Reuben & Hunter: Creative Duo Exude Energy, Ideas

Reuben Pressman and Hunter Payne want you to know that they're staying.

In St. Petersburg, that is.

Last April, the creative partners and best friends were catapulted into local fame when their proposal to create Swings Tampa Bay won the 10-100-1000 Challenge -- a competition co-sponsored by Creative Tampa Bay and Creative Loafing designed to solicit ideas for projects that could make Tampa Bay a better place.

With their $1,000 award, Pressman, 22, and Payne, 21, launched Swings, a public art and community building endeavor with a simple premise: by placing hand-painted swings (each comprised of a flat, wood seat decorated as an artwork and hung between two ropes) in unexpected locations, they would inject a sense of play into the city’s landscape, getting people to "think differently,'' Pressman says.

With Swings continuing to grow, and possibly expanding to other cities this year, the artist-entrepreneurs have embarked on a host of new projects, including a video and web campaign called "I'm Staying!,'' a project designed to inspire recent college grads to embrace the 'Burg as a place to live, work and, well, stay -- as they have.

Last week I met up with Pressman and Payne at Kahwa Cafe in St. Petersburg to find out more. No sooner had we sat down than Peter Kageyama, a 10-100-1000 Challenge judge (the first to champion Swings) and author of "For the Love of Cities,'' strolled by and offered his endorsement of the duo.  
"I love what they're doing, but I can't wait to see what they're doing next because I think Swings is just the beginning of what these guys are going to do in this community and maybe for the state, and maybe for the world,'' Kageyama says.

How They Got Where They Are

Pressman and Payne became best friends as students at East Lake High School in Tampa, where they started their first business together: a line of clothing inspired by skateboard culture that they sold out of the back of a truck and, eventually, at skateshops statewide.

Both went on to study at USF St. Petersburg, where in December Pressman became the first graduate of the College of Business's entrepreneurship program; Payne studied graphic design for three years before leaving in October.

Now they work collaboratively as graphic designers and web developers for clients including Muzimé, a Tampa-based music sharing start-up, under the moniker Reuben & Hunter, LLC.

"That whole [first] experience with Reuben didn't feel like work and since then it hasn’t,'' Payne says. "It just flows.''

What Swings has accomplished so far: Community members have painted some 1,028 swings for the project, and Pressman and Payne have hung 114 swings on both sides of Tampa Bay. (If you've never seen one in situ, it may be because the average swing is only up for about 24 hours before someone removes it.)

"I think the biggest thing is that we have 1,000 original pieces of art from people who aren't even involved with the arts from Tampa Bay,'' Payne says. "Just to provide that experience, to have the memory of it, to distribute it.''

Swings Holland (independently run by a Dutch artist) is underway, and individuals in Gainesville and New York have contacted Pressman and Payne about starting programs in those cities. Pressman hopes to be able to provide $1,000 seed grants to Swings offshoots.  

What's Next?

Pressman and Payne have made "pay it forward'' their mantra. To wit, they're working with Creative Tampa Bay to attract applicants to the next round of the 10-100-1000 Challenge and help them workshop their ideas. And they're collaborating with Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of the Studio@620, the multidisciplinary arts space in downtown St. Pete, on a series of projects.

"I'm Staying!'' is envisioned as an irreverent video campaign extolling the virtues of life in the 'Burg, along with a website where residents can make pledges to stay and get connected with others, and a twice-yearly meet-up where "starterships'' of $5,000 are awarded to budding artists and entrepreneurs. The goal is to create a public display of young residents declaring their commitment to St. Pete.

"What we found is that a lot of the reason people are leaving is that they don't think others are going to stay,'' Pressman says.

Meanwhile, the Studio@620 will be the site of two visual art exhibitions organized by Payne. The first, called "Let's Draw Underwater!'' (open through Feb. 17), showcases 200 drawings he made last year during a trip to the Florida Keys -- with Pressman, natch. Payne funded the excursion by raising $1,300 on, the online fundraising platform, in three days. The other exhibit, scheduled for March, features computer animations.

Why microgranting works: Having been boosted by small grants themselves, Pressman and Payne are enthusiastic advocates of microgranting.

The concept took off last year in Tampa Bay when several $500-$1,000 prize idea competitions emerged: the 10/100/1000 Challenge, Feast, Think Small To Think Big and Awesome Tampa Bay.

In the long term, Pressman -- who also won $2,000 in November at Gazelle Lab’s Demo Day, a start-up pitch competition for students -- hopes to start a microgranting program in St. Pete.

A Little Bit Goes A Long Way

"Creativity loves constraint,'' he says. "The more money you have, the less creative you have to be and the less ideas you need to come up with. I think a thousand [dollars] keeps you hungry enough to figure it out while having money to supplement what you’re doing.''

What St. Pete needs to succeed: Both Pressman and Payne say that St. Pete, for the most part, already has everything a person could want. (After all, they’re staying!)

"I think we have the assets. We have the people,'' Pressman says. "I think we just need to get those people together and give them the empowerment they might need to make it happen.''

With empowerment -- whether in the form of a microgrant, an invitation to exhibit art, a networking group, or a co-working space -- Pressman and Payne agree, anyone can do what they’ve done; everybody has great ideas.

"He should be able to walk up to everyone and say that,'' Pressman says of Kageyama's praise.

Megan Voeller of Tampa is an independent writer who also writes about art as visual art critic for Creative Loafing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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