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Think Small To Think Big: Cash For Tampa Bay Arts

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Last fall, artist Sarah Krupp was in the midst of an ambitious sculpture project when she realized her budget for materials might run out just before her first ever solo exhibition. To finish The Blight of Tantalus -- a six-foot tall animal figure made of cast aluminum that would become the centerpiece of her show -- Krupp needed about $500 that she didn’t have.

Enter "Think Small to Think Big,'' a microfunding program for the arts launched in July 2011 by Tampa-based entrepreneur T. Hampton Dohrman. Dohrman, whose background fuses music and accounting, was inspired to create the program by his own first-hand experience organizing visual art events and exhibits on a shoestring budget. His breakthrough came when Tampa-based Gobioff Foundation decided to fuel his vision with $12,000.

The premise of "Think Small'' is simple: artists fill out a three-page application and submit a resume to apply for "microgrants'' of up to $500. (The exact amount is up to the applicant, but recipients must prove they have used the funds as projected or return the money.) A panel of judges comprised of established Tampa Bay area artists -- among them visual artist Joe Griffith, choreographer Cynthia Hennessy and theater director David Jenkins -- meets once a month to decide which projects will be funded, based on the conceptual and practical strengths of each proposal.

"The goal is not to give away the money,'' Dohrman explains. "The goal is to give the money to the right people. We're really trying to fund those things that are more experimental and interesting.''
 
In six months, "Think Small'' has awarded 15 microgrants to projects that span the gamut from theater to dance to visual art. Krupp received $500 just in time to buy more aluminum, which she transformed into sculpture for her solo exhibition through a special metal casting technique of her own invention. Visual artist Megan Hildebrandt used $500 to self-publish 15 copies of Tunnel Visions, an autobiographical graphic novel about being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 25. Theater director Chris Rutherford used his grant to help secure the rights to stage The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a one-actor show about a homeless woman who channels alternate personalities through her umbrella hat, which ran for three weeks in December at Tampa’s Gorilla Theatre.
   
For Rutherford, the microgrant meant that he would pay less money out-of-pocket from his salary as an actor and technician for local theater companies to fund the play, which cost around $1,250 to produce.
   
Altogether the 15 grantees have consumed nearly $7,000 of the program’s $12,000 seed fund. Dohrman is currently looking for more donations to secure the future of the microgrants.
   
Neil Gobioff and Gianna Rendina-Gobioff, who run the Tampa-based Gobioff Foundation, say they are in the process of considering whether to re-up. The four-year-old foundation was founded by Gobioff’s brother, Howard Gobioff, who amassed a small fortune as a Google employee before his death in 2008. Howard's directive to "make the world a better place'' through charity guides the donations they choose to make from the foundation's more than $1 million in assets, Neil Gobioff says.
   
As executives of the fledgling foundation, Gobioff and Rendina-Gobioff have been experimenting with how to support the arts, education and human rights locally, nationally and internationally. Dohrman and his nonprofit, Hampton Arts Management, which administers the microgrants, offered them a conduit through which to support individual artists in Tampa Bay.   
   
"When we talked to Hampton, we realized that a lot of what we were looking to do was exactly what he was looking to do,'' Gobioff says.
 
Meanwhile, the program's success has been a boon for Dohrman professionally. In December, he was hired to direct Creative Pinellas, the low-budget reincarnation of Pinellas County's cultural affairs agency.

Megan Voeller of Tampa is a contributing writer to 83 Degrees Media and the visual art critic for Creative Loafing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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