Friday, August 31, 2012

RNC Diary, Part Three: Unintentional Art.

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Audrey Flack, "Veritas et Justitia"

Lady Justice stands ten feet tall, and to put it impolitely, she weighs a ton. A sculpture by Audrey Flack, titled "Veritas et Justitia" (Truth and Justice"  atop a pedestal in front of our 13th Judicial Courthouse. Made of gilded bronze, and in a skimpy, sheer outfit that would probably get her arrested anywhere in downtown Tampa, she greets every visitor and employee reminding them of what goes on inside the building. Note there are no scales in her hands, she is the living embodiment of the scale & weighs things freehand. She wears a very see-through looking veil, too. With the 15,000 protesters predicted, fearing they would strive to somehow overcome the 4,000 policemen on the streets, the 8 ft. tall fence, and the guys with the M-16s standing inside and harm Lady Justice, the City unintentionally created a meaningful installation.

City of Tampa, "Justice Protected"

They made an XXXL wooden box (or coffin) for Justice to defend her from those who would not attack her, a perfect metaphor for the militarization and fencing in of the City. Maybe a little ham-fisted in concept, the irony here is hard to miss. To the City's credit, they thoughtfully made Ms. Justice's coffin two-toned. Beautiful. Maybe small bronze replicas could be sold at the City Gift Shop in the Museum near the real Convention Center.

When I took the photograph at left through a break between two sections of fencing (after waiting for the armed guards to walk by on patrol), maybe it was the tension, heat and humidity, but I could have sworn I heard muffled cries from inside the box.

--- Luis

RNC Convention Diary Part Two: Missing Masses

Monday, August 27th, 11:15 AM. 

Sitting on the steps of the Sam Rampello School in a faint drizzle. The wind picked up, and light rain followed. Behind, in the courtyard of the school, scores of police are amassing. On the way to the school, I noted there were others hiding in the walled-in block of the downtown power station. A young couple is under the eave at the school, monitoring the progress of the parade on Tweeter via iPad. Great pictures are coming in, of people getting media attention while giving speeches. Strangely, the crowd in the pictures seem too small. Maybe it's the lack of wide-angle lenses for iPhones. Rain diminishes, then stops. We are told the route is different from that published on the Tampa website (?) and we move. It is still drizzling, and spectators line up on the sidewalk below awnings.

There are astonishing amounts of police everywhere one looks, on foot, bicycles, in the back of pick-up trucks, golf carts, etc. Policemen act confident, if not somewhat bored, yet very friendly.  New khaki uniforms do make them look more benign, but they still look like an occupation army. MRAPs, armored vehicles of the same kind used in Iraq, can be seen. Courthouse buildings are guarded by troops carrying M-16 rifles behind eight-foot tall steel mesh barriers. Would they have machine-gunned people down if they had perceived a threat to the building?


The official, predicted numbers of protesters shifted over time. It started with a few thousand, and ended  up at fifteen thousand. Ominous sounding names like "Anarchists" and "Black Bloc" were bandied about so often that South Tampa residents living miles from the Convention area were terrorized, with mental images of bandanna-masked hordes crossing the Hillsborough/Rubicon and wreaking havoc through places like Hyde Park and Bayshore Gardens. The perhaps coincidental result was to lower resistance to the militarization of downtown Tampa. It was the old "if we fight them there, we won't have to fight them here.". At best, this proved to be mass paranoia. The effect was for residents to unquestioningly line up behind the Mayor and TPD's plans.

Blocks away, a fluttering, thin, fuzzy line of protesters materialized behind the usual motorcycle cop procession, sirens wailing. The crowd is energized, singing slogans, carrying banners for different causes. This was the Coalition March on the RNC, a conglomerate of various groups as an opening salvo of protest on the first day of the RNC Convention. Although spread out, it is obvious police outnumber protesters, apparently at around 2:1, maybe more. Have protesters separated along the parade route?

