Friday, December 28, 2012

Art Futures and Present: Tales of Two Cities.

It is that time again, where we throw knucklebones and yarrow stalks, squint into bowls of water and crystal balls, trying to make sense of the near past and future while the present inexorably slips through our hands. The prediction business is a thankless one, best artfully dodged while trying to cloak one's ramblings with the barely perceptible aura of wisdom both reflective and proactive.

Artist unknown

The proliferation of murals in St. Pete was one of the highlights of 2012. Nothing radical or exotic here. Other places, from sleepy Cortez, Florida to San Francisco recognized and capitalized culturally on the value and drawing power of the painted wall long ago, but finally, at least one town on one side of the Bay did. There were many painted walls before that, some legal murals, but mostly graffiti.

 As the Republican National Convention approached, both cities waged war on graffiti, covering up every piece they could find, (I documented as many as I could here. Google Art Taco Street Art) and engaging in ploys to catch the artists, which culminated in one ridiculous case that drew national attention in the paranoid, hysterical atmosphere generated by federal and local law enforcement at the time. At Art Basel some of the best street artists in the world converged on a yearly basis, drawing media and public attention, which local governments quickly learned to appreciate and adopt. Some of the St. Pete graffiti artists and muralists observed and/or participated in the works at Miami's Wynnwood district.

Chris Center at work in the WAD

In St. Pete, the trend started small, with landlords initially reluctant and the City far more resistant to the idea of murals. The legendary tug of war between the city and Dan Painter regarding the first Warehouse Arts District (WAD) mural, originally by Acud Akut and Chris Center ended up loosening the floodgates for the murals that followed.

Christian Thomas at work.

While everybody drops the big, well-known names like Tes One, BASK, Pale Horse etc., there are many others who deserve recognition for getting walls and painting them. Christian Thomas has probably painted the greatest number of murals in this wave. Other notables are Derek Donnelly, Sebastian Coolidge, Alan Hampton, Stoic, and several others, too numerous to list here, many with the generous consent of Gary, the property manager at the 600 block. Art Taco 2011 Arts Person of The Year Malcom Johnson prints and distributes a very complete list of the murals in one of his zines. Now even Tampa has started a series of murals in Ybor City. I believe there are six planned. Hopefully this trend will continue, with better funding for the artists. Several years ago I saw the alley between 7th and 6th Ave in Ybor as a potential Tampa version of Balmy or Clarion alleys, which are a tourist attraction full of murals in SF.

 The Warehouse Arts District (WAD) expanded during 2012, with Duncan McClellan Glass and Dan Painter drawing the lion's share of attention. Charlie Parker moved into the district this year. Duncan McClellan Glass added a new building, a large shop on the SW corner of the property with kilns added that will enable the production of blown glass and serve as part of the DMG School Program. Attendance is good on Second Saturdays, but the scene is still nascent, with a long way to go. Zen Glass, who recently added one kiln, are four or five blocks from DMG and Painter's Space. The question is whether the artists in the WAD can draw enough local traffic and web sales to survive.

During 2012, perhaps the unexpected brightest star in that firmament has been Jesse Vance's Venture Compound. Along with Brad Kokay and a literal handful of kamikazes, they have created a new niche in the WAD, one that is bringing excitement and an influx of new blood into the area to their small, progressive gallery space and powerhouse concerts, all on a shoestring budget. Most significantly, the Venture Compound recognizes the value of, and engages constantly in community building.

One does not have to be a Nostradamus to see what should be the next viable arts district in St. Pete. Central Ave. between say, around 20th to 28th St. The area has real foot traffic and borders on Kenwood. Craftsman House pioneered there. ARTpool moved in across from Haslam's and Nuance chose the area to open their St. Pete gallery. The St. Pete Opera did, too.

With a few notable exceptions, neither St Pete nor Tampa remotely measure up to most arts hotspots in terms of exhibits or art markets. Both are medium-sized, under-educated cities, unsurprisingly, with below national average household incomes. Great for emerging artists, but established ones need to market their work elsewhere. Some of the major gallerists, Mindy Solomon and Lori Johns (of C. Emerson Fine Arts) have been making successful inroads into art fairs.

Theo Wujcik, "John Cage"
Tampa has fewer art galleries than St. Pete. Tempus leads within an academic range, with Gallery 221 from HCC and the one in Ybor close behind with consistent quality shows out of proportion to their budgets and size. Clayton has its niche, Santaella and Hoffman Porges  are gaining momentum. Art in Tampa desperately needs more support, and not just from government, but from its people. There have been some good exhibits at the Creative Loafing Space, and David Audet's yearly guerrilla Cuban Sandwich Show was one of the highlights of 2012. The month-long cultural festival celebrates Tampa, its Art and history as no other does.

Jennifer Kosharek
In St. Pete, Jennifer Kosharek's Eve N Odd gallery continues to be a bright spot, consistently putting on very good shows in her tiny Crislip Arcade gallery, many from out of state, some international. Dysfunctional Grace has established a solid footprint in the community with its signature style. Derek Donnelly and his Saint Paint have not only evolved as a gallery from a vanity space into putting on shows, but it is the real-life social network hub/community center in the 600 block. On any given day one can find several talented artists there, as well as work being produced on site. The day Bill Correira AKA Woo died, it was Derek, Christian Thomas, Jennifer Kosharek and a few others who began the tribute mural.

What does 2013 hold in store for the arts? Will things be better or the arts? My 8-ball says "maybe". The future is in our hands. One resolution I recommend is to cross the Bay. It's not that far, gas has been worse, and there's a lot to see and experience on the not-so-distant shore. In 2012, the supporters of Ai Wei Wei used the phrase "Love The Future". This is a good saying to embrace. We care for the things and people we love.

--- Luis

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