Eclectic work history has Tampa Arts Alliance director in the right role at the right time
by Alexis Muellner
Tampa Bay Business Journal
Oct 14, 2022
With entrepreneurial parents, Michele Smith has been working since she was 4 years old. She remembers direct mail campaigns.
“My mom had her IBM typewriter, and my job was to put stamps on envelopes,” she said. “Every summer, I got rewarded with a $100 bill, and that was a really big deal. They got their money’s worth.”
Hard work is Smith’s lifelong jam. While always drawn to arts, culture, dance and creativity, her early career was eclectic and corporate. She did business development work for the multibillion-dollar French company Bureau Veritas. That exposed her to various sectors, including building and infrastructure, marine and offshore. After the BP oil spill, she helped lead a $50 million contract in Louisiana to do health and safety inspections and “to make sure that another explosion didn’t happen.” She also worked for a civil engineering firm working to create the first American-style community in Honduras.
Later, in operations at the Tampa Downtown Partnership, Smith helped lead ArtLOUD, a public art project. That laid groundwork for her current role leading the two-year-old Tampa Arts Alliance, which describes itself as “a catalyst and convenor of arts advocates dedicated to making Tampa a city known for excellence in the arts.”
She hasn’t always found Tampa a welcoming place for her, and it forced her to withdraw a bit, she said. That’s changing. Energy around arts fuels her confidence to do the outreach her current job demands.
What’s ahead for the alliance?Our first year was about reaching out to the community and finding our place, and connecting a lot with the artists and arts advocates to build some momentum and connect with the organizations and build goodwill. We don’t want to come in and say, “OK, now here’s what we’re going to do.” It’s a lot more about listening. This next year, strategically, is for data collection and building a good foundation for knowing exactly what we have here and beginning to tell the story.
Is Tampa your focus?It is just Tampa. We’re not affiliated with the city. We’re focused on the city just as a manageable chunk of a place to focus. We’re looking at where the arts concentrations are right now in the city.
Does the alliance have an office?No. I’d rather take the expense of that and put it back into the organization.
What do you want the business community to know about this organization?We want to bring awareness about the immense talent we have here. The more we recognize that, give it space, nurture it and highlight it, it improves the quality of the workforce and improves the quality of our experience of life. It’s not just about just going to the theater, going to plays. It’s about how people come to work and how they express themselves. It’s about being recognized on a national and international level. It’s about Tampa being seen as a whole city. We have so much industry here. We have all these segments. We are such a sports champion, which is phenomenal. Our arts have the same potential to build part of our brand here to supplement that.
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