TARPON SPRINGS — This city has long been considered by many as the center of Florida's Greek culture. But city officials hope a $40,000 grant awarded this week will help to establish Tarpon Springs as a hub for exhibits, festivals, classes and performances about folklife from around the state.
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the grant to establish the Gulf Coast Folklife Center, which will be based in what is now known as the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center.
Programming will include information on the city's Greek heritage and culture, but will be expanded to encompass other aspects of Florida folklife and maritime history.
"We are absolutely thrilled with this grant award," said Kathleen Monahan, the city's cultural and civic services director. "It will allow us to expand our Greek cultural programming in a much stronger way, but also to help people become aware of the different cultures we have throughout the state."
Grant money will be used to expand some of the city's current cultural programming, including the Gulf Maritime Festival, folklife workshops and classes on Greek instruments and cuisine from the Dodecanese Islands, as well as the Night in the Islands concert series.
But the additional funding will also be used to:
• Present exhibits on Florida folklife in the Cultural Center's two gallery spaces.
• Hold workshops and programs in the 100-seat auditorium.
• Create the Gulf Coast Folklife Festival, which will be held in the fall. The festival will feature traditional artists from all over the state who will perform music or narratives and create textiles, paintings, instruments and costumes relevant to Florida folklife.
"Florida is different than any other part of the country," said Tina Bucuvalas, curator of arts and historical resources for the city. "We hope this will serve as a center that will present aspects of folklife from all over Florida."
Bucuvalas is uniquely qualified to establish a folklife center in Pinellas County. Before coming to Tarpon Springs two years ago, she served as the state's folklorist for 13 years and helped develop a similar project in Miami.
The first exhibit Bucuvalas will present this fall will feature Haitian artwork and storytelling.
Future exhibits will include religious art, diving helmets, Seminole Indian dugout canoes, and African-American "hymn lining," a tradition that involves a leader speaking or chanting a line that then is sung by the congregation.
Bucuvalas said she hopes to have three to four different exhibits each year.
Although the grant is one-time funding, with no guarantee of continuing after next year, Monahan is confident they will find a way to keep the center running.
"Starting up is always the most expensive part," she said. "There is an array of things we can do in the future."