USFSP Receives Generous Gift From Aresty Family Foundation

 OPEN launched last fall.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is pleased to announce a significant gift in support of its ground-breaking new program, the Open Partnership Education Network. OPEN, which officially launched in late 2016, showcases expert national and local speakers and themed events on a wide range of topics – with the ultimate goal of building a vital, better educated and more connected community.

The innovative initiative – inspired by the renowned Aspen Institute – was made possible by the generosity of the Aresty Family Foundation and the vision of philanthropist and founding donor Jim Aresty.

“OPEN is about intellectual stimulation,” Aresty said. “St. Petersburg is at an intellectual tipping point, ready to catapult to another level. I firmly believe that people have a desire to keep their minds active. In my view, St. Petersburg wants to be the best it can be – and I want to be part of making that happen.”

The aim of OPEN is to connect organizations and people who might otherwise never intersect, bringing them together to hear talks by experts from the arts, media, medicine and an array of interesting fields in the Aresty Speaker Series, and other OPEN “micro” and “signature” events, including discussion panels, classes, workshops, and other experiential opportunities.

“Mr. Aresty’s generous support makes it possible for USFSP to help establish the OPEN Network much more quickly than we could have on our own,” said USFSP Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska. “We are delighted to be able to play an integral role in bringing new opportunities for creative thinking and collaboration to our community.”

The program will formally kick off in downtown St. Petersburg this November with a series of “theme launches,” such as Future Cities, which will drive community dialogue around that topic year-round. The series of themes will be presented in conjunction with the Et Cultura festival celebrating the city’s music, film and interactive culture – in the mold of the renowned South by Southwest Conference & Festivals in Austin, Texas.

“It really is what’s missing in so many communities – the resources often are there, the capital is there, the thought leaders are there, but they’re not connected,” said Walter Balser, OPEN’s founding director, who has spent the past year devising the program and coordinating with Aresty. “OPEN provides an open-source framework that connects thought leaders on the back end to engage and collaborate through what, essentially, is a ‘think cooperative.’ It’s about taking fuzzy ideas, connecting resources and working together to see where they lead. I’m delighted to work with Jim to move the project from concept to reality.”

Currently, OPEN is collaborating with the USF College of Marine Science, St. Petersburg College’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Et Cultura. The goal is to continue to grow the network of partners, which will help to harness the cultural and educational spirit that flourishes here, and make it collectively available to everyone.

“As you know, downtown St. Petersburg is a city in the midst of a renaissance, and big things are happening at USF St. Petersburg,” said USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg. “OPEN is a prime example – a cutting-edge program that will bring important voices and viewpoints to the public in exciting new ways.”