In Ybor City, a monthly meet-up to talk all things arts

Roughly a year-and-a-half ago, an informal chat grew into monthly anyone-can-attend meetings about the arts in Ybor City. So far, those monthly meetings of what's now known as the Ybor City Ad Hoc Arts Group have produced three tours of Ybor's reenergized arts scene. 

At the meeting in late April, about a dozen people sit under indirect light in a circle of chairs at the refurbished Ybor Kress Building on Seventh Avenue, which is now a collection of artist studios, galleries, performance and meeting spaces. They talk about the Ybor City Arts Tour, which expanded in April to a twice-a-year event. The inaugural spring tour was April 18th. Just shy of a week later, the ad hoc group gathered at their regularly scheduled meeting time- 8 a.m. on the last Wednesday of the month. 

Photo by Diane Egner.The Ybor City Ad Hoc Arts Group meets monthly at the Ybor Kress Building to share information and ideas.This day, the group includes a photographer; a fine artist; an actor; an arts board member; an art administrator; a tattoo studio owner; a representative of Tampa City Council Member Alan Clendenin; Tampa City Council Member Bill Carlson, president of Tucker/Hall public relations firm; and Amanda Poss, director of the Hillsborough Community College art galleries. Carlson and Poss founded the group.

“Typically we have 50 or 70 people,’’ Carlson says, explaining that he was traveling and was late sending the notice out for the April 24 meeting.

The group grew out of a coffee conversation, he says.

“My company, Tucker/Hall, is right down the street, and we wanted to get involved in the arts scene in Ybor,” Carlson recalls. “Amanda and I got together for coffee a year and a half ago and we said, why don’t we invite other people?’’

Collaborating and conversing

Making the meetings open to anyone breaks down barriers to access, Carlson says.

“The idea is just to share information, collaborate,” he says.

Poss says while social media platforms are great marketing tools, “I think there’s still a unique power to face-to-face, person-to-person interaction, so it’s an opportunity for us all to quickly say, ‘Hey, here’s this thing I’m working on.’ And all of a sudden that starts to spark conversation like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re working on something similar.’ And the hope is that it generates, if not direct collaboration, at least things like cross-promotion and fostering that stronger sense of community.’’

Poss believes this is “another one of those moments where the arts is emerging in Ybor City because we’re starting to build some density.’’

She notes that the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts has moved from downtown to the Kress Building and Tracy Midulla’s Tempus Projects moved to the Kress Building from Seminole Heights.

“And now we have a concentration of artist studios and independent galleries and film studios, and it’s really cool to see all these things within walking distance from one another,’’ she says. “And I think that’s attractive to people.’’

Poss kicks off the April meeting in the usual way, asking participants to introduce themselves and make any announcements they’d like to make.

Sharing info and ideas

Freelance photographer Chip Weiner tells the group that the first batch from approximately 100,000 photographs taken by a Tampa freelance photographer between the late 1950s and the early 2000s should be online sometime in May or June. The USF Libraries Digital Collection is in the process of digitizing George “Skip’’ Gandy’s photos. Many of the people pictured are unknown, says Weiner, so they’re working on a feedback feature that will let the public check out the pictures and contact the library if they can identify an unnamed person in the collection.

“So it’s going to be this group-think history gathering of the collection and I'm just as jazzed as I can be about it,’’ says Weiner.

Painter and print-maker Claire Fenlon May says she has submitted a work to the HCC’s first juried arts show for gallery members, which opens May 20. Larry Corwin, actor, producer and board member of the LAB Theater Project, talks about the company’s latest play, “Fly Away Home,” which runs from May 2 to May 19. Paul C. Carder, board member of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, tells the group that six once-a-week business workshops for artists start May 22nd. Poss discusses the upcoming show for HCC gallery members and notes that the 50th annual HCC Student Juried Art Exhibition ends May 2nd at the Ybor City campus.

In the general discussion, participants offer ideas on how to draw crowds to two Ybor City Arts Tours per year. Include bands, one suggests. And food, say others. They could rent multi-passenger golf carts to shuttle tour-goers to art outlets outside of walking distance, another person proposes. And make sure that maps of the tour are available at every venue and online, others stress.

A welcoming arts community

Fenlon May says she’s been coming to the meetings from the beginning. 
“I go to keep informed and also to network with other artists and to be part of the community,’’ she says. “I do live in Ybor.’’

It’s the third ad hoc arts meeting that James Langner has attended. He bought the Blue Devil tattoo shop in Ybor in December.

“I just basically came to try to get involved and to meet some of the people in the area,” he says. “It’s been great. All of these people have been super-nice, super-welcoming.’’

Since then, he’s participated in two art walk events organized by individual artists and galleries, not the ad hoc arts group. 

“We have a few art shows coming up with them because a lot of the guys (tattoo artists) do other forms of art, like painting, as well,” Langner says.

Antonio Permuy, art critic, curator and businessman, gets up early to drive to Ybor City from St. Petersburg to attend the meetings. He appreciates the openness of the meetings, how everyone is invited. 

“There’s no gate-keeping whatsoever,” Permuy says.

He describes the April gathering as a sleepier meeting than usual.

“But even in sleepier ones something always comes out of it,’’ he says. “Everybody’s engaged to some degree; everybody’s listening, getting ideas, and you always have these break-out things. There’s always a ripple effect. That’s what I love about this. That’s why I come from St. Pete to be here at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday.’’

For more information, go to Ybor City Ad Hoc Arts Group.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Philip Morgan.

Philip Morgan is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He is an award-winning reporter who has covered news in the Tampa Bay area for more than 50 years. Phil grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. He joined the Lakeland Ledger, where he covered police and city government. He spent 36 years as a reporter for the former Tampa Tribune. During his time at the Tribune, he covered welfare and courts and did investigative reporting before spending 30 years as a feature writer. He worked as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times for 12 years. He loves writing stories about interesting people, places and issues.