‘Gateway Arts’ — How Artists are Promoting a Healthy Addiction
A look at the inventive ways artists, venues and organizations are getting the community hooked on arts.
We’ve all heard the term “gateway drug” to describe substances that elicit a craving for a more intense sensation. In a similar fashion, public arts events presented in tandem with informal drinking and/or social gatherings have shown signs of an arts appreciation habit and, in turn, bolster both the art scene and community commerce.
Just look at the recent growth of St. Petersburg, a city known for its arts involvement. Using the Americans for the Arts online Arts and Economic Prosperity Calculator, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance calculated in its 2015 St. Petersburg Arts & Culture Economic Impact Report an estimated indirect impact on household earnings of more than $84 million.
A widespread interest in arts in has been undeniable in the Burg with events taking place in multiple settings as giant murals grace more walls of new restaurants and shops popping up virtually every week along Central Avenue. (Read here for more on the changing habits and trends of art collecting in Pinellas.)
The trend of changing the trappings and circumstances in which we encounter fine art has taken off across the U.S. and internationally. “Today’s audiences are no longer looking for a cold, ‘white cube’ museum experience,” Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, tells Inside Philanthropy in How Are Funders Boosting Arts Engagement Across Diverse Communities? “Instead, they crave warmer, shared experiences.”
With these intentions, St. Pete photographer, branding strategist and multimedia designer Todd Bates founded the Carousel event series with photographer/photojournalist Bob Croslin to showcase fine arts photography in a setting that’s casual and festive.
“Carousel has been a great way to get people out to enjoy photography as a community,” Bates says. “By hosting the event at non-traditional venues, such as Green Bench Brewing in St. Pete and the historic Kress building in downtown Tampa, we can pull a crowd that might not attend if it were in a traditional gallery setting. We’ve established a loyal following and our numbers have grown with each event.”
Sure, if f you build it, they might just come, but there is one special ingredient that seems to be a fail-safe: Beer.
Green Bench has perfected the community arts patronage model in the EDGE District of St. Petersburg, and seems to up the ante each year with more distinctive event offerings. The brew pub’s latest mix of fun and arts education, DRAFTS (drink + draw), invites the public to take art classes with prominent local artists and the highly effective learning aid of discounted brew. This month, Chris Parks, aka Pale Horse, drops some knowledge on to create intricate, exotic illustrations. The inaugural event last month featured the comic stylings of Josh Sullivan.
“Green Bench is all about bringing the community together,” professes Brian Schanck, a St. Pete-based musician and Green Bench bartender/events coordinator. “DRAFTS (drink + draw) is an excellent way for fellow artists to come together, network, learn something new, enjoy doing what they love while having a discounted craft beer, cider, mead or a locally crafted non-alcoholic option. ”
Schanck adds that he worked the daytime shift before the first DRAFTS – Round 1 with Sullivan, and couldn’t help but find himself drawn-in.
“When I was done working, I was determined to draw,” he says. “I never make time to, and drawing something without a reference has always been a challenge that frustrates me. I had a cider in hand and Josh gave the subject matter for the night which was ‘robots.’ I ended up spacing out, not thinking about a thing besides what I was drawing, my mind wandered into an imaginative state and I enjoyed every second of it. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that, and it felt so damn good. Even the folks that may be at the event and are unaware of the local arts scene will have a pleasant and new way to be introduced to it.”
Microbreweries from St. Pete to Tarpon Springs are finding new ways to present and educate on the arts. While the social-arts trend caught fire in Tampa and St. Petersburg, suburban Pinellas communities are catching on. Arkane Aleworks in Largo — yes, Largo — presented the first Bizarre Bazaar two weeks ago, featuring local musicians and arts vendors in its biergarten (scheduled to return in October). Tarpon Springs’ Silverking Brewing Company recently hosted Bazzar Art‘s “Throwdown,” a competition of live painters. Bazaar Art, which has around 35 artists involved, held its first open-air event in Station Square Park, in downtown Clearwater. Upcoming: Bazaar Art events include the Pierce Street Market July 8, a market at the Beach Fyre BBQ Grill July 15 and another throwdown at Silverking July 28.
The interactive aspect has become undeniable. Venues aren’t just settling for hanging some works on the wall anymore. The Tampa Bay Chapter of the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), pushes the envelope further with Exquisite Corpse: A Social Drawing Event at Cage Brewing on Saturday, June 15. The event borrows from an old parlor game, inviting participants of all skill levels to doodle heads, torsos and legs on a folded sheet of paper to be passed along for others to add to. The stipulation is that the illustrators can’t see what’s beyond the fold, making the outcome surreal and totally unexpected.
