ANNA MARIA -- Creating the original paintings, sculptures and photographs that fill Anna Maria Island's galleries and exhibition spaces is almost always a solitary business.
But the artist members of Cultural Connections of Anna Maria Island have discovered that working together to promote the island's cultural assets makes good business sense for themselves and their community.
Established in 2008, the non-profit Cultural Connections advocates for civic support for art and culture activities, and sponsors special cultural events aimed at drawing both locals and tourists to the island. One of those is ArtsHOP, a three-day showcase event featuring a gallery walk, plays, concerts and arts and crafts exhibits.
Membership in the organization is open to any group or gallery that features the work of local artists. Member dues, along with proceeds from fund-raising activities, and grants, support Cultural Connection activities. The organization uses its funds to pitch the island's cultural attributes to tourists and locals looking for more than just a day at the beach, said founding member Joan Voyles.
"The purpose is to make Anna Maria Island an arts and cultural destination," Voyles said. "There is a lot of research about the impact and potential of the arts on the economy of a community."
The organization's message of art as economic development is not lost on the island's business community, said Caryn Hodge, marketing director of The Chiles Group, owner of The Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista Restaurants.
"A strong arts presence is one of the pillars of a community, adding both cultural and economic success," Hodge said. "Whether it is music, painting, photography dance or theater, art gives a community character and unique appeal, and it attracts visitors and res
idents who in turn help ensure the economic vitality of that community."
That's why this past spring, The Chiles Group was one of the sponsors of "Food and Wine on Pine," an event that showcased Anna Maria Island's culinary, visual and performance arts. Event organizers acknowledged Cultural Connections' dedication to advance the island's cultural community by awarding the organization a share in the event's proceeds, Hodge said.
"Food and Wine on Pine chose Cultural Connections as one of the not-for-profits to receive event proceeds because they act as an umbrella to promote the variety of art offerings available on the island," Hodge said. "We are confident that Cultural Connections will use the proceeds to promote the variety of arts, helping all types of art to flourish."
While it continues to focus on introducing visitors to Anna Maria Island's cultural virtues, Voyles said Cultural Connections is beginning to realize another of its long-term goals, as well. The cultural reputation the organization helped to establish is beginning to attract well-established artists and for-profit galleries to the Island as well, she said.
"When we started, we had only non-profit arts organizations on the island, but now artist Bob Brown's for-profit gallery and Arts for the Earth that have located here," Voyles said. "We're evolving."