have people help them or have somebody who could do it for them; they have a great bio, which is part of that resume; and the other part is they can be well trained on how to interview. But it’s completely and it’s a different day to actually do the work. So execution has been something that I’ve seen opportunity for me to exercise my talents in, therefore I create the environment with my associate Herbert and our team to – and our team usually are business folks in the community who are our advisors. And I’ve been very successful. So I’m always looking for everything. Unfortunately – some of our folks that work with us are full time, some are part time, some are contractors – most of our artists, are contractors. And so it’s the thing of I would say about 98% of our folks get their contract where we are making an offer for it to renew, and then a couple percentage that we don’t see the…

Ashley: How many staff members?

Alex: Well now we got 25 people work at our organization. It’s a small organization, we haven’t even completely filled up our opportunity in North county, so we’re just primarily South and Mid and again, couple of one, two sides in North county.

Ashley: Is it important for those 25 employees to in any way mirror the community of which you are serving, i.e. to have experience growing up in Childs Park in some of these underserved communities? Or is it important that they are local and they’ve grown up in St. Pete and they have…? What do you look for?

Alex: No. We look for talent whether they… It’s kind of hard to find out specific towns they grew up or they actually – but the main thing, we look for who can connect with people. And that person, that artist has a heart to understand the child and it’s something that they feel is part of their calling to really share their gifts and talents with this child or it’s a group of children that come to the learning moment. And so I think it’s a learning experience. And we don’t look for someone to have all their t’s crossed or the i’s dotted, but we look for folks who are open and willing and ready to venture out and be innovative and to create that opportunity, because that kind of environment I think is the awakening moment for the student to fear not and to overcome their learned behavior of fear and to tread new territories with an exploratory mindset, to find out not only what the opportunity is, but also take the opportunities and by taking the step forward, and this will carry out in every aspect of their lives. To overcome fear is probably one of the greatest accomplishments humanity can embrace, because when we fear we won’t take the risk that needs to be taken or to engage the opportunity that needs to be engaged.

Ashley: And when we fear our interactions are largely governed by defenses or largely governed by learned reactions that cloud real connection.

Alex: Right.

Ashley: And it’s important that you’ve identified those that can bridge that, emotionally at least. I’m wondering, when you think about the child that you alluded to or the children, you had an option, you could’ve gone very, very young, you could’ve gone school age. You chose to specifically hone in on that teen community and now factoring and career readiness and financial acumen. Why was that back group so important to this mission?

Alex: I think it’s because when you think about the development of the human being we’re looking at it, ACT is looking at it from a wholistic perspective. We’re looking at it mind, body and soul, the whole makeup of a person.

Ashley: And during adolescence, right? And it’s…

Alex: Yeah, in adolescence. So the full development span generally ends around 25 years old to be realistic, but a large portion of that is taking place from a toddler all the way up to 18 years old, hence the grade school, etcetera. But we come in at the age where it’s another major turning point, which is around 11 years old to 18 years old, there are two groups in that population, eleven to about 14-15 and up and then from 15 or 16 into 18. So we come in to engage this population where it can… I say make or break you at least a large portion of your life. So we focus on the art of healthy living which is not just what we put in our bodies or food, but how we think, how we are looking at behavior. So ameliorating behavior is really huge for us, so we could improve that, the human behavior. Also we’re looking at the art of money management, art of entrepreneurship. So there’s an art to live in, the art of communication which is part of the power networking. We bring in master instructors who are experts or influencers and thought leaders in those areas to engage these students. Now we’re talking about students. Some of them, such as one guy sitting in an office about two weeks, three weeks ago. He said… Herbert says he introduced me to all the guys that was with them because they were helping out with some – handing out the stuff… and he said, ‘Tell Alex what your dream is.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah,’ and he was so excited, he said, ‘My goal is to graduate from high school and on the day of my graduation to take my diploma to my mother’s grave and my father’s grave.’ He’s 16 years old. And he said, ‘Because they’ll be proud,’ and tell them that he did it. And you’ll be surprised that I never heard anything like that the day of my life, but he was so… excited to share that goal, and he’s on that journey to pursue it and he felt so fortunate to be a part of a group that actually he can share that with. One, that felt safe, and two, that would support him in his effort. And I said, ‘What other goals do you have?’ I said. ‘Because whatever they are you be committed, we are committed, we are here and so we will help you not only achieve your goal and get your diploma but also beyond that.’ And so not only it’s just a dream, but a realistic goal so that they can feel the accomplishment and it can empower them. Because my whole thing is if the student isn’t educated through the exposure beyond the four walls of learning, reading, writing, arithmetic etcetera – that then we have failed as a community and left it, or pointed out fingers at one particular arm which is the school system, and I think they’re just one contributor. I think we have to look to the business community, we gotta look to the other community stakeholders and just residents to say, ‘How do we really ensure that all that we have learned we continue to pour back into it?’ And there are various forms of doing it. There’s the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Arts Conservatory for Teens, University of South Florida, St. Pete College… the business, the store down the street, or whatever we’re doing. So I think that’s the question. And then look at opportunities that we have to create greater bridges and providing access so that that child sees her/his fullest opportunity and live and start to pursue that full potential. You know?

Ashley: You have an interesting relationship/aversion with fear in the sense that you want that something that you have identified as something to help those that you serve overcome. Can you walk us through some fears that you have personally been working on? They don’t have to be grave ones, but one in your own professional life that you are looking to challenge yourself on.

Alex: Yeah, so when we talk about fear I realize first that fear was… was and is a learned behavior. And I remember growing up I would believe it or not, I was very ‘shy’ or ‘timid’ or did not like talking, especially this close to people. But I can talk on stage…

Ashley: You’re about three inches away from him right now.

Alex: [laughing]

Joe: He smells so good.

Ashley: Sorry, we’ll back up. Continue.

Alex: No, it’s fine. No, not now. I’ve overcome fear… And then I did not like to ask, as recent as when I started the Arts Conservatory – being a consultant talking about transition I felt some kind of way of asking people to do something or to give something. My business associate, Herbert Murphy, was like Alex, remember. Yeah, you’ve been asking for yourself. And so I realize that the fear that was burst out of this, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want no – somebody to think I’m…’ I don’t know what it was, it was this fear that had crept in from some illusional idea or something that I created a form. And I realized a lot of the things that we are fearful of is our own shadows, it’s like these things that we have created. And so when I started to think differently about… and start to actually before thinking differently start to really reflect and saying, ‘Why? Why am I fearing? What is this that I feel?’ And even today if I feel a little fear, what is it about, what is the fear, why am I feeling? I started to question myself unto why, and I realize it… again, as I before mentioned, is it my own shadow. I’ll say ‘Well, it’s just me, it’s something I’ve created. It’s not that big, it’s… the world is the world, people are people.’ And what we realize is that most of the things that we are afraid of is somebody else’s, just shadows. They were telling us about the alligators. They were doing kayaking last week and they were like, ‘Maybe there are alligators out there but remember, they’re scared of you just like you’re scared of them, so… You are bigger than them so they are actually just trying to defend themselves if they attack.’ And I’ve heard that about other animals in general. So anyway, I guess the point is that overcoming fear is basically being awaken to the reality that what we generally are fearful of is something that is all made up in our own process.

Joe: I think there’s a couple of different classes upstairs, different classes of fear and I think that a lot of fear is rooted in what other people think, right? People are constantly doing battle with that and half of the things you see on your Facebook feed are ‘live your own life’ and ‘love yourself’ and that sort of thing. The fears that I look at are decision-based fears, right? Because you start to feel the… you feel your mortality, you have an existential condition and you have a certain number of years in your life and I think it’s really easy to look at opportunities in front of you and they are good and you choose them and then things just fly by and then looking backwards I kind of look at – if I make it to 80 and I’m looking back, that’s the person I’m afraid of, is looking back and saying, ‘You wasted a lot of time doing this,’ or, ‘that was a little about your prop,’ or ‘you let this short term thing influence you in a way that cost you in the long term.’

Ashley: Also if you talk about this opportunity is that you are deciding on – that’s really from only from your vantage point, so there’s a tremendous amount of rejection that everyone will face in their life, professionally and otherwise. And it’s interesting that you’re cultivating talent, young talent in an industry that is rife with rejection, right? You have had some phenomenal success stories of some of your teens going to Broadway or performing at Disney, but you also have to fortify them with a sense of resilience because… and you probably experienced that when you were even touring in your young days.

