UT Ferman Center for the Arts: A new artistic hub emerges in Tampa

Tampa residents are lucky enough to have a multitude of arts offerings at downtown venues like the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Museum of Art. But less of them know about the arts offerings on the west side of the Hillsborough River, immediately across from the downtown core.
The University of Tampa is well known for its distinctive minarets that grace the city skyline. Most folks, however, may not know about the plethora of art exhibitions, theatrical offerings, concerts and other cultural events that are free, open to the public and routinely held on the picturesque campus bordered by Kennedy Boulevard and the river, just a stone’s throw from the crowded streets of downtown.

For the determined arts enthusiast, UT has a bottomless bag of options to choose from at its newest campus building dedicated to the arts, the Ferman Center for the Arts, 214 North Boulevard.
Opened in April 2021, the four-story 90,000 square-foot facility features a 200-seat theater and other performance spaces, sculpture studios, art galleries, dance studio, rehearsal spaces, music practice rooms, computer lab and a state-of-the-art recording studio. Students, faculty and visiting artists such as upcoming performers Amernet String Quartet (January 22nd), The Hip Pocket Jazz Quartet (January 23rd) and the Lysander Piano Trio (March 17th) converge on the center to create.
When UT President Ron Vaughn took the helm of the university in 1995, he inherited a campus of aging buildings being used outside of their original purpose.

“The arts programs were held in the old State Fairground buildings,” Vaughn says. “UT had four or five hand-me-down buildings. Their average age was fifty years. Not one of these buildings was built for arts programs. I was faced with transforming UT in many respects. For the arts, that meant building an entirely new facility, a top-notch one.”
He turned to the Ferman family, a prominent Tampa family that has quietly and consistently supported the arts in Tampa for many years. They provided the lead gift to build the state-of-the-art center that bears their name. There was also substantial support from the Saunders Foundation, Jim and Liz MacLeod, Charlene and Mardy Gordon and others.
“For the last thirty-five years, the Ferman family has been providing financial support for the arts and letters programs at UT,” says Charlene Gordon. “In the past, the arts and letters programs were scattered all over the campus. Dancers were changing in hallways. Musicians had no lockers for their instruments.”Gordon, who is both a benefactor and a faculty member, also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Straz Center. The 200-seat theater in the Ferman Center is named for her.
“I think the students are proud of the building,” says David Gudelunas, dean of UT’s College of Arts and Letters. He is in charge of the learning and the excitement at the Ferman Center. 

“They are really engaged,” Gudelunas says. “It’s a very porous building with events, concerts and performances happening every night. And it’s free and open to the public.”
Gudelunas initially found Tampa “sleepy" when he moved here from San Francisco in 2017. Now, he sees the excitement and the student enrollment shooting up.

“There are so many different disciplines in the building,” he says. “Students meet in the hallways and have conversations. They come here and leave inspired.”

For more information on upcoming events at the Ferman Center for the Arts, go to UT Events.


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Read more articles by Joanne Milani.

Joanne Milani is a Tampa-based freelance writer and former art and theater critic for The Tampa Tribune. After leaving the Tribune, she served as the executive director of Tampa’s Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and remains a member of the International Art Critics Association (AICA). She graduated from Vassar and worked in New York museums before moving to Tampa.