Unified – An Extravagant Celebration of Women, Their Art and Their Future
On July 27th, St. Pete’s Morean Center for Clay will host a unique feast for the eyes, mind, and soul, focused on the challenges and opportunities shared by women locally and around the world. Unified will celebrate gender equality through a multimedia performance mixing dance, poetry, sculpture and robots – yes, robots. A panel discussion featuring three local leaders will provide some food for thought, and the whole thing will raise funds for organizations serving women in need.
Unified is being organized by the United Nations Association of Tampa Bay, an effort spearheaded by the organization’s new fundraising and marketing director, Robert Kruithoff. The UNA is, Kruithoff says, a kind of volunteer auxiliary to the United Nations itself, with chapters all around the world. This year, they’re making a big push on gender equality, and he knew from the start that art was the right way to highlight those issues in St. Pete
Kruithoff moved to St. Pete from London about four years ago with his husband, and brought both a cosmopolitan outlook and experience with event organizing around the globe. He says he was “a little scared” to move from one of the world’s great metropolises to St. Pete – but was immediately bowled over by the level of talent and passion on display.
When he set out to organize an event that would highlight both local art and women’s issues, Kruithoff’s first contact was local eminence Ya La’Ford. “From there, it was just kind of a domino effect,” he says, as one artist endorsed the next. “You have to speak to X, Y, and Z. I was exposed to so much more than I knew before.”
The result is full of favorites and surprises, and though there will be a selection of excellent paintings, the evening pushes well beyond the usual wall-gazing. Kruithoff is especially excited about the work of Tina Piracci, a recent USF graduate who melds fine art with high technology. Her 3D-printed sculptures, created using machines that she assembles and programs herself, have already garnered attention and awards locally. For Unified, Piracci will be printing a piece that wittily mixes two iconic female images – though we won’t spoil the surprise here.
Unified will also include a creative collision of word and movement. Maureen McDole, poet and director of Keep St. Pete Lit, will read from her work to the accompaniment of a performance by Helen Hansen French, a Juilliard-trained dancer and choreographer who has toured the world and teaches at St. Petersburg College.
Finally, Kruithoff has drawn together three influential women with complementary perspectives to discuss the issues facing women in Tampa Bay. Lorna Taylor, CEO of Premier Eye Care, has a businessperson’s success-driven viewpoint, while Nadine Smith of Equality Florida is immersed in the political and social complexities of discrimination and bias. Rounding out the panel is Beth Houghton, Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, whose focus is on economic challenges.
“Beth is very passionate about getting a voice out there for women at lower socioeconomic levels,” says Kruithoff. “We talk about how to get women into leadership positions, but something’s missing if we don’t address those different levels.”
Unified will do more than talk about those challenges. Because UNA is a volunteer organization with little overhead, it’s able to give half of the proceeds from the art on sale to the artist and the other half to CASA, the venerable Pinellas nonprofit focused on helping women escape abuse. And in the event art doesn’t sell, Kruithoff says UNA will be able to defray the artists’ production costs – a rare perk even in the for-profit gallery world.
Unified is set for 6pm on July 27th at the Morean Center for Clay, 420 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg. On top of the art, performance, and panel, it will feature an open bar and food from The Box Café & Catering – who will also direct a portion of ticket sales to feeding the hungry. Tickets are $100 and available here.