Alex: Right. And one of the things that we teach not to fear ‘failure’ – and I say ‘failure’ because we use that word loosely. Nothing is a failure if what has happened propels you forward. So I think it’s only a failure if we see it as a failure and use it as a failure, I think, by using it as its there we do nothing with the lesson learned.

Ashley: Or it further adds to some self-destructive behaviors that you’ve witnessed prior to the…

Alex: Right, exactly. So that’s the only time it destroys you and it’s considered a failure. But I think if we look at what has happened, did not happen how we thought it might should happen or something didn’t come through or whatever, we don’t see, we don’t reevaluate the process and what brought the results that it did and then it becomes a failed opportunity, but it becomes an opportunity without the failure on it if we see whatever that happenstance was or is propels us forward and it’s up to us. And so those are the things that we look at. So you get up… you fail the test, you get an F, right? What did I not do? What is it, technically I’m not looking at the letter grade as something to dictate my intellectual ability. I look at the latter grade to tell me that there is something that I must – didn’t hear or didn’t process properly. So what is it I’m missing? Who can help me approach the learning moment differently? Now I’m not a failure, I am a critical thinker of my own behavior, therefore I can move forward, not to make a mistake over and over again. I may miss it a second time, but I won’t remain in this space too much longer because I am challenging myself, right? If I do have a learning challenge or ‘disability’ I think that I can find a way to address my challenge in this particular area that takes away disableness and to a place where I can propel forward.

Joe: And that’s all mindset, that’s whether you’re focused on the perception of your failure or what family and friends may think or say and if that’s driving your response versus excellence and improvement and…

Alex: That’s true.

Joe: That’s what you focus on.

Alex: And I must say thua – so, by taking the approach today in everything that we work to integrate, we have students come to us with a 2.5, now they’re at 3.0 and now they believe they can get a 3.5, not – because we changed the perspective on one, the fear of ask. You say, ‘Well, you didn’t know, why you didn’t ask?’ ‘Oh, I don’t want nobody to think I’m dumb, I don’t want nobody to laugh at me,’ or, ‘I didn’t know who to ask,’ or get bullied, or something – ‘Oh, you don’t know that.’ And the only reason why the person is saying that is because they probably don’t know it either. But we didn’t realize a lot of times in the learning setting that when you have as many classes as the teachers have, people get intimidated by the crowd, they don’t know if they have the time to go up and talk to or maybe there is just some missed opportunity in some way or another. But what we’ve been able to do is really have – and we don’t use adult tutors, we use all teen tutors who are getting to create peer tutoring. And they get a chance to become peer ambassadors, mentors and help their peers in the institution of ACT after school.

Joe: So one thing that’s… I’d be fascinated to hear your take on, I think in a lot of what you’ve done something that’s been consistent is defining value. I know in the business consulting world you’ll sit with someone and talk to them and bring some real wisdom to the situation, but because it’s not defined in the classic ‘I’m doing your books or I’m making or designing something for you,’ or whatever, that the challenges – just how to charge for it, right? Or how do you get them to recognize this is something that really is critical to their success in the same way that more of a nuts and bolts activity is, or even to see it as a nuts and bolts activity? Moving out of the business world into the arts world, that’s something that artists continually struggle with, is what value do you place on me singing or me acting? And there are some lanes that people go in where that’s established, but I think coming up obviously there are people who are already happy to sing for free and you see this in the writing world a lot too – we will give you exposure, you write for us. And so it seems to be these classes of skills that people have a hard time getting their just value, financially paid with their worth, whereas in other skills that are like a CPA, no problem, right? This is our hourly rate, this is our retainer and you go. So throughout your life you’ve done that dance with defining value and putting a number on it and getting that forward.

Alex: Right.

Joe: What are your thoughts on that?

Alex: How… would one define her/his value? Or how do I get…?

Ashley: The potential devaluing of art.

Joe: Okay, so you have a great singer right now, right?

Alex: Right.

Joe: So there’s plenty of people who say, ‘Oh, come into my party and sing for free,’ but the idea of paying me $100 to come to your party I won’t do it, but I’ll pay a caterer $500 if there’s food value there, but you’re also paying them for their time.

