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Gasparilla Film Festival features big names, diverse films

The 2016 Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) opens with a gala at Tampa Theatre on Wednesday, March 30th, and then will showcase over several days more than 100 new films.  

The festival culminates in an awards ceremony and closing night film  "Everybody Wants Some'' directed by Richard Linklater -- the highly anticipated sequel to "Dazed and Confused'' -- at the Ritz Ybor on Sunday, April 3rd, 2016. 

The Suncoast Credit Union Family Fun Day, free to the public, will also take place on the last day of the festival at Ybor City’s Centennial Park complete with movies for kids and other activities.

It’s the festival’s 10th anniversary and this year’s organizers have informally dubbed it "The Year of the Director.''  Nearly 100 percent of the screenings this year will host the film’s corresponding director and much of the talent as well, says Festival Executive Director Monica Varner.

For example, she notes, director Gavin Hood of  "Eye in the Sky'' -- the modern warfare thriller staring Helen Mirren -- will be in attendance at the Opening Night event, where the film debuts in Tampa. "It's a big deal and sets the tone for whole festival,'' says Varner. Some other big names coming to town next week: Actress and Singer Rita Moreno, who will be awarded GIFF's Lifetime Achievement Award, and Actress and Choreographer Rosie Perez. 

The Cuban connection

The Cuban-Tampa connection has been in the news a lot lately and will continue right through next week when three Cuban-themed films will be debuted at the festival as well.

Film Director Ron Chapman says that the Tampa Film Festival, though "young'' on the circuit of festivals, is "creating a reputation for itself among filmmakers and the film community'' due to the skill demonstrated, the skill in curating the festival, and the Tampa Bay region's curious and engaged audiences. 

"The festival itself [also] has great leadership in the way they treat the films and the filmmakers -- it makes you feel happy,'' comments Chapman who says this is not always the case. 

Chapman should feel happy -- last year he chose Tampa's festival for the world premier of his film "The Poet of Havana'' about Cuban singer and songwriter Carlos Varela, which was bought by HBO Latino as a result of the screening. The film also won the Audience Choice award for Best Documentary. This year, audiences will see his new documentary "The Forbidden Shore,'' which highlights dozens of Cuban musicians and some of the 30+ unique genres of music the island has to offer. "Craving Cuba'' and "Havana Motor Club'' are the other Cuban documentaries to be shown at the festival.  

"Cuban films are a big deal,'' says Varner. 

Varner encourages everyone to attend, though she realizes "it can be a bit intimidating because there is so much to pick and choose from.''  

If curious about the lineup, download the full program guide from the GIFF website. Tickets are reasonable -- most are $12 -- and there is a question and answer session after every screening.  

"Having an opportunity to talk with the directors and actors, having that interactive experience,'' is special, says Varner.  

Sarasota Whiskey Obsession Festival at Michaelís on East features local distilleries

Whiskey enthusiasts in southwest Florida have a reason to raise their glasses -- snifters, for those in the know -- as the date approaches for the fourth annual Whiskey Obsession Festival, taking place March 30 - April 1 in Sarasota, FL. 

Held at the Michael’s on East Restaurant and Wine Cellar, the Whiskey Obsession Festival is one of the largest whiskey festivals in the United States. Dozens of master distillers and professional ambassadors descend on Sarasota to share their knowledge and to sample and sell their finest whiskeys at the annual festival. The main tasting event on April 1 will feature master classes, cigar pairing, exclusive on-site package sales and VIP pours.

The Whiskey Obsession Festival features more than 250 whiskies from around the world, including fine spirits from Scotland, Ireland, France, Japan, Canada and the United States. This year, the festival will also feature several independent distillers representing the growing craft spirits scene in the greater Tampa Bay area. 

The makers of Wild Buck American Rye Whiskey, husband and wife distilling duo Kevin and Natalie Goff, are based out of Weeki Wachee. Wild Buck Rye is made using only local, non-GMO 401 black rye -- a grain varietal specially adapted for the Florida climate. The Goffs grow 401 black rye on their own farm in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Reserve and receive harvests from the Melton Family farms in Dade City.

“There’s such a big movement for crafts spirits right now -- but it has to be quality… Most people get rye out of places like Minnesota or Colorado, but the problem is that when you grind it, it can smell stale or moldy. That wasn’t acceptable to us. We wanted it as fresh as possible,” says Natalie Goff. 

Natalie adds that she and her husband distill their whiskey, and sanitize, polish, fill and cork each bottle by hand.

“We don’t have any automation. … It’s really a quality measure. It’s a labor of love,” she says.

The Goffs will return to the Whiskey Obsession Festival for the second year following a successful, sold-out launch of their Wild Buck Rye at last year’s festival.

