Aimee Blenker, Arts and Culture Manager for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joins the Club

Aimee Blenker, Arts and Culture Manager for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joins the Club

Her ancestors came to Manatee County in 1840 and now she works for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to support arts and culture in her beloved hometown. Hear Aimee Blenker's story of her life, career, passion for Manatee County, and the many ways she champions the arts people, organizations, and events in her home town (and find out the BEST seafood restaurant in Bradenton!). 
All that and more on this week's episode of the Suncoast Culture Club podcast.
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Robyn Bell:  My friends today's podcast focuses on a very important person who works in an amazingly important organization for the arts in the Bradenton area. Aimee Blenker's official title is the arts and culture manager for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. And I have invited Aimee to talk to us today about the many cultural organizations in the Bradenton area, how they interact together under the umbrella of the CVB and how we can better financially support these organizations. So Aimee Blenker welcome to the club.

Aimee Blenker: Thank you for having me here

Robyn Bell: Now, before we talk specifically about your job at the Bradenton area, CVB and how you work with the cultural arts organizations. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where'd you get your training for the job you have now and how did you land at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Aimee Blenker: All right. Well, I am born and raised in Manatee County.  My family settled here on my father's side in the 1840s.

Robyn Bell: Wow. So you've been here hundreds of years.

Aimee Blenker: Yes. And so I grew up with a family that just loved the arts and loved the music. And my mother perform. Sings.. She plays guitar, piano. So

Robyn Bell: like we went to a restaurant, we'd see her out there jamming or

Aimee Blenker: wow. Probably not my brother. You will. So my brother, it's a little band locally that he's involved in. He's done some recordings. Like a country rock  that he started. So he plays a lot at Motorworks. He's a police officer by trades detective, and so for fun, because he loves music. He joined a little band locally and he's gone to Nashville  for some recording. As well, so yeah, it's a lot of fun. He has a good time with so he's a  homicide detective for Palmetto Police Department.

Robyn Bell: Hats off to him. That's gotta be a difficult job.

Aimee Blenker: I know, right. That's a good way for him to kind of release. I think, you know, with the, with the music it's very therapeutic to do in the band. So he he's a singer and a songwriter. So cool. Yeah. So he loves it. It's good.  I  grew up up in East Manatee County off of Rye Road, which at the time was extremely rural dirt road now completely changed and different so I've seenand a lot of changes in our county throughout the years. Just from living out in that area. My grandparents lived closer and in town so they lived near like Manatee High School area. My grandparents have been here, like I said, mentioned for many years, my grandfather was in the agricultural business,  a lot of my family roots were an agriculture. My family were in the tomato broker business and that's what originally brought the family here was farming.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. So this one that explains Rye Road, cause yeah, it, it was way out there farmland. Yes. Mary. So where did you go to grade school? Middle school, high school.

Aimee Blenker: I went locally to schools. Here, of course I went to Wakeland elementary because living at East Manatee County, that was the only elementary school that was closest to Rye Road. And then I went to Bradenton Middle and Community Christian for my middle school years. And then Southeast High School for my high school years.

Robyn Bell: Seminoles.

Aimee Blenker: Yes. I loved it there. And I danced  all through elementary school all the way through high school. Went to Betty Bayshore, which was kind of an icon in the area and the dance industry, and then moved on later to Ellen Mead Studios and then danced with Southeastern High School dance team for a short time,

Robyn Bell: Like for the football games and the basketball games and stuff.

Aimee Blenker: No, they actually had a dance team. So we did performances. I actually performed here at Neel auditorium, so yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Robyn Bell: Very cool. So if I said bust out the electric slide, you're like, no, that one,

Aimee Blenker: Like a champ,

Robyn Bell: But can you like  tango and waltz and Rumba and all that stuff?

Aimee Blenker: I have done that. I have done tango. I have. Learned how to do the waltz. I did traditional ballet tap and jazz. So generally it's what I did all through school.  I love the performing arts, so yeah, it's definitely something that I enjoy doing

Robyn Bell: Okay. So you,  finished  at Southeast,

Aimee Blenker: I finished  I ended up going just locally here at, it was at the time MCC. I started a family very young. So  my path kind of changed after, you know, kind of starting going to Manatee Community College. And then I ended up becoming a event planner. Yeah. So I own my own business for about 12 years. And the event planning industry,

Robyn Bell: That is a nightmare. I don't know how you did it.

