Placemaking grant goes to Gallery 221 at HCCYou are invited to help design the NEST Project

To encourage creative placemaking projects, the Gobioff Foundation instigated the Treasure Tampa (T²) Grant to encourage creative projects and cross-sector collaborations in the Tampa Bay Area. For the 2020 grant cycle, Hillsborough Community College’s Gallery 221 has been awarded $30,000 for their project “Nourishment, Education, and Social Terraces,” otherwise known as the NEST Project.

Collaborating with Tory Tepp -- a public/social practice artist who also works with land art, urban agriculture, and experimental music-making -- Gallery 221 will be creating educational socially-activated green spaces that touch on issues of food insecurity, sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. This project is led under HCC’s Grounds4Art, a new public art initiative introduced in 2018 to bring creative projects and student collaborations to the both the college’s Ybor and Dale Mabry campuses.

Because this multi-campus project is a mix between land art and social spaces, Gallery 221 and Tepp have decided to host a series of virtual discussions on various topics like urban gardening and sustainability, designing public spaces, and inclusivity in public art. While they will be led by Amanda Poss, the director of Gallery 221, and Tepp, the main goal of these conversations is to gather community input to help guide what direction the NEST Project will take.

“I definitely think NEST is a great fit for Treasure Tampa’s goals. Something that really stands out to us is their desire to engage the community, and have them be involved in the project from inception to completion. They really have planned out a lot of opportunities for the community to provide feedback and be involved in the process,” says Gianna Rendina-Gobioff of the Gobioff Foundation.

Though Tepp isn’t a local artist, he has connections with the Tampa area. For instance, he was a part of USF’s the Music Box Project in Sulphur Springs back in 2016 and was recently a resident artist at the Art & History Museums in Maitland. 

“After HCC completed the first Grounds4Art collaborative mural with Michael Parker, Emiliano Settecasi (Gallery 221’s Assistant Technician), and I were looking around campus to envision where the next public art project would go, thinking maybe it would be a sculpture or something functional. When the college established a food security project, we were really inspired by that and wanted to do something that was larger scale but connected to the land to talk about food and nourishment while sponsoring pride, interaction, and engagement,” Poss says. “When asking around for an artist who does something like this, Tepp’s name came up over and over again.”

At the end of August, Tepp visited the campus to look over the preselected locations that were identified as the spaces best suited for a project of this scope that needed revitalization. Because these creative spaces are activated by programming, the first virtual discussion will kick off on Sept. 16 with a studio chat with Tepp while he is a resident artist at the Worm Farm Institute in Wisconsin. The discussion “Urban Gardening & Sustainability” will be Oct. 1; “Designing Public Spaces” on Oct. 15; “Inclusivity in Public Art” on Oct. 28; and “Root Camp” on Nov. 12. Check Eventbrite for tickets to all or visit Gallery 221 online or in social media.

“One of the interesting developments about this project is that we had some plans in mind but with COVID, we had to change some of the initial ideas regarding programming. That has become considerably more challenging. We had to rethink some mobile constructions that would have taken to the campus to provide a social gathering place for students where we would have some directives that could engage them with thoughts about the space and what they want to see. The gathering turns it into a game-like structure to spend time with each other and consider these topics,” Tepp says, “With COVID, programming with large gatherings in social spaces don’t make sense. As much fun as it would be to figure out, we decided to transfer to virtual to figure out what the community’s needs are.”

While the introductory programming is going on this fall, it’s all to ramp up for the main event starting in January. Tempus Projects will be hosting Tepp’s artist residency in the spring while the NEST project unfolds. Their goal is to have the project finished with an unveiling in early April as an end-of-semester surprise before students start their final exams. 

“For me, a ‘nourishment’ part of it, the title NEST, is close to our hearts. Food insecurity is a much bigger issue than I knew before campus food pantries were established. The closer connection to the land gives a jumping point for this conversation. The partnership we have with Feeding Tampa Bay is crucial and we’ll have food pantries at both sites for students, faculty, and staff as part of the social activation of these spaces. We want to add cooking demonstrations so people can see what they can do with those free food items; I’m really excited about that,” Poss says.

Whether being as a theatre, for exercise, or even for meditation, it’s clear that NEST will be available for various forms of interaction. But the question arises: What about maintenance?

“Ideally, it would be nice to maintain enough low-level programming with other parts of the project so the campus will still interact with these spaces and keep up with maintenance. I’m trying to find a way for this project to require the least amount of maintenance possible from using native plants, incorporating rain gardens with rainwater runoff, and not wasting nearby resources. Ultimately, the most important thing is that these spaces are continually used and give back to the community, and through that process, the space becomes alive, viable, and vibrant,” Tepp says.

Though coming together in social spaces isn’t what many would expect to be doing during times of social distancing, the project reminds us that this too will pass and we need to reconnect in physical spaces.

“I think that it’s important to maintain some modicum of interaction with materials and each other. It’s important to always provide the opportunity to create a space where humans can just get together in one space,” Tepp explains. “For those of us who are left in the aftermath of COVID, we are going to need more than just a pixelated space to stare into, a space for real human interaction.”

To find out more about this project, visit Gallery 221 online or follow the gallery on Facebook.
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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.”