What does Tampa do well regarding the arts scene here? How can we grow the arts in the Tampa Bay area? What do artists need to live and thrive here? These are all questions that the newly formed Tampa Arts Alliance
, a nonprofit established in 2021 that will be working to advocate for arts excellence in Tampa, are hoping to ask and have answers from local artists and art supporters in their 5-part series of virtual (and maybe one in-person) Townhall Meetings.
“Tampa has a lot of rich assets that people don’t know about. The purpose of these meetings is to help uncover what Tampa has that people don’t know about, then amplify that. We want to hear from the community what should or could be done to help grow the art scene here,” says Tampa City Councilman Bill Carlson, President of Tucker/Hall, and one of the Board of Directors of the Tampa Arts Alliance. “The Townhalls are set up as an open mic instead of seminar-style because we want people to talk and interact. The benefit of this is that people can meet each other. We hope to just be a gathering place to bring resources and information together to help people connect and grow the arts faster.”
Ideally, Tampa Arts Alliance had wished to host these Townhalls in-person so that City Council members could hear directly from their constituents, with each of the five meetings held and focusing on different parts of the city: South Tampa, West Tampa, North Tampa, East Tampa, and Downtown/Ybor City. While two of the townhalls have already happened, the next Zoom event will be held Wednesday, Sept. 29, highlighting North Tampa. The last two events of the series will be on Oct. 6 (East Tampa, virtual), and Oct. 13 (Downtown/Ybor City, in-person at the Rialto Theatre
on North Franklin Street).
During the first meeting held on Sept. 1 facilitated by both Carlson and Neil Gobioff of the Gobioff Foundation, around 45 participants of mostly visual artists, along with performing, literary, and other artists were able to speak up about what they wanted to see happen with the arts in South Tampa. Carlson and Gobioff challenged participants to think big ideas for the future to help grow the arts. What are missed opportunities to work on? How can the Tampa Arts Alliance fill in the gaps for art community needs? How can they help artists be able to make a living from their art?
“The conversations are a little bit organic, we have a pool of questions put together as prompts, but we want to try to be positive with ideas and solutions. We also want to give space for people to share what they are working on like with their website or contact info or to share events coming up,” says Gobioff, Chair of the Tampa Arts Alliance and Chair of the Steering Committee for Arts Tampa Initiative.
Artist Jensen Taylor suggested closing Bayshore once a month on Sundays for artist markets. Clay Hollenkamp called out the need for more affordable venue space available for artists to rent and set up exhibitions without having to be sponsored to make it happen. Musician Michael Standard offered the idea of more cross-collaborations between and among artistic disciplines, suggesting the opportunity for audio installations or sonic equivalents of art installation for visual art events. He said he believes that composers would be interested in doing that, but they don’t get asked to do so enough. Other ideas were to create a local art directory of all arts spaces and organizations, more affordable housing, and membership discounts for artists at local art museums.
By listening to artists’ needs, the Tampa Arts Alliance hopes to pull from these conversations to help formulate their strategic plan. The humanities and arts are central to creating a vibrant community and is an under-appreciated yet important industry that adds a lot of value and money to the economy. Carlson mentioned how in the tech community, their best and brightest programmers are usually into the arts, and if a city doesn’t have a vibrant arts community, tech companies can’t hire those types of creative people.
“Arts as an economic engine is really an important concept. It helps us check a box when people from companies want to move to our area. Art is also an industry, and we know it directly impacts innovation and tech community because those kinds of people want to interact with arts,” Carlson says. “Looking back at the first meeting, it shows there is great passion for the arts. There are high quality art activities and products in Tampa, and there is interest in collaborative efforts. Building the arts isn’t going to be owned by one person, its owned by the community. The more we can connect the dots, we’ll really do amazing things.”
To learn more and to register for the free Townhall Meetings, visit the Tampa Arts Alliance website.