“One of the reasons that we’ve held events in such spaces is because it allows us to reach a broader audience, and therefore makes our events more accessible,” says Carmela Zabala, AIGA Membership Director and coordinator. “Being in a public, non-arts space, allows us to extend our events and ideas to the community at large, and encourage them to become involved.”
AIGA presented a live collage competition at Cage earlier this year, and its success brought the organization back to the St. Pete brewery.
“It was really interesting to interact with patrons of the brewery that wanted to know more about what our event was, and what AIGA is about. We had really positive feedback from the community, which is why we’re continuing to hold these interactive events.”
Participation seems to be a key component. Creative Pinellas guest editor Margaret Murray has championed this tactic with her community events promoting local film and literature, and more recently, visual art at the Museum of Fine Arts. Says friend, fellow artist Carrie Boucher, founder of the NOMAD Art Bus: “People who don’t identify as artists or creatives are often hesitant to “do art” out in the public realm — in the same way that I would break out in a cold sweat if someone handed me a trumpet and asked me to play something even if they assured me that it ‘doesn’t have to be good.’ While these people might not seek out opportunities to participate in art making, anytime you can create a situation where people are able move beyond this fear and engage in creative activities in public they feel a sense that they are safe and connected to the community. This has an immediate and sometimes transformative impact on the participant. That feeling of connection can also have a residual effect that bolsters the arts community by inspiring a sense of belonging, providing new appreciation for what the work takes, and encouraging future engagement and participation in the arts.”
A few miles south of downtown, Gallerie 909 has been instrumental in the revival of Midtown. The space hosts a variety of events that invite participation from arts enthusiasts of all ages, in addition to its business model of combining fine art retail with fashion and functional pieces. Owner and former CP Guest Editor Carla Bristol calls it a “safe space.”
“I don’t know if it’s me, something in the walls, the history of this place, but people feel comfortable having uncomfortable conversations and that’s important,” Bristol told CP Editor Danny Olda. “For me art and culture go hand in hand.” (Read here for more about the space’s history and activities.)
Also featured recently in Creative Pinellas, Maestro Mark Sforzini of the St. Petersburg Opera gets bonus points for making a medium that instills the most resistance and fear in modern society more approachable — opera. He hosts Opera Therapy and fun talks to make the musical form more enjoyable and sneak in a little education about it too.
Wordier Than Thou, Keep St. Pete Lit and other book-loving groups have enlivened literary arts by presenting lit events with booze, music, visual arts and campy fun. Even more encouraging, independent bookstores are finding their own gateway events to get customers hooked on books.
Local art has also become a mainstay at outdoor markets. St. Petersburg-based artist Coralette Damme, one of the pioneers of St. Pete’s maker-arts social scene, helped organize one of the first indie craft markets with friend Shannon Schafer around a decade ago. Both were involved with the Florida Etsy Street Team at that time and came up with the Mega-Craft-Zilla, held at Dinosaur World in 2008.
“We met with the park management and they agreed to let us have the event there and we offered a coupon for 50 percent discount on admission. The day of our event was their largest single day of admissions they had ever had as I recall. This was back when crafts and the DIY movement were just beginning to get noticed.”
Pairing the funky creative arts vibe with the quirky Old Florida roadside attraction was a hit, Damme says.
“Who wouldn’t be curious about this odd combination?” she effused. “I can’t believe we never did it again. Since then instead I’ve organized the Holizaar Handmade Holiday Bazaar and Hauntizaar Halloween and Day of the Dead Arts Bazaar events, now housed at The Studio@620. These shows give creatives a chance to sell their work and grow their audience, and gives the community — who might not otherwise be involved with what was once an underground movement — an alternative to mass-produced goods.”
This year Damme’s Hauntizaar will be held Oct. 21 and Holizaar will be Dec. 16.
“This is the 10th year for Holizaar which is really incredible to think how in that time how mainstream indie markets have become,” she says. “Now it seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, which is great in terms of building awareness and opportunity, but where is the saturation point where vendors start having fewer sales because now events are commonplace and happen every week and buyers are tapped out. Could this good thing lose its appeal? Hopefully not!”
Some additional “gateway arts” events coming up: