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Pinellas artists sought for new grant program

Creative Pinellas is looking for up-and-coming artists for a new grant program that encourages them to create new work. Its Emerging Artists Grant program will award $2,000 each to 10 working in the creative arts, who will be mentored by someone in their field.

“I’ve never seen a mentoring program, outside of a school program, for emerging artists,” says Barbara St. Clair, Executive Director of Creative Pinellas. “We heard that people needed help taking their work and professional careers to the next level.”

The grant was developed specifically to recognize -- and support -- artists early in their careers, as they are building their followings. It is open to older adults early in an arts career.

The program provides financial and mentoring support and the opportunity to showcase their work. A panel of professional and academic artists will do the judging.

“We’re open to artists in pretty much every discipline,” she adds.

Creative Pinellas is looking for artists in: literature, choreography, interdisciplinary, media arts, music composition, theatre/musical theatre, and visual arts. They must be at least 18 and a legal resident of Pinellas County for at least one year; they also must agree to maintain legal residency during the grant period ending in October.

Artists must have a track record of success, a strong portfolio, a plan for the future, and a commitment to participate in the exhibition planned Oct. 26. Grant participants are expected to work with mentors and make regular reports on the progress of their work between July 1st and October 26.

Two workshops are scheduled for potential applicants. The first one is scheduled from 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at Morean Arts Center for Clay, 420 22nd Street South, St. Petersburg. The second one is planned from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, March 30. The location has not been announced.

Applications are being accepted online through 5 p.m. April 12. Artists are advised to begin uploading before or by 4:30 p.m. to ensure their work is successfully received by the deadline. More information is available at Creative Pinellas. Awards will be announced in June.

Creative Pinellas also has been working with artists “more at the pinnacle” of their careers, St. Clair says.

The county’s local art agency, Creative Pinellas is supported by the Pinellas County Commission, Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater, the State of Florida, and by sales of the State of the Arts specialty license plate in Pinellas County.


CO.STARTERS program targets creatives, health professionals, techies

TEC Garage will be offering a nine-week program to help aspiring entrepreneurs in the creative arts, healthcare and technology industries beginning March 28. Called CO.STARTERS, the program will help prospective entrepreneurs test their ideas and potentially launch their businesses.

“This program is being sponsored in part by Creative Pinellas. We are asking the other tech companies to pay their portion of the fees,” says Tonya Elmore, CEO of Tampa Bay Innovation Center.

TEC Garage was developed by the TBIC to support entrepreneurs. It typically works with tech businesses, not artists. But they started receiving inquiries from local artists interested in starting businesses, so the TEC Garage pilot tested the program with creative types last year. 

“We wanted to see if they played well in the sandbox together and they did,” she says.

CO.STARTERS will be held on Tuesdays from 6-9 p.m. at TEC Garage, 244 2nd Ave. North, St. Petersburg. During the series, J.J. Roberts, director of TEC Garage, and other business professionals from the Tampa Bay area will be featured as guest speakers.

More information is available on the classes here.

The CO.STARTERS program normally costs $275. The fee includes two months of co-working space at the TEC Garage upon graduation, which is usually priced at $150. More information is available at 727-547-7340.

Scholarships are available through Creative Pinellas, an organization dedicated to fostering the Pinellas County arts community. They are offered to artists, those who are part of artists’ organizations, and entrepreneurs in creative industries, says Barbara St. Clair, Executive Director of Creative Pinellas.

“If you’re a professional artist, you are a business,” she explains. “All of those things that a business knows ...  are really relevant to you.”

Attendees may have more in common than the obvious tie-ins between art and technology in careers such as graphic arts. The separation has become “very porous,” St. Clair says.

There are more subtle connections between art in healing and though collaborations between the technological and the creative. “There are some exciting ways in which the two cross over and meet with each other,” St. Clair says.

The pilot program apparently had a big impact. “We sold out the first one in like 48 hours, which is why we are doing it again. People are very excited.”

Some said the course changed their lives. “It really did seem to have a significant impact on the individuals who participated,” she adds.

