By CARL MARIO NUDI
When visitors to Manatee County beaches want a break from the sun and are looking for some art and culture they may think they have to drive to Sarasota.
But the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) wants to change that impression and have hired a director of cultural affairs to make it happen.
Judith Tilton started working for the convention and visitor’s bureau on Jan. 16, and she has already accomplished some of her goals.
“I’ve been out gathering information about the cultural assets of the community,” said Tilton, who has experience in administration and marketing. “I’m also working on creating a baseline of the number of visitors to the community arts and culture venues.”
She described in an email message one aspect of her role with the CVB she saw through the lens of the tourism industry as developing and promoting “the growing segments of nature-based tourism, cultural heritage tourism and rural tourism, to increase Manatee County visitors and promote extended stays for greater economic benefit and quality of life for our area.”
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is tasked with enticing tourists to Manatee County.
The CVB is funded through the tourist development tax revenue, or “bed tax” as it is sometimes called, a 5 percent tax levied on hotels, motels and short-term vacation rental accommodations for overnight stays.
The Manatee County Tourist Development Council, comprised of elected officials, business owners and citizens, works with the CVB in setting priorities and making recommendations to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners in spending the tourist taxes.
Kelly Clark, director of communications with the CVB, said they began working on developing a strategy to promote art and culture in Manatee County about two years ago.
The CVB formed an Arts Study Group of local citizens, which did a series of studies.
“The CVB saw a need to showcase more than the beaches,” Clark said. “We know there is more to the community.”
The economic impact of cultural tourism was highlighted in a study that was produced about the time the Arts Study Group started their work.
The Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study on The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Cultural Organizations and Their Audiences in Manatee County was a project of Americans of the Arts.
The study found there was a direct economic impact of more than $47 million during fiscal year 2015 in the county from the arts and culture venues.
The local Arts Study Group talked to leaders in the arts community and found out what the various nonprofit organizations needed.
In June 2017, they recommended the CVB hire a full time director of cultural affairs, and Tilton was hired to fill the position.
“When I lived in Clearwater I would visit Manatee County, especially when I had company from up North,” said Tilton, who was born in Tallahassee and grew up in Miami, and has worked in the Tampa Bay area for more than 15 years.
“I found a tremendous community of high quality arts venues in the county,” she said. “But many of them are small and don’t have the resources to get the word out, and that is where the CBV can help.”
Tilton, who has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Tampa, with a minor in history, and a master’s degree in English literature from New York University, has a professional background in marketing and communications for the corporate and nonprofit sectors.
Her last position was with United Way Suncoast as vice president of community impact.
Tilton managed a grant-making portfolio of more than $15 million, which supported 60 community organizations and 90 programs.
“I also worked on community outreach to get programs and people together,” she said, “and to get government and business to work together.
“I have experience in getting people in the community to collaborate,” Tilton said.
It is her experience of working with small groups that she said would be helpful in her new position.
“I can help small nonprofits, such as the Parrish Arts Council, to work on developing their programs and help them with writing grants,” Tilton said.
But she will not confine her efforts to only art groups.
“Judith also will be working with the community’s history and heritage organizations,” Clark said, “which her history education will be of value.
“The county is very rich with history,” she said.
Tilton emphasized that arts and culture is “anything in the humanities that enrich the community.
“I’ll be working to enhance things that contribute to a better quality of life,” she said.
Clark said Tilton’s diverse background was perfect for this position.
“There is such a variety of things that need attention,” she said.
“Plus my administrative and business background will be useful,” Tilton added.