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NEA grant enables USF CAM to bring musical village to Sulphur Springs

The University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) has just been awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to make music come alive in a series of unusual structures to be built in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa next spring. 

Sarah Howard, curator of public art and social practice at USF CAM, likens the public art project to a musical village and that depicts the rich cultural heritage of Sulphur Springs. The setting on the Community Stepping Stones property at the Mann-Wagmon Memorial Park “is perfect for this,” she says.

According to Howard, the project, The Music Box: Tampa Bay, based on the original version by the arts cooperative New Orleans Airlift, will create “a wonderful, magical, inventive space that facilitates experimentation not only through the process of building it, but programming it.”  The installation will serve both as an open facility for performance art while the structures themselves will be hands-on and playable. 

In Tampa, the cast of Music Box collaborators will include installation and sculptors from New Orleans, USF art, architecture and music students, and the middle- and high-school children in the Community Stepping Stones program, among others from the community.  

Stepping Stones is an after-school program for underserved youth that seeks to improve lives through the arts. CAM has done other collaborative projects with the group and Howard notes it is important that the students “feel they have ownership and authorship. They become the ambassadors for this project, and it is important for them to see not just design and envisioning, but the process of coming out with a final project.”

Howard says there are currently a couple of structures on the Community Stepping Stones site that need to be torn down.  She plans to repurpose the remnants as building materials, in line with the New Orleans Airlift aesthetic, which she describes as “a little DIY – they use a lot of reclaimed materials. It’s intimate, but otherworldly. … It takes you back in time, not so slick and overdesigned. Real quality of the real deal.” 

Initial envisioning and design plans should begin next January, with the installation complete by the end of March 2016. 

Though still in its beginning stages and in need of additional funding, the project contemplates a month of musical programming with national and local musicians, visits for local schools, educational and history lectures (The Heritage Center is also located at Mann-Wagnon park), instrumentation workshops as well as plenty of time for unstructured play. The Music Box: Tampa Bay will then be moved to the USF campus for further exhibition, with at least one structure remaining permanently at the Community Stepping Stones site. 

Creativity takes center stage at June startup event

Up Global’s Startup Weekend events often bring together a city’s brightest techies, entrepreneurs and advocates for innovation. In June, for the first time in Tampa, entrepreneurs and artists will have the chance to create, invent and innovate during Startup Weekend Design Edition, Tampa Bay.

The new event is the result of the strong showing of the creative community during Tampa’s inaugural Startup Week in February 2015, event co-organizer Ryan Sullivan explains.

“Creatives, just like everyone else, experience challenges on a daily basis, and we wanted to provide them with a platform to solve those problems,” Sullivan says.

The three-day event will follow the traditional Startup Weekend format – over the course of 54 hours, Tampa Bay designers, developers, entrepreneurs and experts from all domains will come together to create an innovative solution to a real-world problem.

This time, the focus is on the challenges faced by those in the creative industry. Local fashion entrepreneurs, interior designers, architects, graphic artists and other creatives are invited to join in on the collaborative event.

Anyone can pitch an idea; teams form around the most popular ones. Over the next few days, teams work to develop a product and a business model to bring their idea to life – this time, with creativity in mind. On the last night, teams will present their visions to local entrepreneurial leaders from creative or design industries and one team will be named the winner.

The goals of a Startup Weekend event in any community are to educate people about entrepreneurship and to encourage networking, says Sullivan, who has organized multiple Up Global events including Startup Week and Startup Weekend Youth Tampa Bay. He anticipates around 50 attendees for the region’s first design-focused startup weekend. 

Lisa Gilmore, founder and lead interior designer at Lisa Gilmore Design, anticipates networking with members of the local creative community during the upcoming Startup Weekend Design event.

“As a creative myself, I know that we can run a bit wild with our ideas,” Gilmore says, “and collaborating with other professionals during Startup Weekend will be beneficial in bringing some of those ideas and dreams to life!”

Startup Weekend Design Edition co-organizer Nancy Vaughn has previously participated in and sponsored Startup Weekend events, and “experienced first-hand the impact that Startup Weekend has on the community,” she explains. As for potential outcomes of the event, Vaughn, principal at White Book Agency, hopes to see “some cool creative businesses started.”

Vaughn, creator of Tampa Bay Fashion Week, suggests examples including “an app that takes everyday colors for use in textiles or wallpaper, or maybe a new runway show seating platform, or wearable technology that allows for automatic VIP check-in. Can someone make that, please?”

“More importantly, I hope that great connections are formed, new ideas are sparked and launched, and everyone has a good time working together,” Vaughn says. 

Startup Weekend Design Edition, Tampa Bay will begin at 6:30 pm on June 5 and conclude in the late evening hours of June 7. The 54-hour make-fest will unfold at CoWork Tampa, 3104 North Armenia Ave. Ste 2.

To register, or learn more about the weekend’s schedule, visit the Startup Weekend Design Edition, Tampa Bay website. Be sure to use the code "83D'' for $25 off. 

Discover more upcoming entrepreneurially minded events in the Tampa Bay area, like Startup Weekend Tampa Bay Youth (May 15-17), in the 83 Degrees Spring/Summer 2015 startup events guide.

Casting call: Musicians, show how 'St. Pete Shines' in the city's new national ad campaign

The City of St. Petersburg will place local singers and bands on the national stage in an upcoming advertising campaign.

During a live competition on Saturday, May 9, musicians who are based in the St. Pete community will have the chance to publicly perform a rendition of the classic song “You Are My Sunshine” at a live, battle-of-the-bands style competition.

Four winners will be selected, and the winning performances of the song will be featured in the city’s first national ad campaign.

Nina Mahmoudi, Creative Services Manager for the City, describes St. Pete as “a city filled with talented people, from artists and musicians to technology innovators and food and brewing connoisseurs.”

"We are a community known for our growing arts and culture,” Mahmoudi says. The casting call is “just one way we are engaging the community to show how ‘St. Pete Shines’.”

Bands and artists who are interested in competing in the “You Are My Sunshine” Music Contest must submit an entry to the contest website by Friday, May 1, 2015. Entry submissions should include a link to your website or reel (new recordings are not required from musicians, as long as a video of the artist performing is submitted).

Finalists will be notified and invited to play their version of “You Are My Sunshine” before a live audience.

The promotional campaign will “highlight our city's greatness," Mahmoudi explains, “and we decided using local talent was the best way” to do that.

Interesting in putting your own twist on the song, but don’t have much experience? That’s OK, says CLEAR Labs executive director Jenn Greacen. Interested parties who have never performed before are invited to submit a pitch video explaining why they should be selected as finalists.

“Anyone who would like to share their love for St. Pete should send in an audition," explains Greacen, whose St. Pete-based marketing agency is partnering with the City of St. Petersburg for the "Casting Sunshine" campaign. "You don't have to be a professional singer, you just have to have love for St. Pete!” 

Fans of the Sunshine City's local music scene are invited to attend the free public concert/competition, which will be held from 4-10 pm on May 9 at Sly Bar in DTSP.

“Even if you are not a performer, the entire community is welcome at the event to cheer on the finalists, help us in our selections, and, just in general, to come out and have a good time,” says Greacen.

Along with the chance to be featured in the campaign, contest winners will receive a $500 cash prize and a recording studio session, and will retain master publishing rights on their rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Visit the City of St. Petersburg's "Casting Sunshine" website to learn more or refer to the contest’s rules of entry for details.

“You Are My Sunshine” Music Contest sponsors include local Sly Bar, The Hideaway Café & Recording Studio, and Urban Brew and BBQ.

Picture this: High fashion, high art intertwined at FMOPA

The works of three international fashion photographers will combine in one show for the first time at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA).

"High Fashion: Kristian Schuller, Billy & Hells, Taka Kobayashi,'' curated and hosted by FMoPA in downtown Tampa, opens May 1 and runs through June 22nd. It will kick off at FMoPA’s “First Friday” social hour, 6-8 p.m. on Friday. 

The exhibit, in large-form, brings to life the confluence of fashion and statement, the meeting of commercial and fine art. 

“Fashion photography is a natural bridging between fine art and documenting photography, “ says Zora Carrier, FMoPA’s Executive Director. “It is very much about aesthetic and conception, but also practical information.  This is a show commenting on the universal cosmopolitan of softness and femininity.”