Alex: Exactly.

Joe: So why is food prep easy to pay for and singing not easy to pay for?

Alex: Because people really feel that… I don’t know. But I think they have a very skewed understanding or idea, but to answer your question that’s something that we were challenged with a lot, especially when you grow up in a faith-based community, and us we had grown up in Church and sing gospel, they say, ‘Oh, well you just sing for God and then you – you don’t do this for money.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m singing for you, I may sing to God. So if you want somebody else you can feel free.’ But the thing is you’re right and I’ve always put it to people this, and sometimes is… And we really challenge our students to think differently about themselves, or art of entrepreneurship. You do not have to be a starving artist, there’s so many opportunities to make money, but if you look at it as any business, a small business. And I remember someone wanted me to sing for something for a city and I said, ‘You mean to tell me you do not want to support small businesses? I’m a registered business.’ And I said, ‘I may not have 1,000 employees but I do have people to pay.’ And so I start to put things in perspective so we challenge our students to help people think differently about their industry. You are a part of an industry and you have to put a value on it, even if there’s – and leave room for negotiation. So if your opportunity is $50,000 and you say, ‘$50,000! I know people that go and pay that much for a piece of art that hangs on the wall, and I love visual arts.’ But when you’re talking about living the value of art that you only have that moment to experience the art form… Visual arts, it has its place…

Ashley: You could take a video of it. It could last forever.

Alex: And then you take a video of it, last forever.

Ashley: Yeah.

Alex: But still even being there, so the difference between – I’m always telling people, even our city, I think we have to learn to embrace all art forms, performing and visual arts. We can pay a… Dali, I love his artwork, he’s a fabulous artist. But also we need to start selling out our Mahaffey, we need to start selling in our Palladium and creating, and really challenging the thought process of people’s perspective on the value of arts in general, not just to commission a one piece, a one-time commission for a mural, but an ongoing – we’re having this conversation, we’re now part of the Florida Orchestra, thats public information. How could we… Should the ticket price remain this or should it be increased or should it be that, how do we engage the group? To me that shouldn’t be a question necessarily because if we can challenge people to think differently, and I just put it out there, in small conversations or large conversations, when the opportunity presents itself. So we have to encourage educating each other on valuing everything, just like you mentioned the attorney or the CPA or the school teacher. Or everyone who teaches how to read, how to count. But their profession is often devalued at, ‘Oh, you’re just a school teacher,’ or, ‘She’s just a school…’ Just a? I think the valuing of each other and a lot of times we value it based on the value that we’ve put on it. Because it’s just… anything, that’s why I say, ‘It is your work.’ And I’ve had to call people on the carpet and say, ‘Well, we don’t want to devalue each other’s work.’

Joe: Yeah. I guess there’s probably some innate variation of what’s that? – Maslow’s hierarchy is you’ve got to have your accounting done or your bank account is in balance and you shut down, right? And once you get that in order then you have to know your cash flow to keep the lights on and then after that maybe you do a little marketing and maybe after that you can put some art on the walls. But at the end of the day people probably build from the base up and that probably is why what’s critical to daily functioning plays probably some role in that.

Ashley: It’s the earlier framing that you had around nutrition or nourishment. So beyond the food and healthy living, just what we consume, right? And art being at the forefront of that?

