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Hopes for New Tampa Cultural Center live on

New Tampa residents have been hoping for nearly 15 years that an arts and cultural center would rise on 17 acres of vacant land along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Now, with a private developer ready to build the center as part of a larger residential-commercial development, supporters of the project are awaiting word of a ground-breaking. But county officials say residents will have to wait a while longer.

The project is still in what Hillsborough County officials call in “inspection period,” during which the developer and the county work out details of the site plan, says Josh Bellotti, county real estate and facilities services director. That period ends July 30.

After that, Bellotti says the development enters an “approval period” ending Jan. 9 so the developer can get necessary rezoning and final site approval from the city of Tampa. The property, across from the upscale Hunter’s Green housing development, is owned by the county but lies in the Tampa city limits. 

Last July, county commissioners approved a real estate purchase agreement with developer Hunters Lake Tampa LLC for just over $2 million. In addition to the sale of the land, the agreement calls for Hunters Lake to construct public amenities and infrastructure valued at $2.17 million.

The county and developer will close on the property in February, Bellotti says.
 
Doug Wall, founder and director of the New Tampa Players performing troupe, says he and other residents met six weeks ago with county Commissioner Victor Crist and a representative of the county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. Crist has been a prime proponent of the project.

“They are working on the site plans,” Wall says. “We were supposed to get together again and give input on floor plans, but I have not heard anything since that meeting.”

Crist could not be reached for comment. 

Wall says the cultural center will cover about 20,000 square feet and include a theater with just under 300 seats. It has not been decided whether the seating will be permanent or removable so the space can host other pursuits when not in use as a theater. The building could be expanded later to 30,000 square feet by adding a second floor, according to county plans.

In addition to drama, the center will also house classrooms for music, dance and visual arts.

The New Tampa Players have been lobbying the county and city of Tampa governments for a cultural center since 2000, Wall says. Though the city paid for studies showing a need for such a center, neither local government would come up with the $7 million to $10 million needed for construction.

In 2009, Commissioner Ken Hagan convinced commissioners to appropriate land for the center, however, there were “strings,” Wall says.

“We had to raise the money up front,” he says. “We had to have a business plan approved by the county.

“Basically, for a small nonprofit, it made it impossible for us to do anything,” Wall says. “It died out until Victor Crist took over the project and wanted to make something happen.”
The residential-commercial development will be on 17 buildable acres out of an 80-acre county-owned tract. The rest of the area is either wetlands or will be used as a water retention area for drainage off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. 

Funding for the center is likely to be discussed during county budget hearings next month. In past meetings, Crist says the project would need $7.5 million in county funding.

Outdoor public art adds to Tampa Riverwalk experience

There is a walkable outdoor museum of sorts in downtown Tampa, and it’s growing.   

When the latest segment of the Tampa Riverwalk is completed in June, two enormous public artworks will also be formally unveiled for all to enjoy. Water, not surprisingly, plays a role in both pieces, though they couldn’t be more distinct in aesthetic and material. Both artworks will be located under bridges serving functional, protective roles as safety barriers.  

“Tampa is a place where artwork is expected and presumed,” says Robin Nigh, Manager of Art Programs for the City of Tampa. “It is integrated; you can really tell the difference when [public art] is part of the design versus an afterthought. It’s just part of who we are.” 

The new artworks can be viewed by foot, bike or boat along the Riverwalk from Tampa’s Water Works Park to the Straz Center. 

Under the Laurel Street Bridge, one will find Woven Waves a vibrant ceramic steel creation with large-scale folded corrugations. The effect of the textile-like design changes with the viewer’s movement. Houston-based Re:Site that created the piece says on its website that they drew inspiration from Tampa’s cultural diversity, “bringing to mind the metaphor of a quilt.” 

The second structure, entitled Andante by artist Heidi Lippman -- an enormous, stunning work of glass -- will be located under the 1-275 underpass and can also be seen from the road. Nigh notes that because of materials used, digitally printed tempered glass, and the artwork’s east-west orientation, there is a constant change in how the site is experienced as the light of day changes. She characterizes the space as “soothing” and notes that the musically inspired piece brings “color and quiet to an otherwise typically massive FDOT structure.”  