Aimee Blenker: I loved it. It was actually challenging. I loved taking someone that had us very small budget and giving them like their dream wedding or their dream event on a budget. So I really focused on a lot of destination weddings, which were a perfect location for that  I did that for many years and really enjoyed it. And then I went through another change in life as we all sometimes do. And then during that time I worked for Paul Mattison here locally. I was his. Basically helped him with all of his catering any events,

Robyn Bell: Paul Mattison of Mattison.

Aimee Blenker: So restaurants worked with him for about five years and then remarried. And so at that time there was an opportunity at the convention center. So I got a job at the convention center and just kind of changed a little bit of what I was doing still in the events world. And then, ended up moving into the, I worked in operations for the first two years. So I really got to know the buildings, the facilities the Powell Crosley Estate and the convention center, and then moved into a sales role and being born and raised here in Manatee County, I have a lot of passion, of course, for our community. So what better job than to go out and sell what you know, and what you love. Yeah. My passion. So I enjoy going to trade shows and, you know, having someone come up to me and say, why should I come to Bradenton? You know, why should I not stay  in another city out, you know, especially whenever they're coming for,   the pirates games, you know, spring training, I've actually had a conversation with the gentleman and kind of talked to him about why he should come here. And it was funny because he took my business card and  he ended up calling me later on and he said, you know what? My wife said, you were the best person that she could have ever talked to at the trade show because you convinced her to leave 45 minutes away staying on a beach. And coming down to the Bradenton area, she just didn't know what was beyond where the stadium was.

Robyn Bell: Right.

Aimee Blenker: And I told her about beautiful Anna Maria Island and how she should just go and do a day trip there and just, shh.

Robyn Bell: You gotta keep Anna Maria Island a secret.

Aimee Blenker: I know it is so true.

Robyn Bell: I'm going to say the CVB does not do a good job of keeping that a secret and thank goodness. Really? Yeah. Yeah. I know. I know the people that live there are like, please. Quit telling people about this. I actually have some friends this week from Texas. Cause that's where I grew up in. They're spending the week on Anna Maria Island. They come every year, they, and, and when they discovered it and started coming, they had no idea that I lived here. It wasn't until all we've been there three years in a row and they just keep coming. We love it.

Aimee Blenker: And it's amazing. Like so many people are coming here too, though, for other areas within the city. Not, you know, beyond the beaches now, too. So we're really starting to get a lot more to do within the city. You know, Lakewood Ranch look at how that's just blooming and right. I mean, that's changed so much in just the 15 years, so. We're very diverse in what we offer within our city. I feel

Robyn Bell:  Totally, totally. Now, if you're having a conversation Aimee, with a six year old, how would you describe now your day to day job activities that you do in support of these cultural arts organizations in the Bradenton area?

Aimee Blenker: So I  sit on monthly calls  with the local state  as us being the local arts agency,  to  get updates from them on,  what's going on  being the advocate for the arts for Manatee County.

Robyn Bell: And it's a  pretty big arts lobby there in Tallahassee, right?

Aimee Blenker: So they give us opportunities and let us know whenever there's funding available, if there's special grants that are coming up so that we can let our partners know if there's one specifically that may be a good fit for their organization. So it's really important to be on those calls so we can be in the front of it to let our partners know what the deadlines are and when there's opportunities for them to get those types of funding.

Robyn Bell: So when you go to those meetings, then you come back and you call relevant people. I heard this, there's going to be this available. You need to contact them, but do you also, as the CVB apply for grants as well, you just disseminate the information.

Aimee Blenker: We generally just give out the information on grant opportunities that  local art agencies are allowed to apply for. So we generally aren't going after grants ourselves as a CVB. We do have funding that we also get that  we give out for sponsorships to our local arts partners as well. Okay. But we're generally just getting information to give out to them. So we're the advocate of the city, the liaison for the arts  and  making sure that we're giving them that information. So that they're where

Robyn Bell: You guys host a really cool ongoing event that I love.  I  loved the name of it, artsversation.  I  saw things coming through my email and I get a lot of them. Those because you know, here at the college with our music program and our theater program, we've actually just combined those two into a department of performing arts, which is really big for SCF. But then also as a conductor of the Pops, it's kind of this second role. And so I go to these events with two hats on, you know, for the college and for the Pops, but tell us about the artsversation and how that came to be in and how it organized our cultural arts people.