Alex: Right. There’s a really wealthy guy I met when I first moved here ten years ago. He was telling me how he was at the Capital Grill and this time he was by himself and he said, ‘You know…’ We went to breakfast one morning and he said, ‘I was at Capital Grill the other night and I got this many kisses and this many hugs from this many people.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because I value everyone, the server, the person who parked my car.’ And I think the point he was making to me, that he doesn’t see because you’re in this profession. He sees that it is a profession. Think about it. I don’t care if you live in the White House or you live, as they used to say, in the outhouse, right? Maybe not in the outhouse in this particular scenario I’m working on, but yes you do, if you have an outhouse there’s somebody who has to maintain that, so that person is valued then, or the plumber or whatever. So I think that regardless of what the profession is, each one should open her/his eyes to see that you are not more significant than the other. If we take away one part of the puzzle then we lose something very significant, everything could just fall apart, it falls apart. So when we see the need for the plumber, when we see the need for the person or valet we get to find a parking space. When you see the need for the chef and the person that cleans, and the first thing we’ll say, ‘Excuse me, this glass is not clean.’ Well, there’s somebody back there who has to make sure that, or the person you’re saying it to is the one that brought it to you at your convenience. And so my goal has been to value and see the value in there. And even if there’s not great service, is to offer my suggestion and say that maybe that you want to explore another profession that you feel most comfortable in because you don’t want to be in something that you’re not performing your best. My whole thing is whatever you do, right? I think it was Dr. Martin Luther King who said, ‘If you’re a street sweeper be the best street sweeper.’ And I think those who are not a street sweeper should see the value and not try and devalue. Because there’s a very need for the street sweeper. I don’t think any of us want to live on a street that hasn’t been swept. And so I think that’s what we bring to our students and say, ‘Whatever profession you go in be your best at home, be your best in school and later when you grow up be your best at home and your best at work.’ And of course with us, be your best at school, be your best at home and your best at ACT and that’s how you keep your scholarship, nothing is free. We always refer to this scholarship, they get a letter from us just as if they were getting it from a University saying, ‘Welcome, you’ve been rewarded 1,600…’ a little bit North of 1,600 per student, ‘for your scholarship’ for some program, the other programs that we have are 1,800 or more. And so they get a letter from us, that this is a scholarship and how they can lose the scholarship. It is a privilege to be a part, no one is obligated, this is an institution, not a charity. It is an investment, people see your value and want to invest into you. And I think that’s how we bring about sustainably changed mindset. We have to change the mindset from a poverty mindset to a mindset of opportunity and a mindset that not only dream, because if we only dream we only will sleep. But if we awaken from the dream, from the sleep, then we can have vision and when you have a vision is really the pursuit of bringing to reality that which we’ve dreamed of and making it a tangible experience.

Ashley: Okay, so I think about the teens that come to your program and the experiences that they hail from and the healing alchemy that the arts experience offers, right? And it’s complex in the sense that you one can experience a sense of transcendence, one can experience a sense of solid grounding through this they may have never experienced before. You can experience a highly non-egoic state but also a really strong egoic state and how it affects and it influences everyone is different, but it’s such a cool space to be in. And review now, removed from your actual business, I want to understand what you’re passionate about in the arts today.

Alex: What I’m passionate about in the arts today is the power it has to transform.

Ashley: In terms of… is it music, is it theatre, is it – your own personal…

Alex: Oh, which genre… for my personal…?

Ashley: Yes

Alex: Oh, yeah. So for me not only the transformative power that it has, but also for me personally I think it has… And it transformed me this way, I should say before I move forward, it’s transformed my perspective, or my more myopic angle or viewpoint growing up in the South in a small town. It has taken me places, it has literally been vehicle with the wings to take me around many places throughout the world and it continues to today. And in doing that has opened my eyes to see humanity in a much different way than I believe I would have experienced had I had very limited exposure. With an experience it pours certainly heavily where it’s become the bedding to the development of what we know today as Arts Conservatory and our continued growth. So I am a song writer, I play some acoustic guitar, some piano, started as a drum vocalist, those are areas where I really have been gifted and gravitate towards more as a performing artist, while I have a high appreciation for visual artists and I do some acting because people thing if you sing you can just act, because it is another performance. I see it all as a performance because it’s all interrelated I should say in some way or another with distinct differences. But I was talking to one student this last Thursday in a session we have a masterclass with actually Dr. Helen Wallace. And she does poetry, and so she was doing it with a small, small group of our event students, in one of our product services called YAA, the Young Artist Alliance. And one of the students, she was saying… well, she didn’t know if this master workshop was for her because she’s a visual artist. I said ‘Well, think of it this way. Learning how to express yourself creatively whether in black and white written form called poetry or through visual it’s all related. And that’s so you can take the experience of learning how to become a very articulate expresser, or how to articulate your feelings through writing a poem and translate that same basic principle or theory through paintings or sketching or whatever your medium is. And she said she had never thought of it in that way, but I see that in everything. Or if I were to take a visual arts class I could take that experience and apply it to any aspect, part of my life. And so as an artist something I feel called and gifted in, I’ve been able to take that experience and apply it, hence the course I taught called creative arts in theological practice. And not only I learned, got a degree in theology, but I was able to pull from my other trainings and experiences and gifts and integrate them together. And this is where I think we could birth into innovative thought and ideas etcetera. So I hope that answers your question.