Also in attendance at this year’s festival will be the St. Petersburg Distillery, founded in 2014 in the midtown area of St. Pete, just south of Central Avenue and west of downtown. St. Petersburg Distillery’s “Old St. Pete” line features locally inspired spirits including Sweet Corn Whiskey, locally sourced from Okeechobee and distilled in vintage copper pots from the 1930s, and Tippler’s Orange Liqueur, made from natural Florida Temple oranges -- peels and all.

St. Petersburg Distillery PR Manager Hanna Marcus says that the distillery is excited to serve its WSWA award-winning “St. Pete Sour” cocktail at the Whiskey Obsession Festival, featuring the distillery’s Sweet Corn Whiskey, Tippler’s Orange Liqueur and American Royal Mead. 

Although the Whiskey Obsession Festival focuses primarily on whiskeys -- including scotch, bourbon, rye, single malt, blend, Irish and Japanese whiskeys -- the festival will also feature a selection of cocktails, rums, cognacs, and even barrel-aged beer. Tampa’s own Coppertail Brewing will feature a barrel-aged brew at this year’s festival. 

The Whiskey Obsession Festival kicks off on March 30 with the “Dram Dance” party at downtown Sarasota’s historic Gator Club, featuring Brooklyn-based electronic music artist, Brothertiger. The festival’s Panel of Whiskey Experts Interactive Tasting and Discussion takes place on Thursday, March 31. The main event’s Grand Tasting and Master Classes start at 6:30 p.m. for VIP ticketholders and at 7:30 p.m. for general admission on April 1 at Michael’s on East. 

For a full event schedule and to purchase tickets, visit the Whiskey Obsession website.

Real-time art of every flavor: St. Pete Synesthesia event

In a rolling metamorphosis of creativity not before seen in the area, a day of local artists inspiring art real time – like a collaborative domino effect -- will take place at The Studio@620 Saturday, March 26, 2016. 

The day long event, entitled “Synesthesia,” plays on the medical term to describe a condition in which one sense, for instance: hearing, is perceived also as another sense, such as sight or taste.  

The day will start with a story written by 5th grader Lilly McDole to be performed by actor Becca McCoy to a group of dancers and sound artist Matt Cowley, who will then create dance and sound inspired by the story.  The day cascades from there – Sculptor James Oleson will watch the dance to gain inspiration and create a sculpture, which then will serve as the next piece of the puzzle, handing the torch to songwriter Jonathan Cho, etc.

“People only see just what’s in front of them,” says Playwright and Radio Producer Sheila Cowley, who organized the event based on something similar she’d seen in New York’s Electric Pear Productions and Athena Theatre. “Actors put together something based on the song, then a piece of art, then a poem, then a song to be taught to the audience. …” 

The day-long Synesthesia event, involving more than a dozen artists, will incorporate storytelling, dance and sound art, visual art, music, devised theatre, poetry, group harmony and movement, and photography. 

“There are so many great artists in St. Petersburg, who all support each other’s work and are interested in each other’s work,” continues Cowley.  The concept is to leverage that, allowing artists to “see what kind of spark that creates for their own art, drawing inspiration from places they don’t usually use, and then passing that on.” 

At 8 p.m. that evening, the art will be performed and experienced in order at Studio@620 in front of an audience. For ticket information, click here.

The Music Box: Tampa Bay launches in Sulphur Springs neighborhood

A free, experiential and pioneering “musical architecture” project constructed on the grounds of  the Community Stepping Stones (CSS) in Sulphur Springs will be open to the public for a month starting March 25, 2016.  

“The Music Box: Tampa Bay” is an interactive public artwork and performance space that allows visitors to participate in creating sound and music through a temporary village of musical structures. 

“The project is about inspiring and building community,” says Sarah Howard, Curator of Public Art and Social Practice at the The University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), who is leading the project. “Anyone can access it: It’s music, it’s architecture, and a there’s a little magical realism that goes along with it.”

The Music Box village is situated on the Mann-Wagon Park along the Hillsborough River and will celebrate not only local artists and musicians, but also the history of Sulphur Springs. 

Concerts by local musicians are planned for Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. Cultural programs will occur on Thursday evenings, including a presentation of storied Sulphur Springs history by Historians Rodney Kite-Powell and Hermann Trappman. The history discussions will cover geographical details to Sulphur Springs’ role through time from serving as a Native American destination for healing waters to becoming a tourist destination to its modern day purpose.

The music village will be open for exploration and play on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from noon-6 p.m. 

Howard says many layers of collaboration and community engagement are already taking place on the grounds. She notes that neighbors have stopped by out of curiosity and then become volunteers on the project. Other collaborators include more than 20 USF students of architecture, history, music and studio art students and students from the host organization, Community Stepping Stones, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting underserved youth through after-school programs in the arts. 

