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Off the deep end: St. Pete's ARTpool energizes the local arts scene

The Web site is artpoolrules.com, and judging from the past 12 months, that's a pretty accurate way of putting it.

After a successful first year, ARTpool Gallery and Vintage Boutique, the artists' co-op, exhibition room and event space in downtown St. Petersburg, will celebrate its one-year anniversary Saturday.

Struggling to get her photography into local galleries, owner Marina Williams, 24, founded ARTpool in April 2008, renting a sliver of building on First Avenue North and charging artists $50 to $200 a month to display their wares, including paintings, silkscreened T-shirts, jewelry and duct tape wallets.

Students get half off, and the artists keep all proceeds — a godsend for up-and-comers, who often must fork over a cut of their earnings to curators. The back half of the space houses Williams' personal stash of vintage clothing, accessories and books, which also are for sale.

More than 20 artists currently display their work in the gallery, and twice as many exhibit during ARTpool events. The gallery also is starting to host solo exhibits. Despite the plunging economy, ARTpool has thrived because low overhead for artists means the savings get passed on to consumers.

"We have sold a lot of artwork this year," Williams said. "That's good for the artist, that's good for ARTpool, that's good for the community."

Partying hard, working harder

Each month, Williams organizes a party blending visual arts, fashion, music and film. The affairs draw 100 to 300 colorfully dressed participants, who call themselves ARTpool Divers. On Saturday, the group will host a Mid Century Modern Art Show with a '50s and '60s theme. Next month, ARTpool will host a launch party for John Revisky's Zero: Modern Arts Directory, a sort of Yellow Pages of local talent.

"The people who come to our events are very much of the artisans and people from the Village in New York and Studio 54. They express their artistic interests through their dress, and they just have fun with it," said Williams, who wore a magenta and black strapless vintage gown, thick-framed black glasses and feathers in her hair for ARTpool's March film festival. That event included projected images on the interior and exterior walls of ARTpool and a vintage fashion show. The crowd spilled onto the sidewalk, where guests noshed donated pizza under the night sky.

Bob Devin Jones, founder and artistic director of the nearby Studio@620, drops by ARTpool at least once a month to support his friends' work. Jones believes grassroots co-ops are just as essential to St. Petersburg as the Salvador Dali Museum and C. Emerson Fine Arts.

"You need these other organizations to give texture," Jones said. "You go to Paris for the Louvre, but it's all the other things — the restaurants, the cafes, the other little galleries," Jones said. The 54-year-old said it's time to put aside the best practices of his generation and let younger artists like Williams act outside the box. "I like the fact that she mixes it up — the vintage clothing, how the stuff always spills out onto the street, how she has her mother there often at the front desk greeting people, and that younger people are involved. So we can talk about attracting young people, or we can let them do what they're doing."

But growing a business from nothing takes work. Williams holds a visual arts degree from New College of Florida in Sarasota and a master's in photography from the University of East London. She's also lived and studied in New York City and Valencia, Spain — all of which influenced her desire to create a cosmopolitan art space in her hometown.

Finding the talent was a breeze, because Williams already knew lots of art students and had made a point of introducing herself to local gallery owners.

But finding the space proved more challenging, recalled Williams' boyfriend, Evan Williams (no relation).

"We would drive up and down Central sometimes and other roads and look at the places and be like, 'Ooh, that's for rent!' and call, they'd be like, 'For $6 million, you can buy it,'" laughed Evan, who met Marina in college. "And we're like, 'No, okay. We don't have a lot of money here.'"

Their persistence paid off, and eventually Marina found an old storefront for rent. It needed some TLC, which was where her loved ones came in.

"We worked our butts off to get this place fixed up," said Evan, working the door at the film festival. "Those floors in there? Not that they're perfect now, but they were 10 times worse when we got here." Evan, along with Marina's mom, Becky Williams, scraped glue from the 1,600-square-foot tile floor. Evan also rigged a system of cables and boards to display the art. The lights were installed by Marina's dad, Ken Williams, himself an abstract artist who's displayed several pieces in the gallery.

'It's about building it bigger'

More than a family affair, ARTpool is a community undertaking.

"I think it's great for a young arts community to really support each other," said Eckerd College visual arts student Michael Specht, 20, who rents space to display his photography and volunteered to shoot the March fashion show. "There's not that much publicity for us yet, but eventually there will be. We've got to stick together. When we work together, we make amazing results."

The ARTpool Web site and logo are courtesy of Chad Mize and Phillip Clark, also known as the St. Petersburg design team Blue Lucy. In exchange for maintain, the duo get free wall space from Marina.