No. Police estimates initially put this march at 400-500 in number, but it was closer to 300 according to later estimates. They march on, turn and file in to the designated protest area, supposedly, according to the law, in sight and earshot of the Convention Center. It isn't. They may as well be in Arizona. The rocky empty lot is a favorite of homeless men, precisely because it is out of sight.

Media Truck

"We will not be caged!", became the chant of the protesters, many of whom seemed nervous. at the thought of being herded into a trap-like space. On a small stage, speakers talked about various issues.

Spontaneously, about 100+ marchers began going back on the parade route. Police lines formed in front of  and behind them, but no efforts were made to stop the flow. As they paralleled the Fort Brooke parking garage, a few dozen broke in a run perpendicular to the street, reportedly trying to get at the water provided by the Salvation Army.. Police reacted smoothly, racing in on their bikes, forming a barrier between the black-clad leading protesters and Florida Avenue. A few words were exchanged, and the breakout ended peacefully. The water was allowed. The crowd dispersed.

This was the largest single demonstration of the Convention. Assume half of them slept late and didn't show. Where were the other 14,000 protesters predicted? Police blamed it on the fifteen to thirty, depending on who you spoke with, buses that cancelled when hurricane Isaac was forecast to hit the area a couple of days ago. The math doesn't add up. Let us take the higher number, thirty buses. At full capacity, they can transport 110 passengers each. Times thirty, that would account for 3,300 missing protesters, still leaving 11,700 unaccounted for.

How could TPD/DHS/FBI?SS intelligence overestimate the numbers by four-plus, (if not ten) times? Mayor Buckhorn already patted himself on the back by saying that this Convention -- and the decisions he and other officials made -- will be held up as an ideal in the future. A group of lawyers naively or kindly called it "a waste of resources".    

Something does not add up. Authorities are pleased with the lack of arrests (3) and general peaceful mature of the protests, but the intelligence was at best, deeply flawed. Fifty million taxpayer dollars spent on an oppressive amount of police and gear that enriched police contractors based on these estimates at the expense of Tampa's image.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

This Lawless Weekend, August 31-Sept 2

Things will be settling down this weekend. The RNC circus tents are coming down and the carnies, hucksters, performers etc. are moving on. Maybe the fences and barriers will start coming down in the "City Without Walls".

Gecko Fest @ Gulfport - It is almost a fairy-tale location. The Florida of our dreams exists, and it owns this weekend. Gulfport is the way Florida used to be, with beach cottages, laid-back beach bars and no condos. That's correct: No condos.. This weekend it celebrates life there and the Geckos that run wild through it.  
The parade stages at the Casino and begins at 6:00 PM.
At 6:30, the costume contest.
8:00 PM Street Dance with the Urban Gypsies.
Saturday, Sept 1.

Common Sense at West Tampa Center for the Arts extended - I got this from WTCA...

"Due to overwhelming demand, Common Sense has been extended and will culminate with a Closing Reception from 6 - 10 PM on Saturday, September 8th

Public visiting hours:

Tuesday - Thursday (September 4-6) 3 PM - 8 PM
Saturday (September 8th) 10 AM - 1 PM and 6 PM - 10 PM"

I've seen the show, am in the process of reviewing it, and can recommend it.

Portraits of Power @ Florida Museum of Phtographic Arts - Photographer Platon's quick portraits of world leaders at a UN meeting three years ago are unusual and powerful. All at FMoPA, 400 N. Ashley Drive. through Nov 11th. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM  - 5 PM. Admission $10.00. 

Cary Leibowitz on Warhol at Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) USF - Talk is 6-7, the show at 7-9 PM on Friday, Aug 31. 3821 Holly Dr. on USF campus. Free, parking is $5.

Three as One @ Bamboozle - Tm Gibbons, Debra Radke and Marty Kledzik exhibit at 516 N. Tampa St. Tampa. Opens 6-9 PM Tuesday, Sept 4th.