“They are getting the value of working with professional artists and seeing a project through from planning to execution to public presentation,” says Howard referring to the students’ participation. 

Howard notes that many jobs have been created as well and that the professional artists and musicians involved are paid. She hopes and expects that the events will attract visitors to local businesses and restaurants. 

The Tampa installation is modeled after the New Orleans Airlift (NOA) initiative, which sought to restore artist communities after Hurricane Katrina. The NOA has provided guidance and collaboration with local Artists Jan Awai, Devon Brady and Michael Lemieux from Livework Studios and community-based land Artist Tory Tepp in designing and constructing the village. The project was funded by grants and donations from the National Endowment of the Arts, the University of South Florida, the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation and several local organizations. 

The Music Box is fun and family-friendly, Howard says, and “gives you the sense of awe and wonder that unites people. That’s the goal.”

All programming is free but tickets are recommended for evening events because space is limited. For more information on scheduling and ticketing, click here.

Inaugural Fourth Friday event to launch March 25th on Tampa Riverwalk

A group of organizations is launching Downtown Tampa Fourth Friday on March 25, a new evening event celebrating the growing local arts and culture scene.

The event, which will take place from 4-9 p.m. the fourth Friday of every month, will focus on nine downtown cultural venues plus six to 12 restaurants located on or close to the Tampa Riverwalk. All are invited to visit one of the anchor destinations to get a free wristband, which includes complimentary rides on the new Pirate Water Taxi and special offers from participating venues and restaurants. For example, the Tampa Museum of Art will continue to offer “pay as you will” admission to all visitors on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. The March 25 kickoff will also feature participation by the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning at designated riverwalk parks.

Participants will be encouraged to park once and then take the riverwalk, Pirate Water Taxi or hop on a bike with Coast Bike Share to visit the various venues.

The idea for Fourth Friday grew organically from a collaboration between the Tampa Museum of Art, Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Henry B. Plant Museum and the American Institute of AIA Tampa Bay, according to Donna Chen, Director of Marketing for the Tampa Downtown Partnership

“It’s totally grassroots. Back in the fall, these four downtown cultural attractions decided to help support each other’s First Friday events through cross-promotion,” says Chen. “From that collaboration, they said, ‘Hey, this would be a great idea to do on a bigger scale,’ and they reached out to the partnership for help.

“We corralled all our downtown attractions and destinations to discuss what we could do and started planning a recurring event to celebrate and tell the story of the growing, incredibly rich arts and culture scene we have in downtown Tampa.”

The group decided to build on the success of the “First Friday” event format, but agreed to choose a different week to avoid confusion. They landed on “Fourth Friday” as a distinctive brand that shares the advantage of alliteration, Chen says. 

“We’re very excited. We think this will be extremely successful. As the riverwalk expands, we want people to understand how the walkway is really like a string of jewels connecting world-class destinations along the way,” she says.

Although the event lacks a dedicated budget, Chen says Fourth Friday is supported by community partners including the Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk, City of Tampa, Visit Tampa Bay, Arts Council of Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture & the Arts. Between the partners and participating venues, she says they pack a strong marketing punch through their combined efforts. 

“We’re all going to be promoting this through social media, press and our websites and regular communications. Together we have a very strong voice with a big megaphone. We can reach hundreds of thousands of people just through our combined social media outreach,” says Chen.

Hosting venues include:
 
Tampa Museum of Art
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
Stageworks Theater
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
Tampa Theatre
Tampa Bay History Center
Henry B. Plant Museum
 
Setting up at host venues:
 
Florida Aquarium – Location TBD
AIA Tampa Bay – setting up at Tampa Museum of Art
 
Glazer Children’s Museum will not be participating this month, but plans to begin to do so in April.  

More details on the monthly events will be available at Fourth Friday, where visitors can sign up to receive updates by email. 

Impromptu popup gallery features art by newcomer to Tampa

In an innovative trifecta of art, marketing and real estate, art consultant Kathy Gibson of Arthouse3 will present Tampa newcomer and artist Taylor Thomas’s body of work entitled “The Chase.”  

The impromptu exhibit will take place at an empty South Tampa loft whose owner, Michael Palori, hopes will also spur interest from potential renters. The exhibit will be held at 1617 West Platt Street in South Tampa, March 4-6th. 

“All of us are looking for a way to enjoy our business, celebrating talent and new development,” says Gibson who has done this before, in empty houses. She says the art sold, and the houses, too. She is expecting success here, too. “A modern abstract in a loft space, attracts people in general. Tampa is building and changing and becoming more and more contemporary.”

