Arts mean business as Realize Bradenton joins with Sarasota County and over 300 US communities to measure the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences. The results from the Arts & Economic Prosperity study of the Americans for the Arts will be released in June of 2017 and demonstrate the national and local extent to which the arts sector plays into economic vitality and tourism. The Manatee County study, coordinated by Realize Bradenton, is funded by the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. 

Realize Bradenton is both a noun and a verb

Collaboration, access and community benefit are in our DNA. Partnering with the City of Bradenton and others, we are a lean organization of staff and board members joined by more than 350 volunteers, passionate about realizing the potential of Bradenton every day. Our strategies create distinctive places where people connect. The logic
we use is simple: cultural vitality, quality events, welcoming gathering places, positive branding and engaged residents make Bradenton more appealing to residents, visitors, businesses, developers and Millennials. 

Why Now? Manatee County government may have to replace nearly 73 percent of its employees due to retirement and turnover within the next five years—about 1,100 vacancies. Presently, Millennial workers account for just 21 percent of the workforce in Manatee County. Interestingly, a study by Segmentation Company indicated that 66 percent of Millennials choose a city where they want to live before looking for a job, showing that talented young adults favor place ahead of career.

Bradenton’s Creative Connections: More Buzz, More People, More Business  Realize Bradenton continues to innovatively bring people together around arts, culture, heritage and food. As a place-based economic development nonprofit we build downtown vibrancy using three strategies: creative placemaking, place branding and civic engagement. By collaborating with a host of municipal, nonprofit, wellness and business partners, we amplify the potential of people and places for positive community benefit. Three recent initiatives help us further connect the physical, social, cultural and economic fabric of Downtown Bradenton: walking, Millennials and economic research.

WALK Bradenton creates a walking corridor of 50 public art works, 20 historic sites and over 115 places to eat, drink, shop, stay and play in Downtown Bradenton. WALK Bradenton, a north-south connector from Riverwalk through Old Main Street to the Village of the Arts and McKechnie Field, includes the South Florida Museum, the Manatee Performing Arts Center and ArtCenter Manatee. This creative placemaking project establishes a cohesive destination to attract residents and new visitors to learn about downtown’s unique assets and public art program. To engage people virtually and physically, a responsive mobile website will provide an interactive tour consisting of interviews with public artists, historic photographs, insider tips on chef specials and wellness information. The website and eight new pieces of public art will launch in Fall 2016.

WALK Bradenton is supported by Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, Manatee County Tourist Development Council and Mosaic Foundation, in partnership with the Department of Health in Manatee County, Department of Historical Resources, Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court’s Office and Public Art Advisory Board. In Bradenton, we know that “Working together, works!”

PopUps for a Purpose

PopUps for a Purpose is a prime example of how creative placemaking and place branding unite with civic engagement as a joint community and workforce development strategy. Realize Bradenton’s PopUps for a Purpose project was awarded a Knight Cities Challenge grant by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, one of 32 grantees out of 7,160 nation-wide proposals. This learning experiment brings 18- to 35-year-old Millennials together from all education, economic and professional backgrounds. Consisting of events, research and public art, our multifaceted project builds social connections and accelerates creative civic dialog to help make Bradenton an attractive place for younger residents.

Our PopUp events temporarily transform downtown spaces, creating vibrancy in innovative ways. The Courtyard at the South Florida Museum set the stage for Plaza Cubana. The loading dock of the Central Library welcomed Millennials and their children to a robot-themed Books, Bots, and Bites PopUp. A Farmers’ Market Meet-up on Old Main Street attracted Millennials to analyze infographics on housing, voting, nightlife and demographics. The Bradenton Shuffleboard Park was energized with electronic music, cosmic lighting, tacos, libations and an upbeat shuffleboard competition. 

The “high tech-high touch” Downtown Underground Long Table dinner was staged in a historic arcade building. Here, a diverse mix of 46 Millennials interacted using real-time smartphone surveys, old school index cards, dinner conversation and spoken word poetry, revealing why 95 percent of guests see themselves living in Bradenton in the next five years. Enjoy a video of this PopUp at

In late June, the “See Me, Hear Me” public art series will feature 20 larger-than-life, black-and-white portraits of Millennials on windows throughout Downtown Bradenton. Accompanying the portraits, “Why I want to stay in Bradenton,” social media interviews will add individual perspectives to our infographic data. 

Join us and learn more at and like us on Facebook at


Johnette Isham is a designer-educator with over 30 years of experience in arts, education, non-profit, corporate and municipal settings. Her degrees and advanced certifications are from Rhode Island School of Design, Lesley University, Harvard University and Case Western Business School. She worked for Corning Glass Works, Polaroid Corporation, Rhode Island School of Design and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, before moving to Florida in 1988. After 18 years as vice president for Academic Affairs at Ringling College of Art and Design, Isham was the project director for a LEED gold cancer care facility called the Center for Building Hope in Lakewood Ranch. Her work in the area of design and sustainability was featured at the United Nation’s Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. In the fall of 2009, Isham became the founding director of Realize Bradenton—a nonprofit community benefit organization that promotes Downtown Bradenton’s arts, culture, heritage and sports for greater economic development, tourism and quality of life. With a deep belief that all is possible when people work together, she is engaged in working with others to develop and promote the physical, cultural and social assets of the Bradenton area. Outside of work, Isham can be found gardening at her new craftsman-style home in Downtown Bradenton along the Manatee River.