This follows several other major refurbishments and new public artworks  downtown Tampa. Among them, numerous sculptures, mosaics and installations at the recently inaugurated Perry Harvey Park; Stay Curious at the Poe Garage by artists Bask and Tes One, and the refurbishment and relocation of the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome to Bayshore Boulevard and America, America sculpture by Barbara Neijna to the south side of the Laurel Street Bridge.

On the City of Tampa website one can do a public artworks “web tour.” There are 68 sites to view. 

A better plan might be to download the Tampa’s Public Art After Dark map and take a tour the old fashioned way, discovering in person this open-air and open-to-all museum. The most recent additions, Andante and Woven Waves, have yet to be updated on this map, but now you know where the treasures are hidden. 

City of Sarasota issues call to artists for public art at downtown roundabout

The city of Sarasota has issued a call to artists for the creation of an original landmark sculpture at a future downtown roundabout at Orange Avenue and Ringling Boulevard. The new roundabout is planned for construction in the summer of 2017.

The Ringling-Orange roundabout is part of a 10-year initiative in Sarasota to ease traffic patterns and promote more pedestrian-friendly roadways in the city’s highest density business, residential and arts districts. Sixteen roundabouts are planned for construction in the downtown region and along Tamiami Trail by 2025.

The City of Sarasota’s Public Art Committee plans to acquire and install landmark sculptures at the center island of each new roundabout in a placemaking effort spearheaded by the City Commission to highlight Sarasota’s identity as a hub for the arts on Florida’s Gulf Coast. These public art installations are budgeted in the city’s Public Art Fund, which collects financial contributions as well as donated artwork from multifamily and non-residential developers in the downtown area, according to David L. Smith, General Manager of the City Neighborhood and Development Services Department.

In early April, the city installed its first roundabout art installation at the Main Street and Orange Avenue roundabout, which opened last October. The artwork, a 20-foot tall stainless steel sculpture featuring multi-colored panels and LED lights was created by Tuscon, AZ artist, H. Blessing Hancock, as a response to a Call to Artists issued by the developers of One Palm Sarasota Luxury Living and Aloft Sarasota Hotel. Blessing Hancock’s work is also on display in cities such as Denver, CO; Shreveport, LA; Dallas, TX and Portland, OR. 

The current Call to Artists for the Ringling-Orange roundabout was submitted by the City of Sarasota with approval from the Public Art Committee and City Commission. This city-initiated Call to Artists is also a national call for sculpture proposals through the web-based Call for Entry (CaFÉ) organization, though Smith says the city is currently focusing its advertising efforts solely on local and regional artists. 

“It would be great if a local artist is selected, but that’s not actually one of our qualifications. I think that ultimately the Public Art Committee is looking for the best art we can acquire for Sarasota. ” Smith says. 

The proposal must be submitted by June 5, 2016 and its budget must not exceed $150,000. Smith says there is no stated stylistic preference or theme, but sculptures must not exceed 20 feet in height and the design must not include signs, traffic control features, auditory devices, reflective surfaces, flashing lights, moving parts, moving illumination, advertising, text, or alphanumeric characters. To compete in the competition, artists must have successfully completed other public art commissions and be familiar with creating artwork suited to Florida’s climate and environment. The Public Art Committee will choose three finalists to make in-person presentations at a special public art meeting that will be open for public comment, and artist honorariums of $1,000 each will be paid to the three finalists. 

The winning work must be completed for installation in Nov, 2017, following the construction of the Ringling-Orange roundabout. 

Smith says there are currently more than 40 art pieces in the city’s growing art collection, which includes the work of local artists as well as artists from around Florida and the United States. The city’s full collection can be found online in a public art catalogue that is maintained by the City of Sarasota.

The Space theater in West Tampa grows a loyal following

A new arts space in a historic part of Tampa is thriving.

Simply called The Space, a restaurant turned performing arts venue in West Tampa, is now in its fifth month of business, which is booming. The Space is an innovative concept where round tables and couches replace typical theater seating, and performers sit in the audience and perform on raised platforms around the establishment as opposed to a traditional stage.