Though this is Taylor’s debut exhibit in Tampa, she is represented around the country by various galleries. She relocated from Nashville in November to be closer to her Tampa-native boyfriend, Will Wellman, catalyst and raison d’etre of the Pig Jig Foundation which raises money for Nephcure Kidney International. In 2014, she was awarded a Regional Artist Project Grant from Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council to travel to Bennington VT and study under Cullen Washington, Jr. -- a contemporary artist whose work, she says, inspires and challenges her. 

Gibson, who describes her role as  “an art finder, an art communicator” connects businesses and individuals with artists and works. Gibson describes Taylor’s body of work for The Chase as a collection of “deeply, richly layered colored abstracts,” about 20 pieces in all sizes from small drawings to 4’ x 6’ works. Pricing ranges from $100 to $3,500 or more, depending on size. 

Palori, whose family has been long-involved with Tampa real estate, with major commercial and residential holdings throughout the city, says the loft, one of three 1,000-square-foot units over a restaurant, was transformed from what was once a printing warehouse. He says he likes the idea of the pop up art and says it fits with the character of his building. “I think its good for the area, and good exposure in the meantime.”

Taylor says her previous exhibitions have been in conventional settings but says this space is “spontaneously ideal -- it nearly mirrors what one would often look for in a gallery space: clean walls, concrete floors, an influx of natural light. The drool-worthy garage door that opens up to a balcony is definitely the cherry on top.” 

The Chase will be open to the public Friday, March 4th, 5-8 p.m.; Saturday, March 5th, 1-6 pm; and Sunday, March 6th, 1-4 pm. For more information on the exhibit, click here. For more information the apartment, click here

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts promises fun, activities for all ages

Art is in the air -- the open air -- in downtown Tampa, and everyone is welcome.

The 46th annual Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (GFA) kicks off March -- the month of culture under Tampa’s iconic Gasparilla umbrella. Pulling top local and national talent, the festival is one of most prestigious and selective of open air arts festivals in the country, according to organizers, and runs March 5-6 at Curtis Hixon Park and Kiley Gardens. Admission is free of charge.

“Tampa Bay has a lot going on by way of the arts,”  says Jodie Orozco, the GFA’s Marketing Chair. “There is an arts renaissance going on in Tampa, St. Pete, Sarasota. We are exposing the entire area to that.”

With over 100,000 visitors anticipated and hundreds of exhibitors, the festival could seem overwhelming to newcomers. Here are some key highlights to guide your experience.

Families and kids

Outdoor festivals, especially ones with a top-notch park on-premise and plenty of room to run around, are generally a good bet for families. But the GFA has a unique program parents rave about: The Art Collectors in Training Program. There are also opportunities for kids to make art. 

The Art Collectors in Training Program is located at a dedicated tent in Kiley Garden. Children ages 6 to 14 are invited to browse a “kids-only” shopping zone, a collection donated by festival artists. Kids get to select their own artworks, some priced between $5 and $10, and are encouraged to find the artists of their purchased pieces in the festival. Last year, more than 130 artists donated 750 pieces, and raised $4,800.  Proceeds go to the Children’s Cancer Center. 

“Our program gives children the opportunity to choose a piece of art without the help of their parents,” says Brenda Gregory who leads this initiative. “We provide children with the freedom to see art as something that can have personal meaning to them.”

The Festival partners with the Tampa Museum of Art, which runs The Children Activity Area, allowing kids to create art during their visit, too.  

Kids have the opportunity to learn techniques from featured artists, color, paint and draw. Currently showing at the Museum is the Spanish sculptor “Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape” exhibit.  Orozco says the children's activities will leverage that theme. 

The Art Collector in Training program and the Children’s Area are open both days 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. respectively.

Chalk Walk and Art Car Extravaganza 

Also fun for families, is the Chalk Walk that will take place “under the eaves of the Tampa Museum of Art” where 10 commissioned Chalk Artists will bring their large form chalk drawings to life in an interactive experience in front of your eyes.

On display in Kiley Gardens, visitors can see the Carmada fleet of a dozen art cars and vote on their favorites. Three cars will be painted live by a team of local muralists -- including a vintage VW bus -- while DJs spin throughout the afternoon. Adults and kids can get their hands dirty here, too, exploring the Nomad art bus and contributing to its collaborative mural.

The Art – emergent and established

The art on display is diverse – from woodwork to jewelry to printmaking to oil, etc.  Because it is a juried festival, the organizers are able to cull the best from the hundreds of applications they receive. The exposure and  $75,000 in prizes, is a big draw. In addition, “we help our artists to sell a lot of work,” says Orozco. Though she notes there is no pressure to buy. You can preview some of of the works on the GFA web gallery. 