Aimee Blenker: Yeah, so we as a CVB decided that it was really important to make sure that we were engaging with our local arts, cultural and heritage partners, and just making sure that they're all aware of each other too, you know, where they're  getting together and networking and  giving us updates on what's going on within their organizations. What programmings do they have coming up and such. So we just had our first one about two weeks ago since COVID in-person, which was huge at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. And it was also the opening night for the Southern Altier exhibit. And they provide classical instruction and classical style painting, drawing, and sculpting and  they had their level two students actually display their artwork at the exhibit and it was amazing. So you got to actually meet with the students to  hear their background story and how long they had been in an art or interested in art. And some before going into this program actually had never even drawn before and now they're masters at it. It's amazing what that program has brought them

Robyn Bell: you still have to tap that talent sometimes it's there, but until they have the opportunity to draw paint, play music, dance, you know, you don't even know.

Aimee Blenker: No, it was amazing. So yeah. We were able to experience that and be together. And  we gave some updates on where we stand currently with the arts and the arts license plate tag that we oversee the funding for. But yeah, so it was just a great way to get together. And give updates on what's going on with our local community. And making sure that we stay engaged, which we felt was really important

Robyn Bell: Who came up with the name "artsversation?"

Aimee Blenker: I cannot take credit for that for me. So I know that there was a panel of about six people within the arts community. Prior to me taking on the role. And they all came up  with that name. Okay.

Robyn Bell: I love it like conversation, but artsversation the number one reason I like going to those events is there's always food and wine and I really appreciate it.

Aimee Blenker: I know, except for the last one, I apologize. We kind of disappointed.

Robyn Bell:  It's COVID it's so hard, you know, passed hors d'oeuvres and somebody making a drink for you and then with a mask, you can't eat or drink you spill it everywhere. I remember when we first started back here at school and we had to wear masks and I was heating something up in the lunch room and I got something on my finger and you know, you just kind of go to lick your finger. And I had my mask on. I was like, Oh God, I got food all over my mask, Aimee. It was horrible. Horrible. Yeah. I just want you to feel sorry for me. So  you talked a while ago about the license tag initiative. And so,  besides purchasing tickets to events or paying admission fees to museums, or simply just donating money, what can a Manatee County resident do to financially support the cultural arts organizations in our community?

Aimee Blenker: So as a designated local arts agency we oversee the artists license plate tag funds. So basically for every tag that's purchased, we receive $20 from that sale.

Robyn Bell: Okay. But  it can't just be any license plate right

Aimee Blenker: No it has to be the local arts license plate. So  it's a state tag that is a local arts agency tag. So you purchase the  art. This tag and $20 goes back into your community

Robyn Bell: And they sent all 20 bucks to you.

Aimee Blenker: The plate? Cost $32 and addition to the registration fee. So out of that purchase of the plate, $20 is donated directly to the  Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to help with arts funding

Robyn Bell: and prepare you that are asking you this. So if you don't know, I totally get it, but do you have any idea how much money  your organization gets from that every year.

Aimee Blenker: So we started collecting back in about 2019. So we haven't been doing it for very long. It's something that we just started doing in our County. And on an average, we're getting about 20,000 a year and tox and collection from that tag. So we're. Generally, we saw an increase in 2020, but then of course, 2021, because of COVID we've seen a little bit of a decline. But also keep in mind, some people purchase their tags every two years instead of every year. So that could be why we've seen a little bit of a decline. It doesn't necessarily mean it was affected from COVID.

Robyn Bell: Okay. So some of the money in 2019 could have been 2019, 2020,

Aimee Blenker: correct?

Robyn Bell: Well, that's hard to budget.

Aimee Blenker: Yeah. So that's why we really encourage locals to make sure if you want to support your local arts agencies and programming to make sure you're purchasing that tag . And then that way we can start getting more collections for that,

Robyn Bell: And it's better for your organization if we do it every year, rather than every two years,

Aimee Blenker: Definitley, better to do it every year.  It potentially can roll over, but ideally yes, if people can renew annually.

Robyn Bell: So if I leave the college campus today and I drive straight to the DMV, And I go in and I, I pick my number and you used to have to wait hours and hours, but I have to tell you, I have to take my mom to get her ID made and they've got a thousand people working there and it's like, you're in and out quick. Don't be scared. Don't be scared of the DMV. It's really, really fast. Okay. So I would go in there   even though I'm kind of renewed because my birthday's in April, so I'm good. But I could go in any time ago, I want to buy an art's tag.

Aimee Blenker: Yes, you can. And so you would just say that you would want to purchase an art. Yeah. Tag. And then once you do that, the $20, as long as you live in Manatee County, right. And you're registered in Manatee County, then the funds would come back to us

Robyn Bell: and do I get a different license plate?

Aimee Blenker: You do it that beautiful arts.

Robyn Bell: What does it look like?