What is also unique about The Space is its location. While other owners may have looked for locations in downtown, Westshore or Hyde Park, Jared O'Roark and co-owner Erica Sutherlan chose West Tampa and the community has embraced them.

“So far the community has been so great to us,” says O'Roark. “There are several local gentlemen in the area who help with parking, and reassure people who are not familiar with the area that this is a safe area. When you make that turn on Main Street, some people may perceive the neighborhood as dangerous, but believe me, I live around here and it is not dangerous.”

Currently at The Space, "Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens,'' is playing through April 24th. The musical is an innovative production in which each actor plays five to six characters -- each sharing his or her experience with death from AIDS.

So what is it like for performers in this unique theatrical environment?

'It's much more intimate and more challenging in a good way,” says Actor A.R. Williams who plays multiple roles. “It has made me a stronger artist because on a traditional stage with all the lights you can't even see the audience. Here, you can see and even feel what the audience is going through as they watch the performance. To feel the emotion and that energy just makes me a better performer.”

Tron Montgomery, who plays everyone from a homeless man to a flamboyant gay man to a horrific character who seeks to infect as many as he can with the virus to a war vet, states that bringing The Space to West Tampa is important for the community.

“Where I grew up is basically what you see outside,” Montgomery says. “I love the idea of bringing the arts back to change the community. To bring the arts to this neighborhood gives people a new aspect of life. It changes you, it certainly changed me. I could have easily ended up a completely different person, but theater saved me.”

"Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens'' will be playing its last show this weekend, April 22-24. For ticket information, visit the theater's website

Historic Tampa Theatre needs your donations to continue renovation

A historic gem in downtown Tampa is on its way to reaching its fundraising goal of $10 million thanks to several generous donors in the community.
 
The Tampa Theatre, located on Franklin Street, has been part of the city’s cultural arts scene for 90 years. To ensure the theater remains intact and relevant for future generations, a fundraising drive is ongoing.

Tampa Theatre board member Anne Arthur Pittman and her family are the latest donors to step up to pledge $500,000 to the historic theater. In addition, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner on behalf of the county's Capital Asset Preservation (CAP) Grant program announced a $325,000 contribution. And the theater received an anonymous donation of $100,000 at the beginning of the year plus a $1 million tax fund appropriation passed by the Florida Legislature and approved by Gov. Rick Scott.
 
Improvements to the aging facility will be executed by Westlake Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland-based architectural and design firm that is also working on the Master Plan for the Straz Performing Arts Center in downtown Tampa.
 
“Our immediate priorities are protecting the building from the elements, or sealing the envelope, as we’ve referred to it, and updating critically outdated infrastructure and systems,” says Jill Witecki of the Tampa Theatre.
 
Witecki goes on to explain that priorities include:
 
  • Replacement of windows installed in 1926 along the Florida Avenue and Polk Street sides of the building with windows that are aesthetically true to the Theatre’s historic landmark status, but that are thoroughly modern in terms of energy efficiency and storm-rated safety.
  •  Water mitigation in the basement, which will include a vacuum de-watering system to prevent further water intrusion through the walls and floor, and repairs to the water-damaged plaster walls.     
  • Electrical upgrades throughout the building to replace the original cloth-covered wiring and main power distribution, update the house lighting, and modernize the lighting and sound interface that touring productions use when they visit the building.
According to Witecki, work is being completed as money comes in based on what needs must be met first. For those interested in donating to the historic theater, you can do so through the Tampa Theatre website. There are also opportunities to give back by becoming a member.

Community art giveback begins in Channel District, Tampa

Art is springing from the walls in the Channel District, literally.

The Channel District Community Alliance, Inc. in cooperation with the homeowner’s association at the Grand Central at Kennedy has begun the first installment of their art giveback to the community. The project entitled, “Waves of Change,” is a four-part art series that will reflect the overall spirit of the district.

The purpose of the art is to bring beauty to the neighborhood, but, according to Vance Arnett, President of the Channel District Community Alliance, it goes beyond just esthetics.