The Festival promotes and invests in up-and-coming artists who have never before displayed art in a juried festival. The Emerging Artists Program, which provides the artists with the booth and cash for its display infrastructure, was created to “recognize and showcase the artwork of these artists who wish to pursue a career in the visual arts career.” Fifteen emerging artists were chosen from 120 applicants to participate. Their tents are displayed in Kiley Garden and the artists are eligible for a $1,500 Emerging Artist Award. 

For those who want to rub shoulders with the best of the show and its creators, there is a galaRE VIP reception on Saturday night, which brings together patrons and the juried festival award winners, with a backdrop of live bossa nova music and Capital Grill catering. Tickets for this event can be purchased through the website. 

There appears to be something for everyone.  

“Enjoy the festival as you would a museum. Interact with artists,” suggests Orozco. “There is a great variety of art to choose form whether your preference is glass art or painting or ceramics there is always something to choose from.”

Free Community Pass offers Tampa Bay residents museum, music fest discounts

The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay (CFTB) has found a creative way to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Beginning in February 2016, residents who sign up for the group's free 'Community Pass' will receive unique discounts to distinguished local arts and cultural-focused programs and institutions such as the Tampa Museum of Art and St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Perks for Tampa Bay area residents include buy one, get one free admission offers to select events or venues, and discounts to museums including the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Tampa Bay History Center, and other centers of arts and learning. 

CFTB launched the Community Pass to help local residents discover and enjoy the local arts and culture organizations that CFTB donors support through discounts and other special offers.

Community Pass discounts include BOGO free admission to Great Explorations Children's Museum; "Palladium Presents" shows at The PalladiumSt. Petersburg Museum of HistoryTampa Museum of Art; and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum. Other discounts include 25 percent off admission to the Florida Holocaust Museum; $5 off admission to the Gasparilla Music Festival on Sunday, March 13; and $10 off admission to the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

“The Community Pass will give back to the residents of our tri-county area, and encourage them to enjoy the wonderful cultural institutions we have here in our very own backyard," Wilma Norton, VP of Marketing and Communications for CFTB, writes in a news release. “We are very excited to celebrate our 25th year serving the community of Tampa Bay by providing a gift to everyone who lives here."

The Community Foundation was founded in 1990 to serve as a connector between local donors, nonprofit organizations, community members, business leaders, and volunteers in Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties. In those 25 years, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has awarded more than $175 million in donor funds as grants to nonprofit organizations across the country. 

To sign up for a free Community Pass, click here.

St. Pete event celebrates wealth of local muses

Beyond the goddesses of Greek mythology who preside over song, poetry, arts and sciences, Merriam-Webster defines muse as “a source of inspiration; especially, a guiding genius.” 

St. Petersburg will recognize its own local creative guiding geniuses this Friday, Jan. 29th, at its third annual MUSE Awards. The awards are designed to recognize the breadth and beauty of the city’s arts and culture and “pay tribute to those that continue to inspire and guide St. Petersburg to its standing as an international arts destination.” 

The event, to be held at the Museum of Fine Art, promises to be a night of surprises, pop-up entertainment and of course, artists and fine art down to the food that is served. Proceeds will benefit artists, arts education, and arts & cultural organizations through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance programs and services. Tickets are available, but going fast. 

“Collectively, the MUSE award winners this year have each made a very distinctive contribution to our community,” says John Collins, Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “They are all very involved with community engagement, and these awards were created to shine a spotlight on St. Petersburg.”

Collins uses the term “transformational” when describing any of the winners. It’s hard to argue with that.  

The winners include nationally and internationally acclaimed Artist Steven Kenny whose captivating blend of surrealism with the classic human figure earned him the MUSE Visual Arts Award. Originally from New York, Kenny has been a resident of St. Petersburg for over three years, crediting in an interview with wowxwow.com the Salvador Dali Museum for initially drawing him to the City and his subsequent excitement about the creative energy of the local grassroots art scene as factors in his decision to move. 

The MUSE Arts Ambassador Award recognizes a beloved St. Petersburg artist (of any discipline) who is a stellar representative of the “City of the Arts” to the world. Among her many accolades, Collins praises this year’s winner, muralist and installation artist Ya La’ford, for her “singular commitment to not only doing a mural in a tunnel, the ‘Sunnel,’ but her experiential workshops that have made art very, very relevant in our community.” The artist and professor whose work has been displayed recently at Miami Art Basel, Harlem Art Flux and Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is also known for her work with children. On Martin Luther King Day of this year, La’ford’s “King’s Dream Unite,” a 30x30 mural created in collaboration with 25 students from MYcroSchool Pinellas, was unveiled on the side of the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg

The MUSE Patron of the Arts award goes to the J. Crayton Pruitt Foundation which made a “leadership gift” of $200,000 to the Warehouse Arts District enabling the creation of the ArtsXchange, which in just its initial phase will provide 11,000 square feet of affordable studio and performing arts space for the district’s artists of all disciplines.