Ashley: Kind of an infusion of everything, right? That’s what I…

Alex: Yeah, that’s what it is. I think that even though you may have a starting point for me it may be a discovery with the drums and the buckets in the back yard and then into singing and then into songwriting and then into venturing with other instruments and not limiting, but seeing the connectedness as part of the… I think the human makeup as a whole is a global experience because what I’ve been able to connect with at a very micro-level, right? – it becomes very macro as I open myself up and challenge myself or see the world of opportunity and overcome the fear of pursuing and then get into – and then I awaken something else or I am able to create –  we are creators or re-creators of the existence of something else. So whether you’re a school teacher or whether you’re police or a judge or a mother, stay at home, or a father, whatever, I think once we start to see our value – back to the word ‘value’ – what we have to contribute to this whole ecosystem, right? I think then we can start to see not only change within ourselves, but also externally, so it becomes both an internal experience as well as external.

Joe: So amongst the arts I’m sure you’d agree that with visual arts, music, poetry, there’s no higher art form than podcast hosting, right?

Alex: The art of communication is probably one the most unique…

Joe: Thank you for saying that.

Alex: …and most needed… more than anything.

Ashley: We’re all connected.

Alex: Because if you get it, we’re all connected, if we can communicate both verbal and non-verbal we can get a lot of things done.

Ashley: Right. And I’ve been doing hand gestures and physical expression the whole time that Alex has been talking.

Joe: Soon to figure out that. People can’t see that, but…

Ashley: I’ve heard a similar – just to piggy back on your response, I’ve hear you say, Joe, similar things about business and really the application in terms of you’re constantly experiencing it as a mode of expression.

Joe: Sure.

Ashley: And everything that you do. And so I think I expected my answer to be… you told me that you had – you were emphatic about music right now and to list what that meant. But what I heard instead was really, it’s more of a way of how you live and how you see the world and how it applies to everything that you do.

Alex: Right. It is.

Joe: I often refer to my business in there as painting my masterpiece and that’s how I creatively express myself.

Ashley:  Yeah, it’s your expression. Yeah.

Alex: Right.

Joe: A lack of many other skills.

Ashley: Yeah.

Alex: I see connectedness, it’s like I saw this…

Ashley: What’s mine? I try to figure out what my creative expression is? Question mark. I have a lot.

Joe: TBD.

Ashley: I have a lot.

Alex: Yeah. I think we’re all creative beings, it’s just a matter of being able to articulate a label and not necessarily being sucked into the vacuum of some existing label. But the reason I believe that creative of the human experience is with all of us is because we are rhythm, we are sound, we feel and we see in some way or another and we are able to connect in some way or another, it’s the awakening moment. And some of us have that awakening moment when we are five years old, others have it when we are 50 years old or 60 years old. But it doesn’t matter when the awakening moment happens, I think the fact that we at some point are aware to that space. And I love to use the word ‘creative’ because I think it takes you to that blank canvas, the willingness to be open to explore, to discover something new about ourselves and then discovering that, being able to discover something new with the world around us and then we can recreate this experience in our effort to connect with others.

Ashley: Yeah.

Joe: And speaking of which, and I think we’ll do one more question and shout-out. You had some really inspiring words about not just Et Cultura, but St. Pete in general up in its game as far as the kind of talent and the kind of events that…

Alex: Right.

Joe: And I’d like you to throw that challenge out there to everybody who is listening. What can we do to cross the board? You’ve been out in LA, you’ve seen how the business works – how can we up our game and start to bring in, make this an epicenter for art love in town?

Alex: Yeah, one thing that I would like to see is that we first start to see and embrace and celebrate is the word the value of all of the artists and one way of making this an arts driven, both performing and visual arts… I think the visual arts has it, we’re able to sell $40-50,000 pieces, right? So we are not asking for a ticket price of $40-50,000. We have to get out and support our performing artists events and activities. Now with that I think we have to look at other creative ways, not just… as we celebrate we have to figure out how we integrate or sandwich in both the local with the regional with the national to push the market to a higher level of engagement for an international opportunity for attraction, that of course in turn ROI is that it boosts economy here, head and beds and of course all that comes along with it, with all the mom and pops shops etcetera. I think looking at creative ways of having more stages, I think we’ve seen it done, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We see it done in South by Southwest, we see it done in New York all the time, Charlotte and art gallery at Nashville. You can go down the list, Atlanta and of course out on the West coast in various places.