“We are a walkable community so we want to provide people with beautiful surroundings, but we also want to give people a destination to walk to,” Arnett says. “We want to have something that you will want to show visitors, family and friends when they come and visit.”

So what will people see when they walk the streets of the Channel District? A mural created by Artists Meaghan Farrell Scalise of Traditional and Digitial Arts, LLC (TADA) and Rebekah Lazaridis.

“We really want to catapult the arts scene here in this area,” Scalise says. “The neighbors that have seen our progress have expressed such joy over it and we hope that it provides the residents here with a sense of community and pride living in the Channel District.”

 It took the artists under a week to complete the mural.

“We are planning more art projects and each one will have a theme,” Arnett says. “One will be indicative of the history of the Channel District, another of the lifestyle and one that represents our future.  We also plan to strategically place them around the community so again they are destination spots for people to walk to.”

You can see the “Waves of Change” mural at Grand Central at Kennedy located at 1120 East Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. 

Tampa Bay area private schools grow, invest in new buildings

Tampa Bay area private schools serving students in kindergarten through high school are investing in their campuses as a way to enrich the educational experience for students.
 
Academy of the Holy Names
 
Located on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, The Academy of the Holy Names recently announced its groundbreaking on a new center for the arts. The $11 million facility will include a 350-seat theater, interior and exterior learning spaces, 2- and 3-D art labs as well as band, choral and dance classrooms.
 
“In addition to classes, the center will be used for full-run drama productions,” says Emily Wise of The Academy of the Holy Names.The arts are a central part of the Academy's curriculum and a critical factor in educating the whole child, mind, body and spirit.”  

Construction is expected to run approximately 13 months. While the center will be ready for use in spring 2017, classes will start in fall 2017.
 
Berkeley Prep
 
With a generous donation from the Gries Investment Fund to the tune of $4 million, last fall Berkeley Prep opened the Gries Center for Arts and Sciences. The 75,000-square-foot facility is home to the middle and upper division fine and visual arts departments, as well as upper division for math and science.
 
Other features of the center include multimedia labs, digital-ready study rooms, eight professional potter’s wheels, two outdoor kilns and a covered patio space.
 
One of the more innovative features of the building is the multimedia room, which includes a green screen, industry-editing software for film class and a whisper box that allows students to record voice-overs of sound studio quality for films and animation.
 
Jesuit High School
 
The historic all-male K-12 private school located on Himes Avenue in Tampa is planning a $35-million renovation and expansion project. Plans include adding four new buildings to the campus, as well as renovating others. Also, a full renovation of the chapel is planned.
 
“The refurbishment of the campus will begin with a full renovation of the chapel, which is the heart of the school,” says Pete Young of Jesuit High School. “The students gather every morning for Convocation, and we are maxed out on the number of students we can fit in the sanctuary, there is just no room for growth, so we need a larger chapel so we can accommodate more students.”

Unique theater prepares to open in West Tampa

West Tampa is experiencing a great amount of change as development plans by the city are underway, and in response to all the change, a new theater company is moving into the neighborhood to offer a place of peace, thoughtfulness and innovation.

The Space at 2106 Main, an old restaurant, is being revitalized into a theater that will house performances from band and vocal representations to one-person shows to full-blown Broadway acts. The theater company’s goal is to bring a variety of art to the area.

Before becoming executive artistic director for The Space at 2106 Main, Jared O’Roark, was working with youth for over a decade at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He even gained national attention for his work in the documentary Project: Shattered Silence, which won several awards and even a Emmy nomination.

“After working at Ruth Eckerd Hall for 14 years, the owner of The Space at 2106 Main, Robert Morris, came to me and told me about this building, and when we went inside, he asked me if I saw potential for a theater, and I said, 'yes'.”

O’Roark goes on to say that the theater will be immersive, meaning actors and acts will be moving around the whole theater, even in the audience, unlike traditional theater that all takes place on a stage.

“Everything in the room can move, so every time you walk in the room it should look different,” he says. “The chairs can move, tables can move, the booths can move, so immersive also means whatever the director has in mind, he can do without being tied down.”