The St. Petersburg City Theatre recently celebrated its 90th anniversary is the oldest continually operating community theatre and will be recognized with the MUSE Performance Arts Award.

Last but not least: the literary arts. Maureen McDole, Author and co-Founder of Keep St. Pete Lit, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting greater St. Petersburg’s literary community through arts, education and events will receive the MUSE Literary Arts Award. McDole says she sees her organization -- which has provided free classes to over 400 students in the past six months through its LitSpace -- as a “vehicle to spread literary love around our community.”  

“If Keep St. Pete Lit can be a catalyst to creativity and healing in people's lives through literature,’ says McDole. “What's better than that?”

Winners will receive an original hand-blown glass bowl by acclaimed St. Pete Artist Duncan McClellan. 

Information on purchasing tickets can be found here.

The Telling Project: Veterans tell their stories of war experiences

Given that only 1 percent of the U.S. population has served in the military over the last dozen years of war, it may be hard for many to understand or relate to the experiences and struggles many veterans encounter. The Florida Humanities Council, based in St. Petersburg, and Tampa’s WEDU PBS TV are working to change this.

“Veterans: The Telling Project” is the result. It’s a TV documentary that follows six Tampa Bay area veterans and one military spouse who participated in an innovative theater project, providing intimate insight into individual challenges.

The documentary, which debuted last week in Tampa, will air again on Veteran’s Day, Wednesday, November 11, at 8 p.m. on WEDU+ which corresponds to Channel 605 on Brighthouse/476 Verizon/203 Comcast -- and throughout the week on other Florida PBS channels. Check your local TV listings. The program will air nationwide beginning in January.

“Veterans are coming back with injuries and issues and are feeling isolated because the general population is unaware,” says Barbara O’Reilley, Communications Director of the Florida Humanities Council. The Tampa Bay Telling Project, she says “is a way to bridge the communication gap between veterans and the population at large – tell their experiences directly to the communities.”

The Telling Project is a national performing arts nonprofit that “employs theater to deepen our understanding of the military and veterans’ experience.” Founded in 2008 by Jonathan Wei, the project was brought to Florida by the Florida Humanities Council (FHC), which hopes to expand the project to several cities in the state. Pensacola, which is home to a large veteran population, was picked for a second performance, which is currently underway.

Through an intensive interview process, Wei extracts the veterans’ stories and crafts a scripted play using their own words; the veterans also serve as the actors. The result is a deeply personal account of their military experiences and ongoing struggles, laid all the more bare because none of the Tampa Bay area veterans had ever performed on stage before. The Tampa Bay Telling Project plays took place this past spring around the region and included talk-back sessions afterward. 

Unique to the Tampa project is that FHC was able to partner with WEDU and chronicle the process of the project -- from creating the story to building performers -- in documentary form, accessible to all via public television.

Though FHC is a statewide organization, O’Reilley says they piloted the program locally  “so we could really be hands on.” She notes that the Tampa Bay region was ideal for the project with Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, a huge multi-generational veterans community and access to “great stage theater venues” in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

“Every single one [of the performances] received standing ovations,” says O’Reilley. She notes that the talk-back sessions were often as powerful, oftentimes with members of the audience saying, " 'I am a veteran and that happened to me, too, and it makes me feel better that I am not alone'.'' 

Temple Terrace Arts & Crafts Festival, Nov. 7-8

Run into any random pieces of photography lately, with a “take me, I’m free” note attached?   

Could be one of the 25 pieces of “abandoned” art strategically placed throughout the Tampa Bay area in a clever marketing effort by the Temple Terrace Arts Council to promote their 42nd annual Arts & Crafts Festival taking place this weekend -- 10 a.m- 4 p.m. -- November 7-8, 2015 at the seven-acre Greco Event Field in Temple Terrace.  Admission and parking are free.

“It’s a fun day that is free, family friendly, and it’s all about art,” says Kim Straub who spearheads the marketing efforts and organization of the festival. “The festival is kind of one of those well-kept secrets, and this year we are really trying to expand beyond Temple Terrace.” She says this is keeping with the all-volunteer Council’s mission statement, “to bring art to the community and beyond.” She notes that last year in a sampling they found attendance included 78 zip codes, including 13 from out of state, and over 7,000 attendees.

In addition to the 55 artist’s and crafter’s booths, food trucks and live entertainment, there are interactive arts activities to engage children and adults alike.  