While fashion is the common thread, each of the artists brings a distinct nuance to the table.  

Carrier describes Romanian-born Kristian Schuller, whose work is reminiscent of Daliesque surrealism, as “creating images out of this world,” with a “dreaminess and weirdness” that highlights the beauty of natural elements in stark contrast to the usual venues for high fashion. 

In FMoPA’s exhibit, Taka Kobayashi, of Japan, is working with the classical theme of geisha and fashion, but in a modern context.  Billy & Hells, a German photography duo, portrays pretty, feminine fashions of high aesthetic, “but the faces of the models are sad, with pain and suffering,” says Carrier, creating “a kind of unusual tension.” 

The FMoPA has a back-to-back line up of exhibits through the rest of the year. This summer, visitors can experience Florida-themed large format projects by two Tampa photographers Jason Henthorne and Joseph Gamble. In September, the FMoPA is collaborating with the Florida Aquarium in an underwater photography exhibit, which Carrier says is a joint effort to pay “homage to this deep earth interest.” New York based photographer Richard Renaldi, famous for his “Touching Strangers” project, will exhibit his work on hotel rooms and the “comfort and quirkiness of that.” The exhibit is timed to coincide with Tampa’s LGBT festival. 

Carrier says she is working on positioning the FMoPA as a social venue, “a nice place to come after work, maybe take a photography class.” To this end, she instituted monthly “First Fridays” at the museum, which include an opening or artist’s talk, food and wine. 

In addition to opening the High Fashion exhibit, this week’s First Friday will feature an artist talk by American photographer Jim Reynolds whose CityScapes exhibit is concurrently on display.

Maker convention brings inventors together in the DIY spirit

Gulf Coast MakerCon just keeps growing.

This year’s Tampa Bay area community do-it-yourself celebration will be held at the Florida Living Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 18. Lead organizer Terri Willingham anticipates about 800-1,000 guests at the one-day event. 

Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 is open to the public and covers a wide array of technical, creative and professional workshops and sessions across more than 80 anticipated indoor and outdoor exhibits, from modern tech like 3D printers to “heritage tech” that focuses on woodworking and fiber arts.

Entertainment and educational opportunities at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 range from the Mid-Pinellas Comic Con exhibit and Gamers on the Edge tabletop gaming area to the Tampa Amateur Radio Club and the Tampa Bay Inventors Council “Inventors Showcase” to the USF Robotics Interest Group “Fight Robots” competition and a Young Makers section.

More than 30,000 square feet of available exhibit space triples the size of last year’s MakerCon, and the “makers” who have applied more than double last year’s numbers, as well; about 60, with applications still coming in. 

“We're excited about the diversity of exhibitors and programs we have on tap,” Willingham says.

The annual springtime festival is produced by Eureka! Factory, the nonprofit that Willingham runs with her husband Steve, and is supported by a grant from Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2). 

“We believe Gulf Coast MakerCon showcases the best of our community and inspires others to try their hands, hearts and minds at making and learning new things,” Willingham says. 

The community DIY festival “fits in perfectly with our mission to help move people from passive consumption to active creation --making!” Willingham explains. “A society of capable, creative, self-reliant people is a healthy, empowered and productive society."

Making things -- "products, solutions, services, inventions, games, gadgets, industrial and commercial tools like robots, mechanical devices and assistive technologies, and resources for sustainability," she says, is good for economic development, academic enrichment and personal fulfillment.

Back in 2012, the Willinghams introduced Tampa's first and only maker festival, the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire. In 2014, the event expanded into Gulf Coast MakerCon. This year, big name community sponsors like USF Connect and the Florida High Tech Corridor have signed on.

“We've got some amazing collaborative partners this year,” Willingham says. “MityMo Creative in St. Petersburg has been doing all our promotional materials and graphic design; TBIC has been actively curating and providing promotional and other event support; Scrap on Spot is sponsoring the Deconstruction Zone; and the Innovation Lab at Seminole Community Library at St. Petersburg College has been organizing our ComicCon and Gaming Festival.”  

Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 is a designated USA Science & Engineering Festival satellite event, as well as a National Robotics Week event.

Tickets, which are $10 per person ages 13-up and $8 for children ages 6-12, can be purchased online at the event website

Nationally acclaimed works bring dialogue on race and identity to USF

International tour ensemble, Progress Theatre, is performing “The Burning’’ in Tampa at 3 pm Saturday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2015 at USF. The program will be followed by an interactive dialogue and reception with the artists and audience.  

An original work inspired by two horrific real-life African-American nightclub tragedies, decades and miles apart, is written in the innovative “neo-spiritual” aesthetic of Progress Theatre Founder, Director and Playwright Cristal Chanelle Truscott. 

Truscott’s development of neo-spiritualism – the term she uses for “work that engages African-American performance and tradition – from negro spirituals through blues, jazz, spoken word to the present” -- earned her the prestigious Doris Duke Impact Award last year. “The Burning’’ is an a’capella musical of original song, movement and dialogue rooted in African-American tradition.

“The Burning’’ imagines the social and political dynamics surrounding each of the tragic scenarios -- the Rhythm Night Club Fire of Natchez, MI (1940) and the E2 Club Stampede of Chicago, IL (2003) -- and how race, class, gender and generation play out in different ways. Truscott says she wanted to examine “the way we understand identity and community when it’s a matter of life and death.” 

Truscott, an African-American woman and Muslim, was invited to bring the performance to USF as part of USF and Art2Action’s THIS Bridge project. The project hosts national and international performance artists and events with the aim of enhancing understanding of Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures and identities, over the course of two years. 

“Truscott is an artist who can talk about those identities and the history of African-American Muslims in the country,” notes Arts2Action Founder Andrea Assaf.

This performance also bridges Black History Month with February’s lesser known celebration, Islam Awareness month. Assaf and Truscott both note that the date of the performance is also the 50th Anniversary of assassination of Malcolm X.

Truscott and the Progress Theatre will also participate in the USF Institute on Black Life "Race & Place" conference Friday, February 20th, which is free and open to the public. 

New Hyde Park paper boutique in South Tampa hosts Valentine's Day makers market

Paper Seahorse, a new artisanal paper goods and crafts store in Hyde Park, is the fulfillment of founder Tona Bell’s longtime desire to create a space centered on writing, paper and presentation.

The Paper Seahorse will host a free pop-up inspired retail event, the Makers Market, from 10 am-6 pm on Saturday, Feb. 14. The market’s carefully curated selection of crafts and wares from local artisans will be open to the public.

A unique mix of makers, materials and mediums include: letterpress, leather, girl’s dresses, jewelry, sweets, men’s accessories, and fresh floral and body products. Tampa Makers Market vendors include:
  • Ella Bing: bow ties, accessories, and all things Southern
  • Fortenberry: leather wallets, bags, and other accessories made locally in Ybor City
  • Lellow: girls' clothing remade from recycled materials
  • Strands of Sunshine: ladies' jewelry
  • Tampa Type: vintage typewriters
  • A South Tampa teen who creates confections using homemade recipes and fondant frosting.
Makers markets are the latest iteration of a national and international trend concerning makers, says style consultant Alex English: “Specifically, people who want to use their hands to create products or consumables in small quantities, using the best materials for superior products.”

English, who runs local blog Remarqed, is Bell’s partner in staging the upcoming event. 

English recently worked with Christopher Devitt of Fortenberry on the launch of the Blind Tiger Café and CoWork Ybor. Bell and English are longtime friends who share a “keen appreciation for quality, handmade goods,” English explains. “We love local, and love shopping.”

With the Maker’s Market, Bell and English hope to build awareness of local makers and to help increase their business.

“We all make choices about which brands and people to support with our dollars. Goods with a story, made from the highest quality materials, should at least be an everyday option, rather than the exception,” Bell says. “These makers are, after all, our neighbors and friends.”

St. Pete “does a tremendous job in their community,” says Bell, who hopes to see Tampa shine a similar spotlight on makers. “I think Tampa can do better.  We have found some folks who are indeed motivated by this and hope the momentum continues.“

The Paper Seahorse boutique, located at 211 S. Howard Ave., brings a unique touch of charm to the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Upcoming Paper Seahorse classes set for spring include collage, 'zine making, paper crafts, card making, and lettering. More classes will be added in coming months. Later in 2015, Paper Seahorse will be available to host parties for wedding showers, baby showers and children’s birthdays.