O’Roark says this project is also important to him due to the fact that he is able to work with a diverse group of people in a diverse community.

“We are really pushing diversity, and we are not just saying it, the three of us at the top are all minorities. Robert, the owner is Lebanese, I myself am gay, and Erica Sutherlan, the managing artistic director is African-American. We want to not only present art for people outside the community, but we want to do stuff that involves the community. We want people in the community to know that we are not keeping them at arm’s length. This is their place too. This is a diverse community, and we welcome that diversity.”

The Space at 2016 Main will open its doors in September, for a list of upcoming shows check out their Facebook page for updates.

Urbanism on Tap open mic event: Let's talk about role of arts in Tampa's urban scene

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Cafe, 5016 N Florida Ave., in Tampa on July 14 starting at 5:30 p.m. 

Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The July event is Urbanism on Tap's final discussion in the Arts and Urbanism series, which explores the various connections between the urban environment of Tampa and urban design, artists and art organizations.  

“Community through Art, Art through Community” will focus on how art can be used to strengthen communities and how communities can in turn support artists and their work. To engage with these topics, participants will look at case studies from around the nation to discuss how other communities are handling these issues. 

Additionally, local artists and arts organization representatives will be invited to the event to share insights on how these issues are playing out in the Tampa area. 

In what ways does an urban arts scene create vibrancy in a place and how can it actively engage with the general public? Should governments and citizens ensure a place in the community for artists and arts organizations, and what are the best methods used to retain artists? What support do artists need to thrive? The audience and invitees will have the opportunity to talk about these questions and more.
 
The event organizers -- the Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay -- encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page before and after the event. 

Venue: Independent Bar and Café, 5016 N Florida Ave, Tampa, 33603
Date and Time: July 14, 2015, from 5:30 to – 7 p.m.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival opens new headquarters in St. Pete

As waves lap the Gulf of Mexico shoreline less than two miles away, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit opens its new global headquarters in the heart of St. Pete. The main office at 646 2nd Ave. S. is already abuzz with activities surrounding preparations for the city to host the 2016 BLUE Ocean Film Festival.

The annual festival sheds light on problems plaguing the world's oceans and solutions for conservation by showcasing the best in ocean filmmaking and scientific research. The seven-day event moved to St. Petersburg in 2014 from Monterey CA, will be hosted by the government of Prince Albert II in Monaco in November 2015 and then will return to St. Pete in November 2016.

The nonprofit works year-round to educate people on the importance of ocean life and conservation. From summits and conferences to workshops and educational outreach programs, the organization tries to teach as many populations as possible.

“It’s always been a part of our long-term strategy to use film as a tool to raise awareness,” says Debbie Kinder, CEO and co-Founder of BLUE Ocean. “We have always wanted to have workshops, activities and mentoring to show that conservation work is a great career option.”

The organization’s “Blue on Tour” program travels the world showcasing its films and engaging conversations on the global value of the oceans.

“We need one strong home base and St. Pete is it,” Kinder says. “We would love for BLUE to be associated with St. Pete the way that Sundance is associated with Park City.”

The 6,000-square-foot headquarters that Kinder refers to as ''home base'' is being leased, though the nonprofit is getting a temporary break on rent.

“There is a long-term lease, however, early on there are no rent payments due,” says Robert Glaser, President and CEO of Smith and Associates. Glaser did minor renovations on the property, although he says the building was in excellent shape and did not need much done. Long-term, when the festival is more financially sound, he anticipates collecting rent for use of the building.

City of Tampa seeks proposals for downtown public arts projects

As plans for the final phase of the Tampa Riverwalk project and a park move forward, the City of Tampa is looking to install a couple of new public art pieces designed to attract local residents and visitors to enjoy the beautiful waterfront walkway along the Hillsborough River.
 
The first piece would grace the final segment of the Tampa Riverwalk itself; and the other is for the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park located at 1001 N. Boulevard. The Riverwalk project has a projected budget of up to $200,000 and the park $400,000. The City of Tampa is open to all ideas and artists.
 
