By Jim Bleyer
Alex Harris always was moved to create. As a kid with seven siblings in rural Georgia, he parlayed buckets, pie pans, and pine tree branches into his first drum kit.
Now he wants to inspire others.
He’s succeeding. His Arts Conservatory for Teens (ACT) in St. Petersburg boasts impressive metrics: a 100 percent high school graduation rate with 90 percent advancing to higher education. Harris is quick to point out those students received a diploma, not a certificate of completion.
He and his partner Herbert Murphy founded ACT in 2012 and, through the Pinellas County School Board, works with students in several middle and high schools. More than 1,500 students have been enriched and inspired through the ACT program.
Speaking to an enthusiatic Café con Tampa crowd Friday, Harris emphasized that ACT is not merely an arts program. An essential part of the curriculum focuses on building character and opportunities for self-sufficiency. His goal is to integrate the arts into the fabric of the community and have the arts viewed as helping to drive Tampa Bay’s economic engine.
”The art of communications amd entrepreneurship is integral to our program,” Harris explained. “We want to better prepare students for the workplace. They may not go to Broadway but they will be great workers.”
Those capable of innovative thought are valued employees regardless of what profession they choose, he went on, pointing out area artists such as musicians, dancers, and photographers are more than amenable to lending their expertise to ACT.
Harris is optimistic that he can bring ACT to Hillsborough County saying there is a great need and a lot of raw talent there. He hammered his thesis that the arts should not be viewed as peripheral but the “blood and veins” of any community.