Aimee Blenker: So it is like a wave of teal and pink. It's very pretty, so

Robyn Bell: I know what you're talking about. Yeah. I've seen it and I'm embarrassed that I, first of all, I didn't know this before and number two, I don't have one. So that will change by the end of this week. I make that pledge to you. Yes. Can I borrow some money?

Aimee Blenker: I'll give you $20 right now.

Robyn Bell: Thanks. Cause you know, I work at the community college, so Aimee, I moved to Bradenton in 2009. And after about a year here in the area, I was asked by a member of the Bradenton Runners Club that I belong to. He said, now that you've lived here for a whole year, what do you see as the biggest difference between Sarasota and Bradenton?

Because often we would be on, you know, group runs and you're talking and I'm going to hear the Sarasota orchestra or I'm going to the. West coast black theater troupe. And we would start these discussions about having to go to Sarasota for those kinds of things. And so when he asked me this question, I, this kind of on the spot and then, and I mean, this not in a negative way, it was just really my impression and understand I'm from Texas. So when I say this is truly not negative, But I said, Sarasota is cultural while Bradenton is agricultural. Now that was 11 years ago. And so many things have changed in the Bradenton area and the cultural arts scene. I'm sure you've also witnessed the growth and the shift over the past decade. So what have you seen as the biggest strides in the Bradenton area growing in the cultural arts arena?

Aimee Blenker: Yeah, so personally I would like to say,  people from around the world have been coming to our destination. And being inspired by us for years. So from beyond our beaches and our charming little sea villages that we have seaside villages, We have a lot of nature and of course, agricultural adventure that we have throughout our community visitors are discovering arts and cultural scenes, unlike anything we've ever seen before,  in our area. , it's really great that so many things are happening here.  The area's becoming known every day because of hosting different live performances that we hadn't done in the past exhibits festivals. And big festivals such as the Bradenton Blues Festival of courses, you know? Yes, it is.  We have the Riverwalk now Manatee Performing Arts Centers, new facility right there on the Riverwalk is amazing. Right. Art Center Manatee. So we  really have developed a great area for people to come visit and can be outdoors and,  indoors right there on the Riverwalk and the downtown core with , my second new little, hopefully one day be more of an arts district.  But we do have a lot of great things that have  come on the horizon, from 11 years ago that weren't here. So

Robyn Bell: yeah, I moved here in 2009. There was no Realize Bradenton. There was no Riverwalk. And so I saw that sport now I came here from Chattanooga, Tennessee who had developed their river walk on the Tennessee river. and so I had sort of an idea. Of what that would look like and, and how that would happen and the length of time it would take. And I think Realize Bradenton has done a great job taking that piece of property along the Riverwalk it really making  a destination of it for families, you know, free activities places, like you said, the Bradenton Blues Festival, different outdoor festivals and events there on the Riverwalk. It's so nice.

Aimee Blenker: so many more organizations are wanting to do their events here. Like for instance, with the Pops orchestra, I'm originally only having one event in our County now,  they're up to four. So I mean, it's great that we have so many different things that you can do here and see, and people have gotten creative, I think. Even with COVID with doing virtual or turning their parking lots into performance, that right. Centers,

Robyn Bell: Manatee Performing Arts Center.

Aimee Blenker: Great job with that. We actually had  an outdoor movies that we did at Premier Sports Campus. So , we've really  tried to make sure that people were craving,  the arts, they were missing it. So it's great to see  That, we were able to still do that during COVID and now we're starting to see live performances coming back.

Robyn Bell: Thank goodness

Aimee Blenker: indoor performances coming back. So, yeah, it's a beautiful thing.

Robyn Bell: When I came here and, you know, it took me a couple of years to really get in the groove and figure out all of the surrounding towns. And, you know, obviously Sarasota had an orchestra which was called the Florida West Coast Symphony and right. When I moved here, they changed their name to the Sarasota Orchestra. And I have to tell you a lot of Manatee County residents came to me when I came here and they were mad about that, that they felt like they were sort of left out. And so I had kind of that impression and it was constant. I'd go to their meetings and. They were still mad that the Sarasota Orchestra changed their name. Venice has his own symphony. Anna Maria Island had,  the Anna Marie Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra. So it kind of had its own orchestra. Even North Port had its own symphony, but Bradenton didn't have a symphony. And so I tried to work with some other organizations to say, you know, maybe.  We can combine efforts and we'd work a year or two and just nothing would materialize. So I just threw up my hands. I said, well, I'm just going to start the Bradenton Symphony Orchestra. And I went to our college president here and I said, just what I told you. I said, everyone has a symphony, but Bradenton didn't let listen. Put it at SCF and she was all in favor of that. So now we have the SCF Bradenton Symphony Orchestra, and we were really on a roll now COVID, didn't stop the music. Right. But it kind of stopped the audience,  attendance, and the, patronage of people donating money and that kind of thing. . I was really starting to hit a stride with that organization. So that's going to have to restart, but I hope that the CVB sees the, Bradenton Symphony Orchestra. It's really your hometown orchestra. So and I know you guys in the past have done a lot. With the CVB to help market events.