St. Pete Indie Market - Art, crafts, music and more. Saturday, Sept 1st. On the sidewalks of the 600 block of Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. 12 noon to 6 PM.

Taking Place: Drawings by Josette Urso @ Gallery 221 @ HCC Dale Mabry - Drawings and watercolors. Open through  Sept 27th.

Artist's Talk & Presentation, Wed. Sept 5th, 3:00-4:00 PM.
Sept 27th.

Artist's talk and presentation: Wed. Sept 5th, 3:00-4:00PM, Classroom L-106. Free admission.

Closing Reception, CL/Tempus Elephant in the Room - A very good show closes tonight. Make time to see this and take in (or participate) in the collage at the back left corner of the room. In Ybor Square, in the CL SPace, on the floor above the Spaghetti Warehouse. 1911 N. 13th St. Ybor, Suite W200. Free admission.

Post! @ Cafe Hey - This cafe was as close as one got to freedom near the Convention Militarized Zone. The kindness of the owner and workers will long be remembered. They added a protester meal to their menu, a huge bowl of rice and black beans, complete with a chunk of Cuban bread and a coffee to wash it down, for $3.95. Enough food for three people. Bless their kind and generous hearts. Hey also has a great exhibit of political posters -- including many from other countries. 1540 N. Franklin St.

Morean Arts Center, Members' Show and Marjorie-Dean Andruk, "Metamorphosis" -  Marjorie was a beloved artist and teacher at the Morean for many years. Her footprint in the local arts scene was considerable and her influence continue to this day. Opens Friday, August 31st, 5:30 - 8 PM. Free admission.



UFO Sighted over RNC Convention Center in Tampa

A gigantic, Cuban Sandwich-shaped UFO mothership was sighted floating over the RNC Convention Center on Channel Drive yesterday. As out-of-state conventioneers ran for their limos, cowered in the Forum building, screaming at police and Secret Service to launch the Patriot Missiles, thinking it was a sign of the Apocalypse.

 Many suited white men fell to their knees, bawling like babies, begging God to spare them, vowing to never again set foot in a strip club. Locals stood mute, mouths agape, staring at the heavens, drooling, as this titanic, 200 ft long icon silently floated overhead. Some said it was the Spirit of the Ancestors serving notice. Or perhaps a form of intergalactic protest. Others thought it was a remnant from the Cuban Sandwich Show, the Cosmic Cuban Sandwich, long rumored to exist, and prayed for it to land. Suddenly, it accelerated up, and was gone. There was radar confirmation from McDill AFB, who said the craft headed towards Ybor City at over 4,000 mph, almost arriving before it left.  It was obviously under intelligent control. This ineffable mystery is the highlight of this 2012 RNC Convention. I managed to get one good picture for Art Taco readers. All the others were fuzzy.

Copyright 2012  Art Taco. All rights reserved.

--- Luis

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

RNC Convention Diary Part One: Invisible City

Saturday, August 25th, 10:00 AM, King Corona Cafe/Cigar Bar, Ybor City:

Waiting at King Corona.

It was a little cooler than it should have been. Hurricane Isaac was getting closer, sucking all the heat it could off the water to power itself, creating the gradient we were feeling. A few journalists were hanging around the tables outside the cafe, some with two large cameras dangling on either side, others with iPhones on monopods, tweeting in real time.

The Van
 One was a documentarian wearing a dashing orange scarf speaking with a beautiful British accent.. In an effort to reactivate consciousness, I downed an unusually good cafe con leche before the van for our Keepin it Real Tour showed up. Kelly Benjamin, local community builder and activist arrived and spoke with us briefly, before we packed into the Tour vehicle. It was a white15-passenger van, the kind small churches use to transport believers or hotels use to pick up tourists at the airport.

[Megatrends, a popular book published in 1988 and written by John Naisbitt predicted Tampa as "America's Next Great City", a phrase the city unfortunately adopted as its mantra. As we would find out, this prediction did not come true -- at many levels.]