“We aim to have a community creative space where like-minded folks can have a place in Tampa to meet,” Bell says.

Pasco County opens its first STEAM magnet school

The nation’s best schools are places where children can grow, discover and learn in a collaborative environment, asking questions to help them gain a deeper understanding of subject matter in a way that facilitates lifelong learning.

That’s what Pasco County’s Sanders Memorial Elementary School plans to be when it opens in August, 2015. 

The county’s first magnet school for elementary students, Sanders has a unique emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) subjects. 

The STEAM focus is workforce-driven, with the prediction that jobs in STEM fields are increasing at double the rate of non-STEM fields. The addition of the arts exemplifies the role arts play in creative problem solving and innovative thinking critical to all careers. 

“That’s important to Pasco, when we look at college, career and life readiness,” says Jason Petry, recently appointed Principal at Sanders. “We want to start installing an excitement and curiosity about these subjects in students at a young age.”

A New Port Richey native and University of South Florida graduate, Petry has worked in Pasco County schools for all of his career. His passion and excitement about the learning environment at Sanders is evident by hearing him speak. 

“This school will look different, and it will feel different,” says Petry.

The LEED-certified buildings will feature group learning stations, where students will at times move in between classrooms during the day. The hands-on instruction will allow them to make real-world connections. To borrow from entrepreneurship education, Sanders will employ a “failing forward” philosophy, which believes that perseverance through failure is key to providing a positive learning experience. 

As a public school, Sanders will mirror other schools in the district. The curriculum will include the same core standards that other public schools adhere to, but with the addition of STEAM-focused subjects such as computer coding. Arts subjects such as design thinking, music and humanities will be integrated into the curriculum.

“Engagement is a big factor,” says Lauren Burdick, STEAM coordinator, K-12 for the Pasco County School District. “We want to create a felt need in students and relate that to concepts around STEAM.” 

With 1,699 applicants for the 762 openings at the school, the need is evident. According to Burdick, the county has implemented project-based learning and cross-curricular connections in other schools throughout the district as well. 

Pasco aims to expand the model to middle and high schools in the future.

2 local museums celebrate anniversaries, invite families to party for free

Major museums on both sides of Tampa Bay are celebrating important birthdays in February. The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday, Feb. 7th, while the Tampa Museum of Art honors five years at its current location on Sunday, Feb. 8th. 

On their special days, the MFA and the TMA are offering several art opportunities designed for children, plus celebratory balloons, live entertainment and docent tours.  Families are encouraged to take advantage of the full schedule of events, free of charge for all guests.

Saturday at the MFA in St. Pete, children can get in some yoga time, face painting and other hands-on activities. Sunday at the Tampa Museum of Art will include a parade at 2:30 p.m., sing-along music and birthday cake for all.

“We have been expanding on family days at the Museum as part of our strategic plan to really build a sense of community so that people of all ages feel welcome,” says Museum Education Joie Johnson of the Tampa Museum of Art. “It’s a chance for the public to see what we have without any barrier of cost.”  

The Museum of Fine Arts is launching its major golden anniversary exhibits for the year on the same date as it opened half a century ago. So, in addition to the festivities on Saturday, visitors will be permitted a first view of Monet to Matisse — On the French Coast and Life’s a Beach, Photographs by Martin Parr, as well as the already launched African-American Life and Family and MFA’s impressive permanent collection. MFA spokesperson David Connelly says Saturday’s events are in keeping with the Museum’s mission of making “world-class art accessible to the community.’’ 

The Tampa Museum of Art currently has six exhibitions on display, including selections from their permanent collection, which will be available for viewing and sketching on Sunday.  

Ringling College Collaboratory Commitment pledges industry experience for all students

Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) pledges to bridge the gap between classroom and career path with its new Collaboratory Commitment, an initiative that guarantees every student enrolling in the College beginning in Fall 2015 the opportunity to participate in a professional work experience with real clients, real deadlines and real deliverables prior to graduation. 

