Bob Devin Jones was presented with the key to the city on Feb. 18.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Artistic Director Bob Devin Jones has been a recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Bank of America’s Hero Award, Weekly Planet’s Best of the Bay for Directing and Playwriting, Theatre Communication Group Artist Grants and Florida Humanities Grants, but last week Jones was given the highest honor one can receive from a mayor: the key to the city.
“Through these past 15 years, Bob has helped transform St. Petersburg into an art center where creativity and artistic expression are encouraged and enjoyed by the residents of and visitors to St. Petersburg,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman as he presented Jones with the key to the city at the Feb. 18 city council meeting.
Born in Los Angeles, Jones, 66, began as an actor performing in Shakespeare Festivals, including ones in Oregon, Berkeley, Calif., Illinois, Idaho and at St. Pete’s American Stage’s Shakespeare in the Park.
In 1997, American Stage brought Jones in to adapt the August Strindberg play “Miss Julie.” He pulled inspiration from the 70s show starring Diahann Carroll and presented it as “Miss Julia,” set during the Harlem Renaissance. He moved to St. Pete soon after meeting his life partner, Jamie Howell.
Howell found a derelict building on First Avenue and Sixth Street South, and Jones and his neighbor and exhibition designer, the late David Ellis, created The Studio@620. They gathered close to 100 people to a friend’s house for dinner, took donations and started programming. Their first show was called “Grandma’s Hands: 100 Years of African American Quilting.”
Jones has mentored countless creatives in St. Pete, served on a significant number of boards and committees, served on the city’s Public Arts Commission, as well as numerous artists’ selection committees on said commission.
Kriseman remarked that St. Pete is a better place since Jones arrived on the scene because of his actions and interactions with the community. He said the city is diverse, tolerant, friendly and welcoming, and Jones is one of the reasons why.
“He is the person that we want St. Pete to be known for and known as. He represents everything good about St. Pete,” said the mayor.
City Council Vice-Chair Gina Driscoll said she couldn’t think of a person more deserving of receiving the key to the city because “you have been the key to making St. Petersburg a city of the arts.”
“There are so many hands that have been involved in developing St. Petersburg’s spot on the map as an arts destination, as a place where artists can grow and thrive and do business, but you have been truly at the forefront of that cause for many years,” Driscoll asserted.
Choking back tears, Jones stepped up to the podium and expressed his gratitude.
“I could quote Shakespeare or August Wilson, but I’ll do what my mama said. She’d say, ‘Go out and do something and tell us what you did.’ And so I came to St. Pete. Nothing but opportunity and acceptance and joy and challenge, and somehow — and I am now 66 years on the planet — I rose to that challenge. And I’m deeply, deeply grateful for this.”