make things or fix things anymore needs to
visit Bill Coleman’s Institute for Creative Arts
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Visiting Bill Coleman’s Institute for Creative Arts is like taking a trip to a bygone area — a time when people fixed things instead of discarding them, studio space was still available and still affordable in Dunedin, Ford ruled the road, people didn’t have websites, and you got your work through word of mouth.
I parked my Honda Accord hybrid a few spots over from an old rust-colored truck with the words “Big Ass Metal Shop” emblazoned on its passenger side door. A retro-styled sign and a picture of a blacksmith at work announce the large brick building as the Institute for Creative Arts. I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve driven past the place and wondered what was inside. This time, thanks to my editor at Creative Pinellas, I had an appointment with the studio’s founder, Bill Coleman.
When I strolled into the Institute that afternoon to meet Coleman, the “Big Ass Metal Shop” was in full operation. Bill worked on a custom door while his young apprentice, Duke, worked on a large metal globe for Safety Harbor Middle School.
The space was full of active projects – a custom mailbox for a ballerina, an aluminum orange tree, a pile of metal leaves for life-sized flower sculptures, a 1948 Ford truck that requires repair.
Coleman gets so much work through word of mouth, he doesn’t even need a website.
Setting Up Shop
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Before the Institute for Creative Arts was a metal shop, studio space and arts incubator, it was a lumber yard.
“Then it changed to a concrete plant,” says Coleman. “Then the concrete plant decided they were going to move to Clearwater. So they packed up and moved to a new location in Clearwater. The place stayed vacant for like five years.”
Then Coleman noticed its potential as a metal shop.
“It was zoned correctly for me, which is really weird for this area,” Coleman says. “So I made a deal with the owner, and I leased it not having any [tenants] — it was just me in this big place.”
Coleman fixed it up, made studio spaces, and started subletting them to other artists.
That was about 13 years ago. Getting artists to rent the spaces was never difficult. The Institute now hosts five, including Coleman. He tells me that the key to getting and keeping tenants is making your rent affordable and not trapping people in a lease.
“It’s month-to-month, so they can come and go whenever they want,” says Coleman. “And in the 13 years, we’ve only had like two artists ever leave the place. And we always have artists come in and ask about vacant spaces.
“Artists right now have a tough time if they don’t already have a spot. It’s a very hard time to find something in Dunedin – and if they find it, they can’t afford it. Landlords want a fortune.”
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A New Main Street
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Now, Coleman is afraid that he soon won’t be able to afford the space he’s been working out of for the past 13 years. Dunedin’s been in constant flux over the last decade, with properties changing ownership and buildings popping up from empty fields and parking lots.
Around 2014-2015 the City of Dunedin began redeveloping the area of Douglas Avenue between Skinner and Main Street.
“They did landscaping, they put sidewalks in,” says Coleman.
A 2018 story in the Beacon confirms that the city initiated several streetscape projects in their plan to redevelop Douglas Ave. This included lighting, benches, trees and brick pavers. The article quotes Dunedin Economic and Housing Redevelopment Director Robert Ironsmith saying that the goal was to create another Main Street.
Coleman, however, says the plan was to create an arts district.
It’s impossible to predict who and what will move in when you redevelop an area, and that certainly holds true for this small stretch of Douglas Ave. The woodshop across the street turned its showroom into a brewery, becoming Woodwright Brewery in 2016. Pearly’s Beach Eats arrived in 2018. Then in 2019, the Feinstein Group established Dunedin’s first craft cocktail bar, Sonder Social Club, within the newly constructed Artisan Apartment Homes.
Anyone who’s driven down Douglas Avenue within the past few years knows that people do a lot more drinking than making art along the section of Douglas Ave. between Skinner and Main. Rather than become an artist hub, the area now hosts an eclectic blend of drinking, dining and arts establishments.
Arts District or not, art exists on Douglas Ave. for people who want to make it and people who want to buy it… for now, anyway.
The city, which takes pride in its support of the arts, has leased 968 Douglas Avenue to Coleman for several years. But Coleman worries about what will happen when his lease ends at the end of the year. Will the Dunedin City Commission renew its support of the arts on Douglas Ave. once again?
Keeping the Industrial Arts Alive
in Downtown Dunedin
. . .
Regardless of what the future holds, between the Institute for Creative Arts and the Dunedin Fine Art Center’s Industrial Arts Campus next door, a slice of downtown Dunedin’s industrial district remains and still offers Dunedin residents opportunities to work with metal, wood and stone.
The Institute hosts welding and bladesmithing workshops for those interested in learning how to work with metal throughout the year. You can keep an eye out for upcoming Metal Arts classes and register through the Dunedin Fine Art Center on this page.
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Meet the Artists at the
Institute for Creative Arts in Dunedin
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The Institute for Creative Arts houses six talented artists, including Bill. The other five are Doug Wright, Dee Rodriques, Gary Ballie, Elizabeth Mason, and Lisa Rogers.
Doug Wright makes custom pub signs, pet portraits and more. His studio currently houses the hood of a 1940 Ford, on which Wright painted a pin-up model kneeling before a 1940 Ford with an American flag in the background.
Muralist Gary Baillie has worked all over Dunedin and Clearwater. You can see his murals at The Collection on Palmetto in Clearwater, Lucky Lobster in Dunedin and inside Clear Sky Draught Haus, to name a few.
Lisa Rogers displays and sells functional pottery items out of the Institute’s Artist Workshop and Gallery. She also teaches classes at Muddy Potter Art & Clay Studio on Main Street.
Stained glass and mosaic artist Dee Rodriques has been working out of the Institute for Creative Arts since 2010. She’s known for her eye-catching music-themed sculptures.
Several of them stand in and around the Institute’s gallery. They include mosaiced musical instruments, mannequins with fiddles and drums for heads, and concert and dance hall scenes assembled from stained glass. Her claim to fame – her work is included in Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler’s personal collection.
Rodriques offers mosaics classes by appointment where students can make their own 8 by 10-inch mosaic. You can find the details here.
Jewelry designer and mixed media artist Elizabeth Mason (ejm designs) is inspired by all things coastal.
“I love beachcombing to collect sea glass, shells and driftwood, which I use in my jewelry and ornaments,” Mason says, “and I enjoy photography, which also features heavily in my designs.”
Mason makes exactly the kind of coastal-inspired jewelry and décor that Floridians love. A quick trip to her Etsy shop (or her physical shop at the Institute) reveals a beautiful line of affordable jewelry featuring sea turtles, sea glass, mermaids, dolphins and oranges.
If you’d like to learn jewelry-making from Mason, she regularly hosts classes around town, including a 2nd Sunday jewelry-making class at Aspirations Winery off of U.S. 19 in Clearwater. You can make a set of wine glass charms and a wine bottle stopper at the next class on August 13 at 2:30 pm. Follow Mason @EJMDesignsJewelry on Facebook for updates and future jewelry-making events.