The Company Lab, a Chattanooga, TN organization, developed CO.STARTERS, which is available to startups nationwide.


Skyway: Open call to local artists for collaborative exhibit at Tampa Bay Area museums

A new collaborative project between the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), St. Petersburg and the Tampa Museum of Art will bridge the selected works of local artists in a joint, simultaneous exhibit called Skyway in June 2017.  

An open call to artists is currently underway to artists from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties. There is no entry fee for submissions and the online call closes Dec. 15, 2016.

“One of the great powers of art is in bringing people together and stimulating dialogue -- do you like it, do you hate it, what would you have done differently, and so on,” says Seth Pevnick, Chief Curator at the Tampa Museum of Art. “Too often with exhibitions, the dialogue can go no further than that. But with this exhibition, many of the artists in our community will have the opportunity to display their art on a bigger stage and join in the conversation in that way.”

The exhibit will be juried by six curators, two from each participating museum and a visiting juror. Any original artwork, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography, video, performance and site-specific installations completed after January 2016 are eligible for submission.

“Our main goal will be to highlight what we feel is the most important and interesting visual art being created in the region,” says Pevnick. “It will be exciting to see how everything balances out in terms of media, themes, approaches and home counties.”
  
“We also aim to provide context for the work of area artists -- our goal is to give a sense of the selected artists’ overall oeuvre as opposed to a single perspective through one or two works,” notes Katherine Pill, Curator of Contemporary Art at the MFA. 

This isn’t the first time the Tampa and St. Pete museums have collaborated. The much celebrated My Generation: Young Chinese Artists, the contemporary Chinese art exhibition was co-organized and co-hosted for the first time in the United States simultaneously at both museums in 2014. The two museums also hold a shared patron event called Bridging the Bay each fall.  

Pevnick says the exhibition builds on this partnership, but that he believes the idea for this show came about at the director level after Michael Tomor took the helm as Executive Director of the Tampa Museum of Art in 2015. He says Tomor had done a similar collaborative exhibition at the El Paso Museum of Art, collaborating with the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez and talked with his colleagues at the MFA and the Ringling shortly after his arrival in Tampa. 

“And then he brought the idea to me, suggesting that we do something similar in Tampa,” says Pevnick.  “Our curatorial colleagues at the MFA and the Ringling were also excited about the idea, and it has been fun to work with them in the planning stages thus far.”

Pevnick says they hope they will receive many submissions and that the exhibit “will allow us to get to know many more of the artists in the region, and also to raise the profile of selected artists, both locally and beyond.”

For more information on the call to artists, click on this link.

Weekend fun: New, shady venue for Temple Terrace Arts Festival

While last year’s Temple Terrace Arts & Crafts Festival was literally taken by storm -- a tornado ripped through the stands, forcing it to close a day early -- this year’s event is taking place in a new venue with new partners, bringing the arts, nature and history together at this community event, now in its 43rd year.  

The festival takes place November 12-13, 2016, 10 a.m to 4 p.m in historic Woodmont Park. Admission and parking are free of charge.

“Given this new location, it’s a real opportunity to see and experience the beauty of Temple Terrace, while enjoying the event,” says Kim Straub, of the Temple Terrace Arts Council. “The community is very, very proud of this area -- it’s going to be our best festival yet.”

The juried festival is attracting some 80 artists and crafters from across Florida and the country -- a 40 percent increase from last year. However, the event this year weaves in some other interesting community and cultural draws. 

Though the event officially starts at 10 a.m., Saturday morning kicks off with a 5K, 10K and fun run sponsored by the Junior Women's Club called aTrot Through the Terrace.

A “stunning historical tribute” to the community will be unveiled in the Woodmont Gazebo at noon on Saturday where artwork created by local artist Tim Boatright, will be gifted to the new city mayor in a ceremony beginning with a bagpipe procession and ending with a presentation by the Temple Terrace Preservation Society. 