Aimee Blenker: Really. And I know we touched just very basic on what I do, and my role for the arts, but that is the other thing we're kind of an extension of your marketing efforts, right? So  I always make sure that I'm looking on our website and making sure that your listing is accurate and correct. Making sure that you're  taken advantage of our calendar of events and that you're putting your events on our calendar. So when visitors are going to our website, they're aware, right. Your events happening,

Robyn Bell: And you do a great job with social media sharing. All of our events.

Aimee Blenker: We have we have. Our  leisure, Facebook page. And then we also have our arts and cultural Facebook page. So we really make sure that we're posting things that are relevant, that are happening in the area so that visitors and locals can go and visit those exhibits and performances throughout the city.

Robyn Bell: Well, we really appreciate it. And I know the CVB, you know, the Bradenton area is just huge on sports. We got IMG, we've got the, Pittsburgh Pirates, Bradenton Marauders. We have those. Soccer league out there,  the big premier soccer facilities we have. And it's nice that that organization, because sports is a huge money driver and we all get that. And people they go to sports events and they still want maybe to go see a concert or to hear the Bradenton Blues Festival, that kind of thing. So it's nice that. The Bradenton area CVB is able to merge all that. So kudos to you and Elliot for doing such a good job.

Aimee Blenker: Thank you. We've really worked hard and tried to  think outside of the box on different ways to get people, to do things outside of just being on the field. So when families come with their kids, To do the soccer games, football, whatever, whatever sport they're here for. We make sure that we let them know what's going on in the area. We actually have created landing pages for events. So if there's a large tournament that's coming in town, we make sure that we do a landing page specifically for that group onto our website. And we show  discounts in the area. Events that are happening. So we highly encourage, if you happen to have tickets for a performance, if you want to do like a 10% discount or whatever, it may be to encourage those players after they're done on the fields to come and, you know, sit and watch you perform any kind of deals that you can send our way we're appreciative because we want to show them all the different things that we have to offer in the city.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. In my Pops Orchestra, you know, when I first got that job, Aimee, we performed four concerts in Sarasota. And then the last concert every year was here at the Neel. And that was the only one we were doing. And as a Manatee County and Bradenton resident, I was like, this makes it hard for me to go to all the businesses that I trade with. Like a, Hey support, the Pops you only play once here. So I went back to my board because we used to do only Sunday afternoon concerts. And I said, What if we just repeated the same concert the next night in Bradenton. And they said, bingo, and we sell out the Neel for every single performance. The Manatee County residents really support the Pops. And we've been talking with the Pittsburgh pirates about doing like a post  spring training game concert on the field and stuff. And  COVID. Derailed everything, but  that might be a really neat event for you know, a  spring training game concert.

Aimee Blenker: That would be a great idea. Yeah. I think everyone would love that.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah. So we've talked  not specifically about a lot of organizations, but there are a lot, and I would love to give them kind of a shout out. So  we have this huge County. I mean, it runs from Longboat Key all the way East to Lakewood Ranch, South the airport, North through Palmetto. The obvious place people will think about is downtown Bradenton, right? With the Manatee Performing Arts in a Realize Bradenton the Village of the Arts. But when you expand out from downtown Bradenton, tell us about the other cultural arts organizations, wherever little pocket of town you might be in that you should be attending or supporting.

Aimee Blenker: So I'm a big fan of Manatee Arts Education Council. They do a lot of wonderful things for our students locally. So  we always try to support any events that they have. So I highly encourage, you know,

Robyn Bell: That's the last time I saw you at a Manatee Arts Education Council it was the Arts Alive.

Aimee Blenker: That was wonderful. And Parrish Arts Council is another one that we love to support. They have an exhibit that they do actually at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, usually in November, each year. So that's just a really great exhibit to come see and support them as well. We have so many  We mentioned Realize Bradenton. We have the Florida Cultural Group that is actually

Robyn Bell: part of the Manatee Players, right?

Aimee Blenker: It is now part of Manatee Players, but  they do so many different things. So they  did an umbrella for all the things that they do.