In the college’s official announcement, RCAD President Larry R. Thompson says that today’s graduates face a “Catch-22” dilemma:

“There is an expectation that, in addition to demonstrated competence in the discipline in which the new graduates were trained, that they will also be ‘practice ready’ professionals. … They have challenges getting a job because they lack experience; at the same time they need to have a job to get that experience.”

A $1 million+ grant from the Patterson Foundation of Sarasota will allow Ringling College to create a unique institutional model that ensures all students the opportunity to explore an avenue of professional experience that is aligned with their field of study.

Thompson says the college will use the grant to hire new staff, create new programs and expand pre-existing programs to provide industry-specific work opportunities.

“In the past, there were instances where we might happen to have a faculty member who knew somebody and was able to do a project-based thing in their class so that their students would get valuable real world experience with a real client. The problem is that students had to be in that class or in that major to get the experience, so it’s been more episodic than systematic. … What we’re doing now is creating an entire operational system so that we can guarantee that every student will have that opportunity,” Thompson says.

The Collaboratory Commitment will provide all RCAD students relevant work experience through faculty-led Collaboratory charrettes, RCAD Design Center projects with local nonprofit organizations, and film and entertainment industry-focused workshops with industry professionals in the RCAD Studio Lab. It also expands internship opportunities, part-time job positions and freelance work opportunities through the college’s Career Services office.

More than 30 Tampa Bay area businesses are partnering with RCAD in the Collaboratory Commitment.

“One of [RCAD’s] dilemmas is the students who graduate from here tend to leave to go to cities like New York, L.A. or Atlanta,’’ Thompson says. “That’s fine for those who want to do that, but many would like to stay in Tampa Bay area but their problem is finding job opportunities.”

The Collaboratory Commitment, he adds, will help the Tampa Bay region secure the talents of its most creative emerging talent.

“It’s a two-fold thing. On one level, it helps students get the experience, but it’s also a chance for businesses who come in and work with us to find out about how talented our students are, and hopefully to look into hiring them upon graduation,” Thompson says.

Parts of The Invisible Man video web series shot in Tampa

Bathed in palm trees and scenic waterfront vistas, Tampa is not the typical spot used as a stand-in for a Rocky Mountains movie location.

But two independent filmmakers with ties to Hillsborough County made it work.

Sean Malone and Timothy Compton have recreated H.G. Wells’ classic novel “The Invisible Man’’ into a five-part web series set in present-day America. Produced by their company, Waterfoot Films, the web series was filmed in Tampa, North Carolina and Colorado over a 15-month period.

“We really couldn’t have done it without a couple of businesses that helped us out,” Malone says. “The Frontier Cattleman’s Steakhouse on Sligh Avenue near I-275 let us shoot our saloon scenes there. The other was Behind the Fence Bread and Breakfast in Brandon.

“Even though the series takes place in Colorado, we shot a good part of it in Tampa.”

The two former University of Miami film students hatched the idea to turn the classic story into a modern-day adaptation after watching the 1933 original movie about five years ago. But their creative collaborations date back years before then.

Malone and Compton both attended Florida College in Temple Terrace. Although they were on campus several years apart, it was that connection and a mutual interest in filmmaking that brought them together.

During Malone’s eight years in Tampa, he also taught at the University of Tampa. Compton, who lived here four years, earned his bachelor’s degree at UT.

Malone, 33, now lives in Los Angeles, and Compton, 30, calls Chicago home, but their long distance partnership has produced numerous award-winning short films.

They attributed much of the success of producing “The Invisible Man’’ to the supporters of their Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

“A lot of people who helped us out in Kickstarter was from Florida and particularly Tampa,” Malone says.

The creative duo reintroduced The Invisible Man as a cinematic work that reflect both men’s different approach to the genre. Malone emphasized the classic Hollywood feel. Compton saw the film as an intense thriller.

“Sean (Malone) is a very talented cinematographer, so the snowy Colorado vistas are gorgeous,” says Lucy Griggs of JL Art House Productions in Tampa. “He and Tim (Compton) write suspenseful, moving films that portray the struggle between self and other, power and belonging.”