Tampa-based artist Terry Klaaren (creator of the Recyclosaurus at the MOSI) will host demonstrations of painting “en plein air” techniques.  A display of 30 works of art by area elementary schoolchildren will be on exhibit and a dedicated kids arts area, “Fresh Impressionists,” will be available which will also include culinary activities scheduled throughout the day, provided by Farm 2 School.

For the first time, a “Public Pollock” collaborative art project will take place inviting people “of all ages and skill levels” to apply paint. 

“When you are involved with putting paint on the canvass – and that is what Jackson Pollock was all about – you become one with the paint and the painting,” says Straub. “It’s a different way of looking at art.”  The abstract expressionist masterpiece is slated to become a traveling exhibit after the festival.

Another “big draw”: a free raffle to win $250 Saturday, $500 Sunday toward a “festival shopping spree” for adults. Children can enter two drawings to win free art kits filled will paints and supplies.  Winners will be announced at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. 

For more information on the 42nd Temple Terrace Arts & Crafts Festival, click here

Consider Water highlights sustainability message through the arts

“Consider Water” debuting in Tampa at Hillsborough County Community College (HCC) Mainstage Theatre in Ybor City this weekend, October 30-31 at 7:30 p.m., is a performance at the intersection of art and environment.

Acclaimed New York-based dancer/choreographer and activist Davalois Fearon will perform the collaborative piece, which combines dance with original music and visual art, to raise awareness about issues that most concern her, in this case, water. 

“It isn’t just about arts and dance, but getting in front of some of the current issues going on right now,” says Angela Walters, HCC’s Community Relations and Marketing Manager. “We live in Tampa Bay -- and our available, clean water is something that we have to start thinking about.”

According to the United Nations Clean Water Facts, nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Six million to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases. 

“Even here in the United States, 40 percent of the rivers and 46 percent of the lakes are polluted and are considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing or aquatic life,” notes Fearon.

The dance program at HCC, which Walters describes as “very, very, active,” regularly brings in artists from around the country to work with students onsite. However, Walters points out, HCC is also committed to sustainability and Fearon’s visit will serve to bridge the dance and science/sustainability departments through a series of workshops and discussion surrounding the performance. Fearon will also hold auditions early in the week for students to take part of Consider Water’s ensemble. 

“We are always looking for different ways to connect with other audiences and makes them think,” says Walters.  “The arts are something that connects individuals, a different medium, a creative way -- it’s showing them in an aspect that they can connect to.” 

The performance is open to the public with $10 general admission. All HCC students, faculty and staff are admitted free of charge with valid ID. For more information, click here.

Kickstarter campaign launches for Florida conservation

Less than 10 days before the controversial hunt for Florida’s barely-off-the-endangered-species-list-black bear begins, the Florida Wildlife Corridor will launch its Kickstarter campaign Thursday, Oct. 15th, to promote its new film and forthcoming book, The Forgotten Coast: The Return to Wild Florida, based on months of expeditions inspired by the Florida black bear’s journeys through the interior of the state.  

“[The Florida Wildlife Corridor] is hiding in plain sight -- we are all situated on the coast looking outward, and maybe forget about Florida heartlands,” says Florida Wildlife Corridor Executive Director Mallory Dimmitt who is spearheading the project and the expeditions behind it. She notes that there is an urgency to conservation and awareness as Florida’s population is estimated to reach 35 million by 2060. “We can still maintain wild Florida and all the creatures that rely on it as Florida grows.” 

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is both the name of the environmental advocacy organization as well as the term used to describe the territory it is dedicated to conserving: nearly 16 million acres of “lands and waters essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife” – including the 9.5 million acres already protected – that span the length and width of the state. 

The Forgotten Coast documentary is gleaned from the thousands of hours of footage taken during two Florida Wildlife Corridor expeditions traversing Florida undertaken by Dimmitt, wildlife Photographer Carlton Ward, Biologist Joe Guthrie, and Filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus on foot, bike and paddle. The idea, says Dimmitt, was to “explore wild Florida the way a bear or a panther could still travel through our state.” She says she hopes the film “inspires people to protect our quality of life, for all of Florida.”

During the first expedition in 2012, the team trekked more than 1,000 miles in 100 days from south-to-north, starting in the Everglades and finishing in the south of Georgia. From January to March of this year, the east-to-west expedition took the team from the Everglades Headwaters to the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Florida Panhandle. 

The Kickstarter campaign will run until Friday Nov 20th, the day after the broadcast premiere of the film. The urgency to raise funds is critical and ambitious for the organization as Kickstarter is all-or-nothing crowdfunding, dependent on reaching the target fundraising goal of $37,000.  