The Temple Terrace Garden Club will be hosting a standard garden show called Around and About Temple Terrace at the Festival on Saturday from 1-5 p.m. in the Clubhouse at Woodmont Park.  A juried photography exhibit is part of the show. 

Of course, art remains the heart of the Festival.  

One of the most popular features of the festival is the public art project. This year Straub says all visitors of all ages are invited to participate in “message totems.”  Utilizing large cardboard tubes, leftovers from industrial printers, the tubes will be cut into sections for individuals to create a message. 

“If you have a message you want to give to people -- happiness, an emotion -- do a design,” says Straub who will have paints and “a couple hundred shapes for people to do.” 

The completed totem sections will be stacked 10 feet tall to form a traveling exhibit. It is free to participate and all are welcome.  

Other highlights for families and kids include the Fresh Views art exhibit, a display of elementary school children’s work from 11 local schools, and raffles for kids to win baskets of art supplies. There are also raffles for adults -- $1 per ticket to win a $50 art shopping spree at the festival. A silent auction will be held for “sitting chairs” painted in the style of  specific Impressionist artists by Temple Terrace resident and artist Terry Klaaren, best known locally for his outdoor MOSI creation of the Recylosaurus Rex.

Live performances will take place throughout the event, including a Saturday evening presentation with pianist Mac Frampton at 7 p.m. around the corner from the Woodmont Park at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church, benefits support Trinity Café (ttpresbyterian.com) a non-profit organization feeding the homeless.

For more information on the 2016 Temple Terrace Arts & Crafts Festival, send an email by following this link or call (813) 988-ARTS.

Tampa SuperStars release new album, #thankyoumusic

Tampa artist Ronnie Dee and his group of SuperStars are launching their first album, entitled “#ThankYouMusic,” this month at the Cuban Club in Ybor City.  

With more than 200,000 combined views of their pre-released music videos – “Depending on Love” and “Warming Up” - Dee is hopeful that the release concert will be just the beginning of solid sales as they move toward the next phase on their marketing strategy making the music available through digital streaming on iTunes and other media. 

Dee, a Seminole Heights resident, describes himself as a “bright side guy” and the upbeat music on #ThankYouMusic reflects this, despite that much of it was inspired by personal losses he has experienced over the past several years. 

“This record is the culmination of my life’s journey and very autobiographical,” says Dee. He describes the music as “multi-stylistic: It’s soul and funk and rock and pop.” 

In many respects, it is also a family affair.  

Dee grew up in the music business. His dad Joey Dee was a rock star in the 1960s, perhaps best known for the number one hit song “Peppermint Twist,” with his band, the Starliters. Ronnie Dee and his sister, Jamie Lee, played in their dad’s band and toured with him. Dad, sis and Ronnie Dee’s four sons ages 9 to 21 all have some role on the new #ThankYouMusic album, though son AJ (guitar) and sister Jamie Lee (vocals) are regular members of the band, the Superstars, an eclectic group of 14 musicians, with saxophone often prominently featured. 

Dee makes his living as a fulltime musician, touring nationally and internationally doing mostly covers on the “corporate circuit,” writing jingles for large companies and teaching voice, piano and saxophone at Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy in Tampa. Though he says he has been recording albums in the area since the 1990s, this is the first one as the Superstars and the first one that has attracted managers to handle the marketing and distribution strategy.

The SuperStars featuring Ronnie Dee #ThankYouMusic release concert takes place Oct. 20, 2016 at the Cuban Club. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are available through their website.

What's your story? Annual storytelling festival gets personal in October

“There is nothing more compelling than a real life story and few things that connect people faster or better,” says Lillian Dunlap, Ph.D., artistic director and founder of Your Real Stories, a St. Petersburg-based nonprofit organization dedicated to storytelling.

In a celebration of the power of storytelling, Your Real Stories will host the third annual Tampa Bay Area Festival of Storytelling. The event takes place October 3-8, with five days of stories told through spoken word, dance, music theatrical performance and food. Over 20 events are planned.  

The role of food in storytelling will take center stage with a pre-festival kick-off dinner and discussion on Sunday, Oct. 2, at Urban Comfort Restaurant and Brewery www.urbancomfortstpete.com/ with Urban Restaurant Group Founder Andy Salyards.