The main character, Griffin, portrayed by actor Johnny Hightower of Tampa, is a creepy anti-hero with issues. The film leaves viewers to decide whether the mad scientist is just crazy or are his actions a result of the personal experimentation.

Following a special screening in Tampa in October, the web series now is available on YouTube and expected to be released on DVD by the beginning of the year.

Plant City native brings Christmas cheer in new movie

A new Christmas-theme movie set to debut December 18 at Tampa Theatre and on digital video devices features a Tampa Bay connection.

The film, “An Evergreen Christmas,’’ starring Plant City native Charleene Closshey, brings her home for the holidays.

“It means a lot to bring the film back to my home, where I grew up,” Closshey says. 

An Evergreen Christmas is loosely based on the family of Closshey’s fiancé, Jeremy Culver, who directed and co-wrote the story with his sister, Morgen Culver.

The Culvers’ grandfather owned a Christmas tree farm in Michigan before he died last year.

The heartwarming film celebrates the values and community support often found in small towns.

In “An Evergreen Christmas,’’ Closshey portrays Evie Lee, a young woman forced to put her glamorous Hollywood career on hold to return to her small Tennessee hometown when she learns about her father’s sudden death.

As the eldest sibling, Evie discovers she has been named the executor of the family’s once thriving Christmas tree farm, an estate now strapped with a massive inheritance tax, much to her younger brother’s dismay.

Evie faces a life-altering decision whether to save the family’s legacy or pursue her music career. Her decision would ultimately determine her place in the world.

“Life is about reaching goals and dreams, and community support is important to that happening,” Jeremy Culver says.

Closshey agrees: “My character is more like a rock until she realized she needed that community support,” says Closshey, who attended Harrison Performing Arts Center, a performing arts high school in Lakeland.
 
The movie’s colorful cast includes veteran actor Robert Loggia and country singer and actress Naomi Judd, who portray Evie’s paternal grandparents; and Tyler Ritter, son of the late actor John Ritter, plays Evie’s ex-boyfriend who has grown up but still holds romantic feelings for her.

A special screening of the dramedy will be at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa. Closshey, Jeremy Culver and Morgen Culver are scheduled to attend, make introductions and participate in an audience Q&A after the film.

Closshey, an accomplished violinist who also plays several other instruments, says a three-minute video of a song in the movie called “My Tennessee Home” will be shown at the screening. The music video, filmed at the Southern Barn in Lithia, features about 100 Plant City and Tampa area residents.
 
Supporting and promoting the film industry in Florida is important to Closshey. 

“It’s where I grew up, so I have a great love for the state and its people,” she says.
 
“An Evergreen Christmas’’ also is available at Walmart and on iTunes, Amazon, and it hits Netflix on Dec. 21.

8-Count Studios adds new twist to urban dance battles

Downtown Tampa’s newest renovated theater space turned dance studio hopes to revolutionize the way dance battles are run.

Traditionally, a ballroom or swing dance studio will host a recital to allow its students to show off their work, sometimes with a competition element. In the urban and hip hop scene, their version of a recital is referred to as a battle or jam. Jamming originated as an informal show-off of dance moves in a social circle, where dancers would clear a circle and then take turns displaying their best moves. In a battle, the circle becomes more formal and individuals or pairs of dancers pair off against each other in a competition-style event.

Most battles lack an element of formality, with different dance styles competing against each other. In a desire to formalize these events, 8-Count Studios on North Franklin Street in Tampa is hosting a Layer Cake Battle on January 3.

"We want to revolutionize how battles are run," says Hope Donnelly, co-owner of 8-Count Studios.

The event is named Layer Cake Battle because of the layered judging that will be done in rounds. Using Donnelly’s sports dance background, the studio will introduce a bracket system that will list names of dancers on a board. Dance brackets include: popping and locking, wacking and voguing, breaking, and krumping. Each winner will progress to the next level with prizes awarded in each bracket until an ultimate Best of Show winner is announced.

"Dancing is a sport, so we’re treating it like a sport," says Donnelly. "Dancers are athletes; they are competitors."