Robyn Bell: That was very smart of them to do that. I was impressed when I saw that

Aimee Blenker: We have the Desota Historical Society that's been around for years. Yeah. And they just had their parade, which was nice. They were able to do for the first time. And because they did not have that last year,

Robyn Bell: You know what I love out at the Cortez Fishing Village is that  Maritime Museum they have out there,

Aimee Blenker: It's wonderful. The maritime museum is a great place to visit the Cortez Village Historical Society. Yeah.

Robyn Bell: That place is so cool. I mean, just transports you back into just like this quaint little place you feel like you've stepped back a hundred years in time

Aimee Blenker: and it's a great place to be.

Robyn Bell: And of course, with museums, there's the Bishop, right?

Aimee Blenker: The Bishop is a great one. And then of course, with Manatee County, we have the agricultural Museum in Palmetto, which is a great play your visit and  learn history of agriculture within Manatee County. So we have the Manatee  Little Village off of State Road 64. So in addition to that those are all operated by Manatee County. We have the Anna Maria Art League also that is a great organization out on Anna Maria Island.

Robyn Bell: Now, that island is little bitty. And I've always been impressed cause they have that. They have the Island Players, they have their own theater group. They have their own as we mentioned, the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra, which is a choir and an orchestra, like it's amazing the culture out there on Anna Maria Island.

Aimee Blenker: It's really unbelievable.

Robyn Bell:  And then, you know, here, SCF, we have all of our musical offerings. We have the wonderful theater program in the Howard Studio Theater, and we're kind of located right in the center of Manatee County. We were very excited about, well, I shouldn't say we me. I was very excited about the  project. To put all these homes on El Conquistador and 75th, because to me it just funnels people right here to the Neel Performing Arts Center. So I'm excited about that. And then , you mentioned the Powel Crosley Estate earlier, and people that don't know this,  can just tell you my Powel Crosley story.

Aimee Blenker: Yeah.

Robyn Bell:  I'm a trumpet player. So I grew up in bands and in bands we play marches all the time. And I remember, I don't know if it was high school or college, but on my stand was this thing called the Crosley March. And I thought, well, I think it was by Karl King. You don't think anything, you, you just play the notes and rhythms on the page. Nobody tells you any different. Right. And then I move here when I'm 35 years old, I'm down at St. Armand's and they have that,  walk of fame, kind of for the circus thing. And there's a thing for Karl King and he was John Ringling's Circus bands leader and he lived here in town and then I go see the Powel Crosley Estate. And I went. Oh, my gosh. That's the Crosley March written for Powel Crosley by Karl King. Like it was all centered right here. This is like 30 years after I played the music, you know? And sort of stunned. But then when I went through the little museum there on the Powel Crosley and I learned that he invented nighttime baseball, radios in cars, shelves in refrigerators. I mean, this man changed our lives. We should all go to the Powel Crosley Estate and like worship the ground.

Aimee Blenker: I know it's a beautiful estate, so many weddings we do there though. It's a happy place to be. There's always wonderful things going on in that house. So it's a beautiful way to carry on his memory.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah, because before you guys took it over a had kind of been dilapidated and a lot of homeless people living there,

Aimee Blenker: It was, it's amazing what the County has done and the  Powel Foundation to make it what it is today. It's beautiful. So many brides come from all over to get married there and we just

Robyn Bell: Run by the Convention Center

Aimee Blenker: run by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. We actually oversee three facilities. So we oversee the Powel Crosley Estate, that Bradenton Area Convention Center and we oversee The premier Sports Campus,

Robyn Bell: Lakewood Ranch

Aimee Blenker: Yes, in Lakewood Ranch.

Robyn Bell: That's very nice.  Now we know there's a lot of Manatee County, Bradenton area cultural arts organizations. And if we left you out, we are so sorry. Send all your hate mail to Aimee dotBlenker or no, I'm just kidding.

Aimee Blenker: There's summits to mention.

Robyn Bell: There is

Aimee Blenker: I would have, we'd be here all day. If I went down the list of all the organizations Because actually I believe the last time we checked, there was like 847 arts related businesses based in Manatee County in 2017 was when that report was done. 

Robyn Bell: It's a huge economic driver, the arts, and as I keep saying, in Manatee County, the arts and the sports together is really where the rubber meets the road as far as where we put our money to entertain ourselves. Yeah. I love that. Well, we have reached our rapid fire section where I get to ask you the most pressing questions of the day.

Aimee Blenker: Oh gosh.

Robyn Bell: Are you ready?

Aimee Blenker: I hope so.

