Shaping the local art scene: Amanda Poss at Hillsborough Community College2nd of 5 in a series about local curators

Artists play a key role in shaping communities and our choices about where we choose to live, work, play, and stay. But do we fully appreciate the role of the curators, the designers working behind the scenes to display artwork in local museums? Here is the second of five stories about local curators who demonstrate remarkable thoughtfulness, energy, and vision in how we view and react to what we see.
 
2nd in 5-part series.

While some people balk at the younger generations these days, sometimes it takes fresh, youthful eyes and perspective to really bring about change. Amanda Poss is doing just that at Hillsborough Community College, starting by reimagining what galleries can be.
 
“I’ve always looked at working in a gallery as this wonderful lab for experimentation,” says Amanda Poss, Director and Project Manager of the visual art galleries at HCC.
 
Since graduating from USF with her MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Poss has been carefully honing her approach to curation by working part-time curation gigs at Blake High School and helping as the gallery assistant at the Scarfone/Hartley Gallery at the University of Tampa before she was hired as the Gallery Director and curator at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus.

Though she inherited an exhibition schedule, she and her crew of gallery assistants played around with the frequency of exhibitions, and even were able to have some pop-ups and other events as in-between projects to garner more support of local art communities due to her ties with USF and young, emerging artists in the area. 
 
“For me, [my curation style] is very artist-driven. When we approach artists about working together for exhibitions, we come from the standpoint of collaboration and dialog. We allow artists to bring in new work and experiment, which is exciting. We work very directly with artists, letting them speak and amplifying that with our curatorial approach,” Poss says.
 
Over the past few years, her perspective has shifted to emphasize social issues by taking a unique approach to community-driven exhibitions that are adaptive and flexible to community needs, which are ever-changing.
 
“At the Dale Mabry Campus, one of the biggest challenges is that it wasn’t the ‘arts campus.’ Students are the first people we serve, and most of them weren’t taking classes in art and might not initially understand why arts can play a role in their future successes,” Poss explains. “Looking at artists who had an inclusive range of perspectives naturally led to getting into social issues and activism. Because our students include underserved populations, they are really passionate about these issues, so our exhibitions really trended in that direction.”
 
Students, faculty, and staff had long since articulated a strong desire for public art, but it never came to fruition. One of the projects Poss is most proud to have brought to HCC is the [email protected] initiative, which is the college’s public art program that started in 2018. While murals certainly are part of this program, the most recently completed NEST project takes art beyond formal gallery spaces, creating vital opportunities for community outreach, connections, and conversations.
 
Not only is NEST (which stands for Nourishment, Education, and Social Terraces) a community-developed green space with artist Tory Tepp leading the project, it targeted food insecurity, sustainability, and inclusion, all of which are leading issues within BIPOC communities. 
 
“We try to be one of those institutions that practices radical inclusivity. Our student body is so diverse, and I think one of the responsibilities I have is that art we’re bringing -- whether through exhibitions, the permanent collection, or public art -- reflects the diversity of our students or is mindful of the community it serves. When we’ve elevated the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, every instance is so appreciated by the community. If one of the college’s values is diversity than we need to demonstrate that whenever possible. I look forward when it’s not uncommon to see that,” Poss says.
 
Poss credits much of her success to her gallery team, including Emiliano Settecasi, Michael Murphy, and Alyssa Miller, but Dustin Lemke thinks that’s part of Poss’s power as an arts leader.
 
“One of the huge things that makes Poss successful is that she’s able to connect people better than anyone I know. She understands art, but also understands people. She has created these committees of people from faculty, administration, and people from the community,” says Lemke, Dean of the Associates in Arts Degree Programs at the HCC Dale Mabry Campus. “It’s not just because she’s a woman, but because she’s brilliant. When things seem like, ‘No one’s going to let us do that,’ she keeps pressing forward until people think it’s something that’s possible.”
 
Now that she oversees galleries for the college as a whole, Poss’s short-term goals are to bring the HCC Dale Mabry and Ybor City campuses together in a cohesive way, with a unified vision moving forward. Before Poss, the permanent collections at each campus were separate, but now they are part of one collection of over 120 pieces total. As far as long-term goals go, Poss plans on creating a new strategic plan, taking a boldly visionary approach to expand and better serve the community.
 
“The gallery before Amanda was confined by its walls. It was in a very specific location, but she helped explode those walls and brought many more art projects to the campus. Now the gallery is the whole campus,” Lemke says. “She helps make us look and see, changing how we view and interact with artwork by bringing art to where people are.”

To learn more about the arts programs, from exhibitions to public art, visit HCC Gallery 221 or follow Gallery 221 on Facebook.

To read about the other curators in this series, follow these links:

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”
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