Commentary: 7 ways for Tampa to support local artists and why it matters

We all love to visit and live in cities brimming with local art, but vibrant art communities don’t just appear -- they need to be cultivated, supported, and sustained.

Often the very artists who breathe beauty, culture, and life into our cities are among the first to be pushed out by rising costs -- a result of the value they helped to create. 

So if you love perusing galleries, snapping selfies in front of murals, enjoying live music, and being dazzled by live performance, here are seven ways you can support a thriving arts community in the Tampa Bay Area. 

1. Buy art 

Skip the mass-produced home décor and head to the many galleries around Tampa and the Bay Area to buy local art under the guidance of a professional curator. Buy from a non-profit gallery like Tempus Projects, and you support an artist and a non-profit arts organization all at once. 

For those on a limited budget, street fairs and markets tend to have a lower price point and you’ll likely have an opportunity to meet the artist. Search local event calendars to find one of the many art events happening weekly. 

Building a collector base that focuses on local talent is an essential pillar to the foundation of a sustainable arts scene. 

2. Encourage local government and businesses to buy art 

City and county governments and large and small businesses often have budgets for indoor and outdoor art as well as live entertainment. Elected leaders, business owners, employees, customers, and constituents alike have influence over the source of artwork and performances – be that influence

Look to the local creative community first, rather than big box stores or out of state. If you’re struggling to find the right artist, reach out to a local arts nonprofit for recommendations. 

3. Show up 

Follow 83 Degrees, Bay Art Files, Quaid Gallery, Parallelogram Gallery, Graphicstudio and other Tampa Bay Area creatives, galleries, nonprofits, venues, and event organizers on social media to keep an eye on upcoming events such as opening receptions, lectures, performances, and markets. Then, just show up. Purchasing tickets, buying ‘merch,’ and simply being present all help artists and bolster the resources that support them. 

4. Practice radical inclusivity 

It’s common for a few individuals to rise in the ranks and become the “go-to” artists in the region. While recognition is (usually!) earned, it’s important to look beyond the first few who to come to mind. Approach art-buying and artist support with a goal of equitable inclusion, prioritizing BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, early career, and other underrepresented artists. It’s not a competition -- rising tides raise all boats. A larger, more robust, and more diverse arts community benefits everyone. 

5. Volunteer 

As do most non-profit organizations, those in the arts rely heavily on volunteers. Reach out to see how you can serve on an active board or committee, or help out with a one-time program or event. Though volunteers shouldn’t expect anything in return, the reward of volunteering goes far beyond altruism -- you will build professional networks, make friends, add to your résumé, and probably have fun, too.
6. Donate 

Grantmakers and donors are absolutely vital to sustaining an arts community. City, county, and state grants; family foundations, such as the Gobioff Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation in Tampa; community foundations such as the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay; businesses’ charitable giving programs; and large and small private donors all provide the funding that keeps the doors open to arts nonprofits, and the lights on for local artists.
You can donate directly to one of the many arts non-profits in the Tampa Bay region by visiting their website, or reaching out to their Development staff to set up a business donation. Donations to 501c3 organizations are tax deductible. 

7. Support for-profit ventures 

Investing in, and frequenting for-profit ventures that support the arts and artists is another way to build a long-term foundation for the arts in the community. For example, Tampa-based LiveWork Studios hires artists to create unique commercial and residential interiors, and Labyrinth Studios in Seminole Heights hosts artist-taught classes and sells artwork in a retail shop.
Two new attractions, Crab Devil’s The Peninsularium in Tampa and Fairgrounds in St. Pete, will be opening soon. Both engage local artists to design unique installations that will attract ticketed visitors far and wide. These businesses not only provide income, but also give artists experience producing large-scale projects that they can leverage to win future commissions. 

Keeping our growing arts community in mind is imperative, and should become common practice for everyone who values the diversity of arts and culture in our city. We can all contribute in small and BIG ways to build a more impactful and dynamic Tampa Bay. 

Tracy Midulla, an arts instructor at Hillsborough Community College, is the Founder and Creative Director of Tempus Projects, a community-focused incubator of ideas to promote artists working in all media. Located in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, Tempus Projects has contributed greatly to the district’s emergence as a unique and creative local destination and was awarded Creative Loafing’s Best Alternative Art Space “Best of the Bay” award in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Tracy received a B.F.A. in Printmaking and Sculpture from The Atlanta College of Art and a M.F.A. from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Related stories: Arts Focus Area in 83 Degrees.

Midulla appearance at Cafe con Tampa: Teaching Tampa to Fish, June 4, 2021

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