Tampa Bay is already flush with museums, galleries, artist studios, murals and art festivals. But now, groups on both sides of the bay are leveling up by creating “arts attractions,” artist-made immersive, hands-on experiences aimed at families.
When they open in 2020, Fairgrounds in St. Petersburg and Crab Devil’s Peninsularium in Tampa will both be Florida themed, tucked inside compounds with art galleries, studios and breweries. And they will offer local artists additional ways to make a living.
Both parties drew inspiration for this concept from Meow Wolf, an arts and entertainment group based in Santa Fe, N.M. The artist collective creates immersive experiences that include installations, performances, music and video to encourage exploration and storytelling. It is so popular that locations are being created in Las Vegas and Denver.
The people behind Fairgrounds and Crab Devil support each other’s projects. They’re like-minded in their approach to creating accessible spaces where it’s fun to spend the day, experiencing art and relaxing at breweries, which have become hubs for families.
“This is the rising tide that raises all boats,” Crab Devil company officer Devon Brady said. “We can send people to each other.”
Liz Dimmitt has been conceiving Fairgrounds for a few years. As an arts consultant, she has made a career of bringing immersive experiences to the public. In 2016, she worked with the Vinik Family Foundation to bring the Beach Tampa, which filled Amalie Arena with 1.2 million white, antimicrobial balls. Dimmitt also helped the foundation bring Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room, Love Is Calling, to the Tampa Museum of Art. Dimmitt is also the managing partner of Dimmitt Chevrolet in Clearwater, her family’s longtime car dealership.
She had been looking for warehouse space in St. Petersburg with the help of Kara and Jordan Behar. They found a 6 ½-acre compound in the Warehouse Arts District occupied by Madico Window Films, which was moving. Together, they purchased the space.
The 90,000 square feet of existing warehouse space will become the Factory St. Pete and open in fall 2020. It will house arts and culture organizations including Keep St. Pete Lit, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg’s dance academy, Daddy Kool Records, Behar and Peteranecz Architecture and Barley Common Brewery Collective.
Fairgrounds will occupy 12,000 square feet of the warehouse and is scheduled to open around the same time. While part of Fairgrounds will be built out by an internal team, local artists will be invited to submit requests for proposals to design the wacky, Florida-themed experiences. It’s not limited to visual artists; performers, musicians, writers and storytellers are encouraged to apply.
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“Our tagline is art for all, play for all and joy for all," Dimmitt said. “And you can buy a ticket and come in and choose your own adventure and experience.”
Dimmitt has created a model to share profits from ticket sales with the artists who create the environments, like royalties. The idea is to create a source of income they can invest in their practice, studio or materials that goes beyond the pressure of selling work.
Fairgrounds was previewed at the Shine mural festival finale, a sort of carnival sideshow attraction with a live “mermaid” swimming in a tank.
The possibilities are endless, Dimmitt said, and the exhibits will change.
“We can do a lot of neat things," she said. "I don’t even think we understand what all we can do. We’ll learn as we go. And more ideas will present themselves and more people to collaborate with will come forward.”
Crab Devil is a group of 10 Tampa-based artists, curators, designers and philanthropists. They include Devon Brady and his wife, Janine Awai, founders of LiveWork Studios, a design and production company that builds fine furniture, public art and restaurant interiors. Other players include Tempus Projects gallery owner Tracy Midulla and Tim Ogden, founder of Deviant Libation Brewery Collective.
The group acquired a 1-acre compound at 3800 N Nebraska Ave. in Ybor Heights, where Tempus Projects and Deviant Libation Brewery Collective will move in when the main building is completed, expected in March. It will also include space for Tempus Projects’ artist-in-residence program.
“Cooler than a museum, smarter than a theme park, weirder than a carnival” reads Peninsularium’s tagline.
Guests will enter through a roadside attraction called Crab Devil Bait Shop. Peninsularium is conceived as the attraction of oddities that reside in the back of the shop. The plan for phase one is to fill 25 shipping containers with artists’ installations that explore Florida’s culture of kitsch, weird history and lore that blurs the lines of fact and fantasy.
Brady will invite artists the creators have worked with previously to submit proposals for art and fabricators.
They hope to have salaried employees at some point, but will have a program in place for artists, paying them for work hourly, commission-based or for equity in the business.
A five-year expansion plan includes adding another 20 shipping containers so exhibits can be switched out or sent to art festivals. They’re modular, so they can be hooked up together in different configurations.
Aimed at tourists, Brady hopes to attract thousands of visitors a week. After guests go through Peninsularium, he said, they might find a new appreciation for the art at Tempus Projects.
“We’ve always had a vibrant art scene as far as people making it, but artists actually being able to sell their work and make a living off it is another story," he said. "We’re trying to bridge that gap with people and show them that you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to understand it.”