One day 21 years ago, David Audet was walking round Ybor City when he met a couple of fellow artists, Gordon and Denise Myhre. They struck up a conversation, and they mentioned an idea they had.
"They wanted to do a show called the 'Cuban Sandwich Show,' " Audet said. "I went home and thought about it and said to myself, 'It should be about Tampa.' They handed me the ball and I ran with it."
Over the past two decades, "Cuban Sandwich Show" has evolved into a monthlong celebration of Tampa's arts and culture. The 2012 edition runs through Aug. 31.
On any given day during the month, the show offers visual art, theater, poetry, film, video, literature, lectures, architecture, cuisine or just about any other form of expression that evokes the essence of Tampa.
The word "show" in the title may be a bit misleading. It's a relic of the event's early history, when it was a short event in a single venue in Seminole Heights.
"Cuban Sandwich Show" is now more of a festival, in locations all around the city.
"One of the things I wanted to do," Audet said, "is to show people that Tampa has a north, south, east and west. I wanted to get people to go beyond their own back yards. I wanted people to see something going on and say, 'That looks pretty interesting' and then venture out into a part of town that they wouldn't usually go to and discover that neighborhood."
Audet, who's now the artistic director of "Cuban Sandwich Show," is a central figure in Tampa's arts community. In the 1980s, he owned and operated a Bohemian performance space called Ground Zero that hosted local theater and music and brought nationally known dance companies and performance artists to Tampa. In those days, there really weren't any other venues in town for that kind of work, and audiences lined up down the street and around the corner before showtime.
He also heads the Artists and Writers Group, which started as the organizing entity for the legendary annual Artists and Writers Ball of the 1970s and '80s and also organizes Deep Carnivale, a literature festival.
"After the Artists and Writers Ball I thought, 'Well that was good, that was fun,' but it just left me feeling empty," Audet said. "I wanted to do something that wouldn't be centered around alcohol, something that would be a challenge and would leave me feeling more fulfilled spiritually."
The first show took place in 1992. One of the centerpieces was Tampa's poet laureate, James Tokley, premiering a brand-new ode to Tampa.
"He was literally pencil-writing it as he was walking up to the stage to read it," Audet said.
Tokley now reads that poem, Epic of the Sandwiche Cubano, at each year's show.
For a complete schedule of events, go to cubansandwich show.com.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.