Connie Burton (center)
Life Malcolm Turner (r.)
We met our two Tour Guides: Connie Burton and Life Malcolm Turner. They took turns providing economic, political and historical narratives to go with the urbanscapes we cruised through and spots we stopped at. This began immediately, while we sere still on La Setima (7th Ave) in Ybor, with ex-mayor Greco's epic failure, Centro Ybor, which went bankrupt and is on its 2nd incarnation. Ms. Burton explained how the funding came from taxes from small businesses and the project ended up driving them out. Taxpayers were left holding the bag.

Journalist in the van

This sleight of hand, followed by displacing those living and doing business, was a repeating story as the tour threaded through various blighted neighborhoods around Tampa. While these areas were left untouched as they sink further into poverty, somehow Tampa managed to find $34 million to spruce up for the RNC Convention, plus $48 million more for security from a state grant. Needless to say, nothing trickled down to any of the places we went.Tampa's lack of urban awareness and concerns for its quality of life are hardly a well-kept secret.

Inside the van, hearing the guides was often difficult. The riders quietly traded shop talk and got to know a little about each other while trying various meditative techniques to stay cool.

We went into Ybor Heights and College Hill. Paradoxically, while car ownership is very low, there's little traffic to be seen. These places eerily look like ghost towns. The nexus created by people being forced into an underground economy (crime) and the ensuing police attention is one source of great human misery in these neighborhoods. A large number of black men are or have been incarcerated. Turner speaks over and over about "over policing", and there's  what seems like a major and somewhat oppressive police presence.

Mural at Police Station depicting the past.

It wasn't an illusion. When we stopped at the police station on 22nd st, one we were told was built with community funds, we were shown murals that had been commissioned to a "Negro from out of town". About 75 feet away, as if on cue, a police cruiser pulled and watched our every move. One of the last panels of the mural ironically depicts a vibrant, idyllic community. Someone asked if this depicted the past or a hopeful future. "The past" was the answer.

Life Malcolm Turner
We stopped at a faded shopping area, with a few people walking or cycling by, cameras clicking, hoovering up the boarded-up houses. People stared at us as if we were aliens poured out from a flying saucer. The Tour narrative was like a broken record.  The same story of diverted funds, broken families, people stripped of their autonomy, and the sad outcome. Burton and Turner were asked what could be done to fix this. There was a long pause. An infusion of money. Life Malcolm Turner is planning on addressing the autonomy issue by running for office.

The van rolls into West Tampa, past Joe Redner's park, stopping at Jeff Hilaire's Main Street Choice store. He's multi-tasking, a small businessman working on community building. Looking toward Howard Ave is a small park with benches where older men sit, talk and play games. Outside the store are benches, where younger men sit slumped as traffic goes by on Main St.

Jeff Hilaire (on left).

At Robles Park, a large green space and lake, young men congregate in the shade of a shelter. Ms. Burton informs us that the city wants $168/wk. for the local girls' teams to be allowed to play kickball, so the park remains empty, unused.

Sulfur Springs is what should be a beautiful neighborhood along the Hillsborough River. Jack Kerouac often stayed there in a friend's house on the river, sleeping in a loft. Now it is a square mile of boarded up houses, gang graffiti, people's belongings rotting at the curb, remnants of evictions. The van turns into street after street, making me a little dizzy. The per cap income here is $13k/yr. less than half of what it is for the rest of the city. I remember it during better days. Almost half of its population are kids under 18. One in ten of the girls will give birth before that age.

Ed, CSS Founder.
Sulfur Springs resident.
In the middle of this, we stop at Community Stepping Stones. I have reported on their projects here before. It is a non-profit that is doing a nearly impossible job of healing and instilling a sense of identity and confidence in the kids there. This I know from talking with them. Kelly Benjamin used to be involved with CSS.

At North Street & Branch Ave. a media event is going on. The front yard is peppered with media covering the the reclamation of a foreclosed house with the help of neighbors for a previously homeless couple, Vashon and Gladys Seabrooke. Activist/performance artist Vermin Supreme energetically mows the lawn, sweating profusely in the heat and humidity.