The film’s exclusive broadcast premiere will air November 19th on WUSF-TV with a premiere event the week prior at the Tampa Theatre.  The new funds will allow the organizers to raise awareness and promote the film to PBS channels and film festivals around the country. 

Radio show podcast program teaches Tampa teens digital entrepreneurship

Local Tampa Bay area teenagers have the chance to learn about digital radio programming and podcast creation during a seven-week class at the Hillel Academy in Carrollwood.

Tampa Bay-based non-profit Forward Thinking Initiatives (FTI), in partnership with Life Improvement Radio, is teaching local students who range from 5th through 12th grades how to start their own radio podcast program at the Teen Radio Show: The Digital Entrepreneur program.

Students are learning “everything they need to know to create their own podcast program, including how to create scripts for actual guest interviews, how to use the technology, understanding how to finance their own show, how to create ads and sponsors, and how to interview exciting guests,” says FTI founder Debra Campbell.

Campbell hopes to see students take the skills they learn in the Teen Radio Show program, which began in mid-September and runs through mid-November, and apply them to other interests. 

“When young people think about starting their own business, they typically don't think to begin with their own passions and interests,” she explains. “Although all of our programs are under the umbrella of entrepreneurship and innovation, we frequently theme the programs to appeal more to the young people we work with.”

During the seven week digital entrepreneurship workshop, students learn about:
  • Technology used to create podcasts
  • Conducting an interview
  • Developing and writing scripts for guest interviews
  • Financing a radio show
  • Creating ads and sponsors for the show
  • Interviewing live guests on the air
Podcast programs created by students in the classes will run on Life Improvement Radio.

“What I hope the students will gain from the experience is a ‘no fear approach’ to learning something totally new, or even a bit intimidating,” Campbell says. 

Parents might just learn something, too: “Last time we ran the program, many parents stayed for the classes as well,” Campbell explains. “We welcome parents! It fosters great dinner conversations at home.”  
 
The two-month-long program takes place weekly on Friday evenings at the Hillel Academy in Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa. 

Students in the Teen Radio program are "gaining entrepreneurial skills such as budgeting, how to finance their programs and how to market them,” Campbell says, “but my hope is this will be the kind of learning kids gain when they get a new game that they want to learn how to play. They don't think about the learning, they just jump in.”

FTI aims to engage young students in after-school programs that focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and creative thinking. A recent FTI program hosted at the St. Petersburg Greenhouse taught students from local Artz4Life Academy about helicopter design and innovative thinking. FTI programs and partners such as the Greenhouse and the John F. Germany Library have earned accolades including the Kauffman Foundation Platinum Award and The Freedoms Foundation Leavey Award for Private Enterprise Education.

 

Tampa JCC engages community, writers in Books & Conversations Festival

Tampa’s Jewish Book Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is bringing in authors from the national stage as well as showcasing local authors in its two week “Books & Conversations” Festival that kicks off October 18, 2015. The festival is open to the public and most of the events take place at the Tampa Jewish Community Center located at 13009 Community Campus Drive near Citrus Park Mall. 

“We are offering experiences, not just a chance to hear an author talk about their book,” says Jewish Books & Conversation Committee Chair Debbie Doliner who says that in addition to promoting Jewish literature, the festival aims to engage attendees and the authors in conversation. 

“We don’t want just ‘readers’ — this is open to the entire Tampa Bay community,’’ Dominer says. “There is always great food and drink and some other interesting aspect.” 

Many of the authors write on Jewish themes, such as Washington-based Sarah Wildman’s award-winning Paper Love, Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind who discovered in her grandfather’s love letters and her subsequent research, the story of his escape from pre-World War II Europe and the lover he left behind. Dan Ephron, former Jerusalem Bureau Chief for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, explores the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and its continuing impact in Killing A King, The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel. Local author Lynda Lippman-Lockhart’s book, The Laundry Room, brings to life the true story of the clandestine ammunitions factory run by young Israelis to arm its troops at the end of the British occupation in the late 1940s. 

Other themes are more universal – tickets are selling fast for author Judith Viorst’s luncheon at Maggiano’s. Viorst’s diverse writing ranges from newspaper to children’s books –- you may recognize Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day which sold over 2 million copies and was made into a Disney comedy last year -- to adult fiction and nonfiction. She is also slated as a highly entertaining personality and poet and to that end will discuss her latest book Wait For Me and Other Poems About the Irritations and Consolations of a Long Marriage. 

Joshua Braff, author of the The Daddy Diaries and until recently a Tampa Bay resident, and local author Barbara Post-Askin  who wrote Reflections of Liberty, A Memoir will also be presenting during the festival. 

Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by visiting the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation; reservations are recommended. 
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