"We do open calls to artists whenever possible in order to reach the broadest, or widest range of artists,'' says Robin Nigh, Manager of the City of Tampa's Art Programs Division. "This helps raise the city's visibility in the arts, while also providing diverse options and creative solutions that otherwise might not have been considered.'' 
 
The final segment of the Riverwalk has two sites; one located under the Laurel Street Bridge and the other under I-275. 
 
"I do not think there is any preconceived notion about what the art should be,'' Nigh says.  "From the technical and practical side, it needs to be safe and appropriate for the environmental conditions. Conceptually, the art needs to be impactful, contribute to the overall space and place, as well as provide an engaging experience where residents and visitors want to be, return to, and recommend to others.''
 
The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park is set to be the largest event park in downtown Tampa. Therefore, the city is seeking innovative artists to create artwork such as entrance gateways, an arrival plaza and other public art displays.
 
Artists interested in submitting an application can visit the city's website

Art party studio under construction in Oldsmar, Pinellas County

While traffic zooms by on Tampa Road in Oldsmar, construction is underway on the Bottle & Bottega, an art party studio. 

The studio, which is set to open mid-May, will marry art with food and wine in a judgment-free zone where ordinary people can become artists for a couple of hours. 

While the Tampa Bay area has several studios with the concept of painting while enjoying adult beverages, Bottle & Bottega will be different by going beyond the canvas.
 
“We strive to be innovative by introducing glass painting, crayon mounting for kids, mixed media, ornament paintings during Christmas time and glass cutting board paintings,’’ says Minal Patel, General Manager of Bottle & Bottega. “There are a lot of things that we do that are not canvas only.’’

In addition, to the brick-and-mortar location, the studio also offers a mobile service in which artists will go to a company or home for private events and instruct a class at a customer’s preferred location.

The 1,625-square-foot space located in Oldsmar at 3687 Tampa Road, Suite 205, in Bay Arbor Plaza is surrounded by Aveda Hair Salon, Rumba Bar and Grill, Salt Rock Tavern and Tijuana Flats. Patel says the space is larger than similar studios and thus offers the ability to accommodate more customers and give them their artistic space.

“We will have two studios, one public and one private, the private studio will be for events like bridal showers, bachelorette parties, baby showers or corporate events,’’ Patel says. “This offers us the opportunity to have two events going on at the same time. Plus, with the larger space, people have more room to move around. If you are painting, you really want to have your own space to let your creativity flow.’’

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay host open mic on urbanism and the arts

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Café in Seminole Heights on Tuesday, March 24, starting at 5:30pm.  
 
Urbanism on Tap consists of recurring open mic discussions, thematically organized in groups of three. Each event generates constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city. Events are open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. 

The resulting lively exchange of ideas is designed to enhance attendees’ ability to make Tampa a more livable city, says Organizer Ashly Anderson. 
 
Starting this spring, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved to Seminole Heights, a neighborhood north of Downtown Tampa, to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series on Arts and Urbanism. The series will explore the link between the arts and the development of neighborhoods.
 
Tuesday’s discussion, “The Visual Identity of Tampa,” is the first in the Arts and Urbanism series. Organizers will focus on how the arts have shaped the visual identity of Tampa. Participants will talk about how Tampa's image is defined by its iconic structures, landmarks and historic places, resulting in a unique urban form. 

Questions to be addressed: What makes a visitor remember Tampa? How should the visual identity of Tampa be kept intact as development continues within the area? Participants will have the opportunity to answer these questions and many more, trying to decide what matters most.  
 
Residents, students, art enthusiasts and neighborhood groups are encouraged to attend. 
 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page and website before and after the event.  
 
Venue: Independent Bar and Cafe, Seminole Heights, 5016 N. Florida Ave. Tampa, FL-33603  
Date and time: Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 5:30pm–7pm 
Questions: email the Urban Charrette

Urbanite Theatre prepares to launch first season in new black-box theatre in Sarasota

The buzz around the Urbanite Theatre is unmistakable in downtown Sarasota — the drone of carpentry tools placing finishing construction touches competes daily with the energetic hum of creative anticipation as the new black-box theatre space prepares for its opening night in April.