Vashon Seabrooke

Romneyville Security Chief
Our last stop is at Romneyville, a cluster of tents on leased land behind the Army-Navy Store downtown. A scene is unfolding between a squad of Tampa Police in their new Disneyesque khaki uniforms and camp officials. The police bluff. It peaks with one of the Romneyville men yelling for someone to call a legal advocate group. No one reaches for their cell phone, but the police walk away. A few blocks from these little tents is the thirty-thousand square foot big top Republican tent, a huge, white elephant on Curtis Hixon Park.

Romneyville tents.

We return to the visible parts of the City and our regularly scheduled programming.

--- Luis

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Street Art: Sidewalk Elephant

This graphic and beautiful elephant on a St. Petersburg sidewalk has been painted over (like the mermaid showed here recently). The City has been inquiring about certain graffiti and specific artists. Now this elephant was removed just in time for the Republican conventioneers to not see it.

All these paintings will live on in the web and its many archives.

--- Luis

Monday, August 27, 2012

Updated Hurricane Isaac Report

The Art Taco Weather Service's Hurricane Hunter Beechcraft Bonanza V35 has been careening inside Isaac like a kid on a carousel. All to get the latest information on this storm for our readers. Here is the Art Taco digital composite aerial view as of this hour.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cuban Sandwich Show XI: Chicken Promenade

James E. Rooster

James in effigy
A parade dedicated to the chickens of Ybor, those clucky, plucky roaming symbols of freedom and our past which can be seen pecking around just off Seventh Avenue, delighting tourists and locals alike. This parade was more specific. It also celebrated the life of one particular chicken who embodied all that means and was a legend in his own time: James E. Rooster. His small coffin would lead the parade, pulled along by Cuban Sandwich Show (CSS) organizer, master-of-ceremonies and parade Grand Marshall, David Audet. Big Al's BBQ was the assembly point. James' effigy was also present, as it has been in most of the other ten CSS events that preceded this one, keeping a golden eye on the proceedings.

Two Parade goers.

David Audet (l.) & reporter (r.).
People, children and dogs assembled in the parking lot of Big Al's. A great, big, dripping-with-diversity wedge of a cross-section of Tampa's citizens. Some were dressed wildly for the occassions, others wore the accoutrements we made the day before at Grown Man Studios, all were smiling with anticipation. David Audet spoke with a surprising amount of reporters.


 Spirits soon rose to a fever pitch...

 A brief and inspiring speech prepared the crowd for launching as reporters immortalized the moment...

The Parade began, taking James E. Rooster for one more walk around his favorite haunts.

 The stream of radiant revelers went through Gaspar's Grotto

On Seventh

 At Dirty Shame...

Courtesy of Lydia Gottardi


The parade found its way to the place where James E. Rooster lived and rests: The Rice family home, where chicken statues and photographic albums from prior Chicken Parades were laid out for all to peruse.

Mrs. Rice climbed on something and gave a little background talk.

Unusual Suspects

On the way to the car, this hen sprinted across the road.

 Congratulations to David Audet and his crew for a great Cuban Sandwich Festival. This is an authentic celebration of our culture, history, the collective and the individual. It is a great way to remember who we are, where we come from, where we live, and walk into the future unfolding before us. Thank you, David, for bringing me into this.

--- Luis


August 19 (Sunday)
BBQ Block Party and Chicken Parade and Rooster Promenade
2 p.m.-7 p.m. Free
Big Al’s BBQ, Gaspar’s Grotto, Dirty Shame, Ybor City
Lots of BBQ and drinks, live music, and a costume parade open to everybody: children, dogs, pirates, hipsters, and, of course, fowl of all feathers. Bring costumes, do-da hats, wagon floats and umbrellas as we celebrate the life and alas, demise of James E. Rooster, a famous feathered citizen of Ybor City. Parade