Ashley: Austin?

Alex: So yeah, I think that we – Austin, yeah. We could… Did you say Austin or Boston?

Ashley: Austin… both.

Alex: Oh, yeah. Yeah, but… So, I think that… like Et Cultura for example, it’s a phenomenal, ingenious idea. I think that we as a community should not just come to, ‘Oh, yeah, they are doing Et Cultura,’ or, ‘That’s a great idea,’ but we should find ways of how can we get behind it. One, start reaching for regional sponsors, start reaching from there to national sponsors and inviting them into experiencing it and not just assuming or just leaving it to the local either because it does take a lot of financial resources to pull off something that’s gonna… of impact. And I think when you build… we put millions of dollars into a 50-story building which is phenomenal. But how does something like that sustain and on a cultural basis, where you continue to bring in creating that cash flow? When you see those skyscrapers going up in New York they have everything built around it. And I think as a community we start to not look to one particular developing group or whatever. They’re doing their part. I think all of us could look at ways in our creative space how can we one, support, how can we get involved, how can we reach beyond our comfort zones or the confines of our border lines, our neighborhoods and communities or our offices to explore getting other people, introducing or reaching or going through our network to advance this from a B, C market to an A market? And I think that it has the potential reserving or preserving the integrity of the intimate city with a very nice, great, A-list flare that attracts the kind of individuals that will help to boost the economy, that will give more opportunity, that we can do more things in the community life with ACT and provide more scholarships and give more jobs and people don’t feel like they have to go away to have a living, to make a living; they can make a living here and so the investment that we make, the return comes back when they grow up and become productive citizens. We are doing our part in educating so they don’t start destroying what we build up. And in the vision and the investment is sustained. It’s not rocket science because I don’t think I would do well in that… anyway, but I will do I think well in some common thinking.

Joe: So we need to build some cultural skyscrapers.

Alex: Yeah, exactly. Some cultural skyscrapers, exactly.

Joe: Alright, sponsors, you heard Alex. If you wanna get involved with Et Cultura reach out to us.

Alex: Yes.

Joe: Alright, we end every show with a shout out, a shout out to someone in the community locally here who is doing great work that maybe doesn’t get as much attention as they deserve, and I know now you’ve got your finger on the pulse of a lot of cool efforts around town. Is there anybody you can think of that you would like to give a little love to that maybe doesn’t get as much as they deserve for the work they’re doing?

Alex: Yeah. Well, I know… alright, Lorna Taylor is doing some amazing work. She is the CEO of a very successful company. A lot of people know of her, some people heard of her but never met her. But she is really on the ground, rolling back her sleeves, fairly new board member to us and I heard about her and… she is just doing amazing things. But people hear of her but she’s still in the background, but I think she has a lot of very brilliant ideas and not only just ideas, but she does what she can, and she is a person that believes in St. Petersburg, and not just believes but she certainly is a major contributor to the grounding level of developing culture here, so…

Ashley: Nice. And what’s the name of her… business or organization?

Alex: Premier Eye Care.

Ashley: Nice.

Alex: She loves the arts so she’s in the medical…

Joe: That’s okay. Alright, well let’s… I’ve enjoyed the conversation.

Ashley: Yeah.

Alex: Thank you. So visit us at artsconservatoryforteens.org or alexharrisofficial.com

Ashley: Very good.

Joe: Awesome. Thanks.

Ashley: Thank you for coming on.

Alex: Thank you so much. Thank you.

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About the host

Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group.  Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.

Ashley Ryneska is the Vice President of Marketing for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Ashley believes meaningful conversations can serve as the gateway to resolution, freedom, and advancement for our city. Her passion for storytelling has been internationally recognized with multiple media accolades.

About the St.Petersburg Group

The St. Petersburg Group brings together some of the finest thinkers in the area. Our team is civic minded, with strong business acumen. We seek to solve big problems for big benefit to the city, its businesses and its citizens.