Robyn Bell: There's no wrong answers. So no, pressure here, but I'm interested a lot of these questions. Like I wonder really  what she's going to choose here. So here we go. The Bradenton Blues Festival or the Cortez Seafood Festival.

Aimee Blenker: Oh, that's a tough one. I love music. So I love the Blues Festival and I always, I attend both all the time, but I'm a big foodie. So I would say Johnette, it don't kill me when you hear this, but I do love the Seafood Festival.

Robyn Bell: And maybe your brother's band is playing out there. I tell you, I liked the Cortez Seafood Festival as well. And here's the other problem. I can't get tickets to the Bradenton Blues Festival. It sells out like three hours and I never can get tickets. So I that's the only one I would be able to go to.

Aimee Blenker: I go to both every year, but I do love  being able to go through the booths and see all the art. So I liked that part and the food of course is just amazing. The culture there is. It's fun. It's part of our history.

Robyn Bell: When I leave the Cortez Seafood Festival, I don't have to eat for two weeks

Aimee Blenker: No, I know.

Robyn Bell: That's great. That's the only time I drink beer too. Okay. Ooh, this one's going to be hard. I hate to put you on the spot. Pier 22 or O'Bricks for dinner.

Aimee Blenker: Okay, well, that's definitely, I'm going to have to say Pier 22, because I used to work for Paul Mattison who owned that restaurant before. And if he's listening, he'll not like me. So you're putting me in a tough spot, but I do love O'Bricks as well. I know the owners there too. So

Robyn Bell: Yes,  when I moved here in 2009, it was still Mattison's. Yeah. And then it changed to Pier 22, but I'm going to tell you. Send me to O'Bricks for a martini. Anytime

Aimee Blenker: it has chicken wings are the best.

Robyn Bell: Oh my god. Yes. And here's a lobster roll.

Aimee Blenker: Yes.

Robyn Bell:  I don't think I'd be able to choose. I'd have to go to one for the appetizers and the other for the dinner,

Aimee Blenker: Definitely a tough choice

Robyn Bell: Okay. Robinson Preserve or the Bradenton Riverwalk.

Aimee Blenker: I love the Bradenton Riverwalk

Robyn Bell: It's nice. Isn't it? Robinson Preserve if you kind of just want to be isolated and alone in a nature, but the Riverwalk is kind of all the buzz is. Totally.

Aimee Blenker: I love being on the water. So, yeah. And I know that they have water at Robinson's also, but yeah, they're both wonderful spots.

Robyn Bell:  It's not easy to get to the water. Robinson's right. You kind of have to weave back in there and the Riverwalk is very accessible. Okay. Bradenton Marauders baseball game, or a Bradenton Symphony Orchestra concert. And put you on the spot.

Aimee Blenker: You are out of say the Orchestra.

Robyn Bell: Of course you would. Aimee, you're my new best friend. I love  baseball and I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. And so we always had minor league teams and I prefer that over the major league teams. And so I love those Marauder games. There's so much fun. It would a beautiful little stadium we have down there on night.

Aimee Blenker: It is great. I love that the Blues Festival was there you know, December and it was a perfect venue for it. And I believe it may be back there again for. This year, but it was a great venue for that.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I I never can get to the Pittsburgh Pirates, spring training games, number one, they sell out,  plus it's like our very busiest time of the year here at the college. And I see all my friends on Facebook. Oh, we're at a one o'clock spring training game. I'm like, yeah, I'm sitting here at work. Thank you very much. Anyway,

Aimee Blenker: I do the same with my friends. I'm like, must be nice.

Robyn Bell: Must be nice. Some of us got day jobs. A day at the beach or a day by the pool

Aimee Blenker: Day at the beach.

Robyn Bell: Oh yeah. You're a beach girl.

Aimee Blenker: I love being on the water. Yeah. I'd rather be on the boat.

Robyn Bell: I was about to say, do you like boating?

Aimee Blenker:  We love boating, so

Robyn Bell: You have a boat.

Aimee Blenker: We do

Robyn Bell: nice

Aimee Blenker: Yes, we do. My husband actually owns a marina locally, so we're on the boat quite a bit.

Robyn Bell: Wow. I did not know this. Which marina

Aimee Blenker: Blenker Boatworks

Robyn Bell: then would make sense to me.

Aimee Blenker: Yes, he's in marine construction. So , it's kind of in our blood. So we're always on the water. Wow. Being on the water. So, yeah, it's great.

Robyn Bell: You know, they're not making marinas anymore. He's lucky to have that

Aimee Blenker: That one it's a historic marina in our County, so it's over a hundred years old.