Former Tampa Bay Times Food Editor Janet Krietemeyer Keeler continues the discussion of food with “Hungry for Stories: Connecting Food To Our Narrative” on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 10 am. in Davis Hall at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Aspiring writers interested in developing their memoir will find plenty of storytelling opportunities to improve their skills.  

Author Lisa Kirchner, a member of the Florida Literary Arts Commission and the New York Writers Workshop, presents “The Heart of Your Story” on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the Morean Arts Center.

On Saturday, Oct. 8, Paula Stahel, past president of the Association of Personal Historians, and an expert in memoir writing, presents “Famous Last Words -- an Obituary Writing Workshop” at the Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library in Tampa.

The same day, Barbara Riddle presents Memoir Mayhem -- Should You or Shouldn’t You Write Your Memoir at 1 p.m. at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. 

Connection between art, music, poetry and storytelling will also be showcased at the festival.

The Museum of Fine Arts and Venture House, a St. Petersburg nonprofit building affordable housing for local entrepreneurs, will present a Tapestry of Music and Poetry in the museum’s Marly Room on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m.

An event dedicated to the survivors of domestic violence will take place on  Oct. 8, with Catherine Weaver of Uniquely Original Arts, presenting Poetic Expressions: Art and Poetry Collage Workshop.

Additional events planned for the festival include a one-day seminar on digital storytelling with Andrew W. Thornhill from Thornhill Digital Storytelling, a Reggae and Poetry Night at The Chattaway Restaurant in St. Petersburg and a photo exhibit of cancer survivors presented by the Affirmations Project of Tampa

Click here to read a previous 83 Degrees Media story about Your Real Stories

TEDxSarasota champions innovation, collaboration at full-day event in Venice

TEDxSarasota, an independently organized, licensed TED event, will bring a full day of "ideas worth spreading" to the Venice Theatre on Oct. 6, 2016. 

The theme for the fifth annual TEDxSarasota, Technicolor Journey, brings 10 innovators and creatives from different industries and backgrounds to explore the "many facets that make a whole life, and the whole world a better place to live."

Leaders at the forefront of their field in neurobiology, visual and performing arts, social work, technology and environmental conservation will offer unique insights into their work and spark creative conversations at this year's TEDxSarasota. Among the  featured speakers are School for Men Founder Michael Hrostoski; Neurobiologist and Braincheck CEO Dr. Yael Katz; art activist and Chalk Festival Founder Denise Kowal and West Coast Black Theatre Group Director Nate Jacobs. 

"TED days are built to have people collide and collaborate. The audience plays a big part in keeping the energy of the exchange going as they actively participate, so these days really are the germ -- or the seed -- of something great on the other side of the event," says TEDxSarasota Founder and Team Lead Judy Winslow. 

TEDxSarasota collaborated this year with the Ringling College of Art + Design to create special pieces for the event, and Winslow says that break times between speakers will be filled with food, drink and social activities to stimulate new ideas and connections in the "TED Head" environment. 

This year marks the first time TEDxSarasota, formerly held at Sarasota's historic Asolo Theatre, will be held at the Venice Theatre in the south-central Sarasota County region.

"We've always been known as a beach community, but have moved into a more cultural phase in recent years. Now, we're really parenting and fostering the idea of Sarasota as an innovation hub. Let's have Sarasota grow in a way that fosters innovation, inspiration, positivity," says Winslow.

"This is a way for us to shine a light on a different part of Sarasota as things begin to develop [in the south county region]," she adds. 

TED is a global, independently planned event that takes place in over a thousand communities across the world. More than a dozen events are scheduled during 2016-2017 in Florida cities including Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami. 

Three upcoming events in the Tampa Bay area are TEDxOldsmar Women on Oct. 27, 2016; TEDxUSF on March 29, 2017; and TEDxPasco County Schools on May 6, 2017. 