"We don't have the time to run a gallery," Clark, 34, said appreciatively.

For Marina, the only downside of running an art space is that it leaves less time for artistic endeavors. For each event, she must secure food donations and volunteers.

"We try and make this as grassroots as possible so we don't have huge expenses and can keep the rent low, but we need community support," said Marina, who last month was a finalist for the Tampa Bay Entrepreneur Young Professional of the Year award. She devotes Sundays and Mondays, when ARTpool is closed, to her photography business and her recent foray into painting.

Marina hopes ARTpool's future will include a larger home with more wall space, a real fashion runway and a stage for live music. But besides that, she wouldn't change much.

"Everybody here works together so beautifully," Marina said. "It's just about building it bigger."

The Web site is artpoolrules.com, and judging from the past 12 months, that's a pretty accurate way of putting it.

After a successful first year, ARTpool Gallery and Vintage Boutique, the artists' co-op, exhibition room and event space in downtown St. Petersburg, will celebrate its one-year anniversary Saturday.

ARTpool's One Year Anniversary Art Party

It's Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight at ARTpool Gallery and Vintage Boutiuqe, 919 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. The celebration includes a Mid Century Modern Art Show featuring the work of more than 30 local artists. Highlights include a 1950s and '60s exhibit, live painting and music, DJs, a fashion show, furniture design, video art and more. To volunteer, sponsor or donate contact Marina Williams at (727) 324-3878 or artpoolrules@gmail.com. Get details at artpoolrules.com. Regular hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

Dive into the local art scene

While ARTpool makes a splash in St. Petersburg, these artist collectives hold it down on the Hillsborough side of the bay.

Artcore

After their successful Corporate Funk Art Show at Skatepark of Tampa in September, a group of 17 artists began holding no-artist-fee shows at venues around town. Their crafts vary, with a slant toward urban art; DJ Sense 5 usually spins at the shows. Previous venues have included New World Brewery and Tampa Artist Emporium, and another Ybor City show is in the works for this spring. In the past, the group has donated a portion of sales to Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, and organizer Mike Goodwine plans to continue holding events for charity. The exhibitions are usually free and open to all ages. For details, visit myspace.com/artcoreart or e-mail artcoreart@yahoo.com.

Experimental Skeleton

In 1996, this collective of seven core members grew out of the alt-art group Titanic Anatomy, which met in the downtown Tampa art space Flight 19. Founder Joe Griffith's mission is to support experimental art and artists, including those who collab with engineers and scientists. For their next exhibition, To Go Boldly, about 20 artists will explore the utopian imagery and ideas of the original Star Trek TV series. The opening reception is May 22 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at West Tampa Center for the Arts, 1906 N Armenia Ave., Tampa. Free. Get details at experimentalskeleton.com or call Griffith at (813) 217-1240.

RedLetter1

The four artists behind this Ybor City space don't just draw and paint on canvas. They also do body art. While the front of RedLetter1 is a gallery displaying the work of the owners and other artists, in the back there's a tattoo shop where every customer gets custom-designed ink. This hybrid space has been around for four years, said co-owner Jeff Srsic. The next special event is the May 9 opening reception for How to Leave Your Body, an exhibition by New York City painters Daniel Albrigo and Timothy Hoyer. It's May 9 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; the exhibition runs for a month. All events are free, with complimentary snacks and Starbucks coffee. 1818 N 15th St., Ybor City. Call (813) 241-2435 or go to redletter1.com.

A year of ARTpool

Five highlights from ARTpool's first year of monthly art parties:

Tra'shion (July) Designers were assigned an article of trash — candy wrappers, bike tires, soda cans — and had to turn it into clothing. Models showed off the couture creations on a runway that had to extend outside the building because of the huge crowd.

Purple Polaroid Party (August) Upon entry, guests had a Polaroid of themselves taken; the pics became a live art installation that changed as the crowd grew. In addition, professional photographers displayed their Polaroid masterpieces. And yes, attendees wore purple.

Halloween Costume Art Party (October) Guests came disguised as their favorite artists. "Andy Warhol" and "Frida Kahlo" were among the attendees.

The Foundation Show (December) Ever wonder how artwork gets made? For this exhibition, artists had to show their process from beginning to end. For instance, a photograph became a sketch, which became a painting.

The Muse (February) Inspired by Valentine's Day, the event featured body painting and other amorous artwork. Guests were encouraged to wear pink or red.

Off the deep end: St. Pete's ARTpool energizes the local arts scene 04/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 6:39am]

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