Well-known choreographers and judges will be flown in from across the country. The event will also include workshops, vendors and a concert. Cash and other prizes will be given to the winners, as well as a private brunch session with the judges.

The event is open to the public. The price of admission is $20 per person.

Blind Tiger Cafe, CoWork Ybor open in Ybor City

The Blind Tiger Cafe has a cool factor that is part atmosphere, part architecture and part anomaly in the way that only a fusion boutique/coffee and tea bar/coworking space can be. 

Perched on the corner of 19th Street and 7th Avenue in Ybor City, the well-lit cafe invites passersby in with double doors propped open to the street. Twin, vividly orange tigers, blindfolded to represent the speakeasy tradition that inspired the cafe’s name, are painted on large glass picture windows overlooking the sidewalk.

Inside, a bigger tiger, this one in black, decorates the whitewashed brick walls across from the cafe counter.

Thick slabs of wood serve as high-top tables in the front of the room, where customers can linger after ordering lattes and cappuccinos, or a crumbly guava and cheese croissant; the back of the room is a boutique shop for Owner and Operator Roberto Torres’ apparel company, Black & Denim

Messenger bags mix with soft cotton tees, leather jackets and signature denim jeans. Soft leather wallets and iPad cases are stacked together on top of distressed Singer sewing tables or old trunks.

“We’re so excited to see the way it’s come together,” says Torres, “but there is still more to come.”
 
Murals and modern art from local artists will adorn the walls of both the cafe and the coworking space next door.

In the cafe, several pieces will showcase the different stages of coffee; in the coworking space, an assortment of tools, to inspire DIY creativity, will be painted across one wall.

One thing that’s conspicuously absent from the cafe, and the store as a whole: WiFi access. “Talk to each other. Call your mother!” a marquee sign reads.

Visitors who are interested in Internet access (donated by Verizon) can visit the coworking space next door, where an all-day pass is only $5. CoWork Ybor will open later in November. 

On Thursday, Nov. 13, the Blind Tiger Cafe will celebrate a grand opening, with beer from Coppertail Brewing and food from the Jerk Hut. The regular cafe menu includes Buddy Brew Coffee, TeBella Tea and Piquant pastries.

To learn more, visit the Blind Tiger Cafe Facebook page or CoWork Ybor

Ringling Museum unveils rare circus banners by Belgian artist

A newly restored blast from circus pasts will be on display at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota starting Friday, Nov. 7, through March 2015 as a series of four, rare, early 20th-century, large-scale circus banners by Belgian artist Frans de Vos will be literally unrolled before the public. 

The 9 x 9.5-foot century-old banners were stumbled upon by Circus Historian Howard Tibbals, while paging through a London auction house catalog in 1989.  Listed almost as footnote, with a tiny photograph, were “de Vos banners, good condition.” Tibbals, a collector and model-maker, was intrigued and purchased them, but when they finally arrived, “good condition” was inaccurate: the banners were torn, re-stitched together, crumbling, fragile. The damage was severe, the life of the circus and the century had taken its toll.

Though information about the artist Frans de Vos (1919-1938) is scant, Ringling Museum researchers know he came from a circus family and was a scene designer. There are hints that these banners served as advertisements and backdrops for his family’s own circus. 

“They must have been treasured objects – they kept all four, they kept them together,” says Ringling Circus Curator Debbie Walk. “Truly remarkable, you don’t often find one, and here we have four!” Walk says the banners are also noteworthy in that they show performers performing, not sideshow banners which typically portrayed the unusual or weird.  

Tibbals, primary donor and creator of the Ringling Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, selected Barbara Ramsay of ARTEX Conservation Laboratory in Washington D.C. to restore the banners, a seven-year process now complete and ready for viewing.  Ramsay is now part of the Ringling team as Chief Conservator. 

“The whole story of conservation and restoration is a wonderful and remarkable story of survival,” says Walk. She admires Tibbals tenacity in all things circus and says he ”spends a great deal of time searching out the circus world, and goes the next step. He wants people to see it not just today, but a generation from now, two generations from now.”

The de Vos banners will be exhibited in the Ringling Museum of Art through the end of March, 2015. The exhibit includes a looped visual presentation highlighting the comprehensive seven-year collaborative restoration experience.
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