"What's cool is that it's a global community. There's this movement of positivity, and of people who still believe that we can change the world one idea at a time. That's the essence of TED: people who believe, who know it in their bones--people who come out to support that mission and live that possibility," says Winslow.

Get tickets for TEDxSarasota online.

How to design a street banner for Clearwater

As the city of Clearwater continues its redevelopment plans, it has put out a call to artists to design a banner that will run the length of Cleveland Street between North Lincoln Avenue and North Betty Lane, along the fence that borders a “thriving community garden.” The winning artist will be compensated with an honorarium of $500 for the design.  Artist proposals are due by Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. 

“Our mission is to revitalize the downtown area. So this particular project helps us fulfill our mission as it is beautifying a stretch of Cleveland Street that is right now lacking in any sort of visual interest,” says Seth Taylor, Director of the Community Redevelopment Agency. “We saw this as an opportunity to have a big impact on the streetscape.”

Public art is just one facet of the plans “to help lift up the community,” notes Taylor. 

“We are working with our engineering and planning department to improve the entire streetscape along Cleveland Street,” says Taylor. Among other things a “road diet” is planned -- reducing the current five lanes to three, incorporating bicycle lanes, pedestrian walkways, landscaping and horticulture as well as space for retail. Conceptual design is underway and Taylor hopes that after community presentations, construction will begin by late 2017.

“Bright and Beautiful • Bay to Beach” is the city of Clearwater’s new brand and tagline and thus the theme of the artwork. Artists are to submit designs that would be rendered to a scale of approximately 400 linear feet by about six feet tall (click here for specifics), connecting visually to the neighborhood and also to “what bright and beautiful means to them,” Taylor says. Artists are strongly encouraged to visit the site “to get a feel for the landscape of the neighborhood.” He says it is a terrific opportunity for artist’s work to be showcased in the public realm.

St. Pete ups prize to $50K for mural to entwine art, history

The City of St. Petersburg has put out a global call to artists for artwork that will serve as a replacement of a Works Progress Administration-era mural that once hung in City Hall and also as a reminder of the significant and fascinating piece of local history that brought it down. The budget for the approximately 7-by-10 foot piece, initially set at $10,000 has been increased to $50,000; submissions are due Oct. 3, 2016.

The call to artists states that “the art must respect the event(s) that caused the still vacant space where the mural once hung while honoring and celebrating the advances in civil rights and inclusivity in the city today.”

Wayne Altherholt, Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of St. Petersburg, says the selection will be determined by the Project Committee, a diverse group made up of three members of the Public Arts Commission and six community members. Altherholt describes the group as “a driven committee” taking the project on “with the deepest respect and recognition of the past. They will spend hours and hours to figure out the best solution.”

The original mural by George Snow Hill, the artist perhaps best known locally today for his flight murals at Tampa International Airport, was commissioned in 1940, along with another that is still prominently in place along the grand staircase of City Hall.
 
The piece in question ostensibly illustrated a scene where white beachgoers enjoyed black musicians at the local beach Pass-a-Grille. Viewed through a modern lens, though arguably obvious even in the era in which it was painted, it is not at all hard to understand why people found it offensive, particularly during the incendiary times at the start of the civil rights movement in the 1960s when African-Americans were still largely prohibited from even going to some beaches.
 
Joseph Waller, an African-American and then vice-chairman at the time of the state’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had petitioned to have the mural removed for its derogatory and racist depictions of black people. The request was denied. In what was apparently a spontaneous moment of outrage during a subsequent march on City Hall, Waller tore the canvas down in 1966 and was jailed for more than two years on felony larceny charges. The wall has remained vacant ever since.
 
The call for public art is open to professional and student artists internationally; support on finding a mentor is available for those whose experience is more limited. Once selected, finalists will be asked to prepare a site-specific proposal, and will be paid $1,500 for their submissions at that time.
 
For specific details, please visit the City of St. Petersburg’s Cultural Affairs Department website.