Urbanite co-Founders and Artistic Directors Brendan Ragan and Summer Wallace met while pursuing Masters’ degrees at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory. Urbanite Theatre emerged from their shared vision to bring provocative contemporary productions to Sarasota in an intimate black-box setting. 

“This is such an arts community. Sarasota is very strong in its visual and performing arts scene, already. But what’s not here, yet, is a small box theater that’s staging edgy, contemporary work,” says Ragan.

Having both lived the nomadic lifestyle of career actors, working in larger cities like New York City with robust contemporary theatre scenes, Ragan and Wallace see great potential in Sarasota.

The Urbanite Theatre was announced late last spring and quickly received 501c3 nonprofit status. A developer who wishes to remain anonymous is responsible for the funding and construction of the new theater, an addition to an office complex on 2nd Street, located between Fruitville Road and the Whole Foods Market. The space, formerly a parking lot, was purchased for $600,000.

“We’ve been generously given the shell of the space to utilize, but we’re responsible for filling it in and making a theater of it,” Wallace says.

Filling in the shell of a theater means providing the lighting, seating, sound equipment and other operational components. Wallace says estimated start-up costs for the theater are approximately $30,000, and that each production will cost between $25,000-$30,000. Active fundraising campaigns have raised more than $50,000 to date, and the theater hopes to raise an additional $100,000 to keep ticket prices at $20 or less and offer student discounts.

The Urbanite Theatre features a cozy black-box setting designed for customizable production space and intimate performances. Theater capacity is limited to 50-70 seats, depending on the configuration for each show.

“When you’re in a bigger space, you can kind of remove yourself from the production. You’re up there, safe in your seats and separate from the stage. Here, where the actor is not just feet, but mere inches away from you — it evokes a different emotional response,” Wallace says.

“Because we have a small venue, I believe we will be able to really push the envelope in terms of the types of plays we produce,” Ragan adds. “I look it at the same way that HBO differs from network television: People week out their work because it’s something different; more provocative.”

Opening night is scheduled for April 10 with the U.S. premiere of British playwright Anna Jordan’s award-winning “Chicken Shop.” For ticket information, visit The Urbanite Theatre website.

Historical figures honored on Tampa Riverwalk

A Jewish immigrant who became Tampa's first mayor and a West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader are among the latest group of trail blazers to be honored with bronze busts installed on The Tampa Riverwalk's Historical Monument Trail.

For the third year the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk revealed its six annual honorees. About 200 people came to see the busts unveiled in a ceremony outside the Tampa Convention Center. 

"I marvel at the courage, sacrifice and perseverance, the guts, that these people have shown," says attorney Steve Anderson, president of the Friends of the Riverwalk. "They are truly inspirational."

The busts, created by sculptor Steve Dickey, will recognize the accomplishments of Blanche Armwood, the namesake of Armwood High School, who was an educator and community activist; Herman Glogowski, a Jewish clothing store owner who became mayor of Tampa at its incorporation in 1886; Gavino Gutierrez, the "first citizen of Ybor City" who brought cigar magnates Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya to Tampa; Bena Wolf Maas, who founded the Children's Home and was the wife of Abe Maas of the Maas Bros. department stores; Hugh Campbell MacFarlane, the Scottish immigrant and attorney who founded West Tampa and nurtured its cigar industry; and Moses White, a prominent West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader.

They will join 12 other historical figures selected for the trail since 2012. As many as 30 people will be memorialized. Informational monuments also will be placed along the trail.

The Riverwalk is the city's waterfront promenade that is envisioned as an approximately 2.5 mile community connector as well as an entertainment and cultural mecca for residents and visitors. The last major segment of the walkway through downtown, a link under Kennedy Boulevard, is expected to be completed in early 2015.

Aloft Hotel, Ulele restaurant, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts are among the businesses and cultural centers already populating the Riverwalk. With a Riverwalk completed from MacDill Park to Water Works Park, the design is intended to attract restaurants, shops, hotels and special events to make the Hillsborough River a downtown destination.

Who else from Tampa's history deserves a bronze bust along the Tampa Riverwalk? Post your comments below. 
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