Robyn Bell: Where's it located?

Aimee Blenker: It's over near Desoto Point. Desoto Memorial area?

Robyn Bell: Yeah, you know what? I had never made that connection. That, that was you.

Aimee Blenker: Yeah, it's my husband. Your husband will give him all the credit, not me.

Robyn Bell: Sage biscuit or First Watch for breakfast.

Aimee Blenker: Ooh, Sage Biscuit,

Robyn Bell: I know., There's just nothing better on the planet than that biscuit filled was sage and it's a little bit more affordable. I think the First Watch too,

Aimee Blenker: I don't have a first watch near me. So in all fairness to First watch.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Do you have a Sage Biscuit near you

Aimee Blenker: downtown? It's not hard to get.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That was nice when they took over that location from Dave Shiplet. That was a good move in there. Absolutely. All right. Coffee at sunrise or cocktails at sunset

Aimee Blenker: Coffee at sunrise,

Robyn Bell: the or your morning girl?

Aimee Blenker: Well,

Robyn Bell: Are you a coffee girl?

Aimee Blenker: I'm a coffee girl. The coffee makes me a morning, girl.

Robyn Bell: I hear ya. I hear ya. Okay. What, in your opinion is the best seafood restaurant in Bradenton?

Aimee Blenker: That's a tough one. You're going to get me in so much trouble. Aren't you?

Robyn Bell: No, nobody listens. It's okay.

Aimee Blenker: Yeah. I love little Tide Table.

Robyn Bell: Oh yes. Out in Cortez. It's my favorite

Aimee Blenker:  favorite taco ever. So I'm a big fish snob because my family are always on the water fishing. So I'm very particular about eating fish and restaurants. You can imagine. So, yeah, so I love, that's just a really fun place just to go and hang out right on the water. It's simple, their food and their food fresh and yeah,

Robyn Bell: Totally. So what is your favorite fish to eat?

Aimee Blenker: I would say snapper.

Robyn Bell: Snapper. Okay. Now this at a restaurant or this is caught on your boat.

Aimee Blenker: Caught.

Robyn Bell: Yeah. I like, do you ever catch a snook? Cause that's good eating.

Aimee Blenker: Yes. snook's great. Grouper. Yeah.

Robyn Bell: Here's your last question. And this one's going to change the planet. So your answer, you gotta think about it. Golf, soccer, baseball, or football.

Aimee Blenker: Football

Robyn Bell: you're a football fan or the Bucs your team.

Aimee Blenker: I do love the Bucs, but I'm a big FSU fan. Our family, we love college sports, so we're always. watching all the games and we have a blast with it. We make it a big neighborhood thing. We have people that will come over to our house, our neighbors, and we get together and just have such a fun time during it.

Robyn Bell: Saturday college football's always a blessing, such a tradition. I went to the University of Tennessee. So SEC girl here.  I was a graduate student with the marching band. And I was there when Peyton Manning was there and I actually have his autograph on the first trumpet part to Rocky Top, which  I just had it graded, like I sent it off to an autograph thing because he's about to go in the Hall of Fame. I'm going to sell that. And so I called it my retirement plan. You think I'll make amount of money on it to retire?

Aimee Blenker: Probably not, but

Robyn Bell: Dang it.  Here. That was the wrong answer, Aimee. Well, congratulations, Aimee. You are now officially part of the club, tell our listeners where they can go to find out all about the cultural arts organizations in the Bradenton area. You guys have a website.

Aimee Blenker: Yes, we do. So just go to

Robyn Bell: Easy enough.

Easy enough. We will put that link in our show notes, along with links of every other place in restaurant that we talked about, this could be the longest show notes ever.

Aimee Blenker: Perfect.

Robyn Bell: But people listening on the web, they just go and they click and they can learn all about it.

Aimee Blenker: Now, all my other restaurant, friends and partners out there. I love you too. If I didn't mention you, I'm sorry.

Robyn Bell: That's tough about this podcast. Isn't it. Aimee, you have been an integral part in taking Bradenton from agricultural to cultural, and I'm very excited to see what will be the next steps in that process and how the Convention and Visitors bureau will continue to support the cultural arts people, organizations, and events. Thank you for coming on the Suncoast Culture Club Podcast. So we can learn more about you and give our listeners a behind the scenes look at what our tax dollars and support of the arts does for our community. I'm headed off to the DMV right now.

Aimee Blenker: Perfect. I'm looking forward to seeing that tag on your car.

Robyn Bell: Absolutely. We'll see you later.

Aimee Blenker: Thank you.