Tampa marketing firm invites local artists to create murals

As part of its 30-year anniversary celebration, HCP Associates, a Tampa-based marketing firm, is launching an Art Mural Program that aims to engage local artists using its recently renovated Port Tampa Bay offices as a mural gallery while promoting the individual artists with an aggressive PR strategy. 

“We wanted something inside our newly designed space that was bigger than life and sparked thought and emotion for our clients, staff and friends,” says Eric Polins, HCP Senior Brand Strategist/Partner.

Polins says that art and artists are important to the firm. In addition to the “numerous” creative designers on staff, HCP has a collection of original art throughout the offices and works with a few dozen artists around the globe to create everything from original illustration to 3D animation for client projects. Polins has been a professional artist for over 25 years. 

“We hope this program helps each artist get a shot they deserve to have their work promoted heavily,” says Polins, noting that he feels the local arts community has “low support” especially for painters. “With all the wonderful things changing and growing, we feel this is our way of promoting artists that might not get a chance to get into a gallery or have their own show. We would love to see an ‘unknown’ artist emerge from the program through our grass roots connections and traditional public relations.”

The first Call to Artists is currently open and accepting samples for consideration through the HCP website. The winner will have their 10’ x 20’ wall mural on display from October 1, 2016 until year’s end. HCP covers supply costs, food and drink and provides a $250 stipend to each artist. The firm also promises to lend their expertise in the form of an aggressive PR strategy (valued at $2,500) for each artist to help them promote the work, including a launch party prior to each mural being unveiled. The finished mural and artist will be photographed and published in an online gallery. The firm hopes to eventually produce enough content to create a coffee table book.

HCP Associates plans to have three murals per year on different subject matter. First up? “Election,” of course.

Theatre festival brings workshops, actors to Tampa

This Labor Day weekend, the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival is hosting a packed schedule of intensive workshops for thespians, and 35 live performances of original plays and monologues for theatre-lovers and newcomers alike.  

Costs are kept intentionally low -- $10 per workshop, $5-$20 for plays -- to encourage broad participation and accessibility.  In fact, the master class by NBC’s hit TV series The Blacklist star Harry Lennix is free of charge. Ticketing for all workshops and shows is required and seating is limited.  

Festival founder Rory Lawrence says the Festival aims to “to create a platform and embrace what we do, for people who love to see theater, who love acting and who love seeing original plays and for networking.”  

He is also committed to supporting diversity in this realm. 

“I just feel people have to come together no matter what walk of life they come from: black, white, gay, straight, atheist, Christian. … Theater can bring you together. Everybody likes to laugh, everybody wants to come together,” he says. “We want to be all-inclusive, celebrate all cultures and see we can all have a great time.”

Lawrence brought in Lennix for the first time last year -- quite a coup for such a new festival: This will be its third year. Lennix’s master class was so spirited that no one was ready to leave the HCC Mainstage at the scheduled conclusion. A play was to take place in the theater, so the whole class picked up and relocated to another venue and continued for another two hours! 

Lennix, also a Broadway actor, was impressed with the event and told Lawrence that it ignited his passion for theatre, and that he was thrilled with the receptiveness of the Tampa participants and what Lawrence was trying to achieve. So much so that he offered to come back on his own dime.  

“Harry is all about the craft,” says Lawrence, who stays in touch with Lennix. 

From improv to musical theatre, there are sessions headed by other top-notch professionals throughout the weekend, including Jayne Trinette, Elaine Pechacek, Patrick McInnis and Erica Sutherlin. Simultaneously there are several original short- and long-form plays competing for best-in-show, with writer/directors coming in from as far away as Alaska. 

Lawrence’s own troupe, RQL Productions, performs opening night, Friday Sept. 2, 2016 at the Jaeb Theare at the Straz with his original comedy, Between Calls, followed by a lively networking party, also at the Straz.   

He notes that beyond the fun and joy of the event, networking works. Last year two attendees were noticed at the festival and subsequently cast in major productions. Alexa McGrory was cast in Soccer Moms and Danielle Harris in a Hollywood movie, not yet released called Revival, written by Lennix. Harris has since moved to Los Angeles. 

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 Michael’s 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.
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