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Jeff and Penny Vinik invest in and partner with Fairgrounds in St. Petersburg

The philanthropic couple are now involved with the upcoming immersive arts experience, which already has called for its first round of artists.

As progress continues for Fairgrounds, the immersive art and technology experience coming to St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, local philanthropists Jeff and Penny Vinik have invested in the project.

They will have hands-on involvement, which includes board representation and guiding the experience start-up that was co-founded by Liz Dimmitt and Mikhail Mansion.

Fairgrounds, scheduled to open in early 2021, will reside in a 12,000-square-foot warehouse space in the Factory St. Pete compound set to open in the Warehouse Arts District. It’s conceived as an immersive, playful, experiential arts and technology attraction that celebrates all things Florida, especially the state’s wacky side.

A concept image of the vibe of Fairgrounds, scheduled to open in early 2021. [MAGGIE DUFFY | Courtesy of Liz Dimmitt]

Dimmitt, the Fairgrounds CEO and founder, is an art consultant. She has worked with the Viniks to bring other immersive arts experiences to Tampa Bay. In 2016, she helped them produce the Beach Tampa by Snarkitecture, which filled Amalie Arena with 1.2 million white, antimicrobial balls. She also worked with them on the Art of the Brick, a Lego exhibition by Nathan Sawaya. Both of those experiences were free for the public to attend.

They also worked together to bring Love is Calling, an Infinity Room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama to the Tampa Museum of Art.

The partnership was announced in a release from Fairgrounds. The Viniks’ investment will be used to build out the artist-made exhibit and compensate artists for their work. With the investment, Fairgrounds has raised a total of $3.7 million.

Dimmitt said she was honored to have the Viniks’ involvement because not only do they know business and art, they’re also known for “great guest experiences.”

“It’s hugely significant to have such smart business people buy into the concept,” she said. “It’s exciting that they want to be a part of it.”

“Our partnership with the Viniks perfectly aligns with our beliefs and values as a company,” said co- founder and chief technology officer Mikhail Mansion said in the release. “We’re very excited to partner with investors who appreciate art, support the local Tampa Bay community, and understand the importance of entrepreneurship and creative innovation.”

“We’ve worked with Liz for several years and have great confidence in her and her team to produce an engaging, innovative and fun new arts experience for Tampa Bay to enjoy,” Penny Vinik said in the release.

“Penny and I are excited to partner with Fairgrounds," Jeff Vinik said in the release. “Fairgrounds provides us with the unique opportunity to support art and innovation in Tampa Bay.”

He continued: “Fairgrounds is gathering a diverse team of artists, technologists, entrepreneurs and community leaders to build something very unique in St. Pete. I look forward to supporting their efforts and contributing to the enrichment and innovation of Tampa Bay culture.”

The concept of Fairgrounds had been buzzing around in Dimmitt’s mind for a few years. In her long career of bringing art experiences, she also discovered Meow Wolf, an arts and entertainment company that creates immersive installations that combine art and technology.

In a serendipitous moment last year, she was introduced to Mikhail Mansion, an interdisciplinary artist and engineer, who had a similar idea. He was actually developing an artwork commission for Meow Wolf’s new exhibition at Area 15 in Las Vegas.

A partnership was born. Mansion took the lead on design and is the Chief Technology officer for Fairgrounds.

The attraction will provide a range of opportunities for artists, performers, writers, musicians and storytellers, from contributing a single artwork to creating room-sized installations. It will also feature a Florida souvenir gift shop, which will open up opportunities for jewelers and other makers.

Concept art that sets the tone for the immersive arts attraction Fairgrounds, scheduled to open in early 2021. [Courtesy of Liz Dimmitt]

In April, amid closures of local museums, studios and galleries, Fairgrounds put out a call for artists.

They received 145 responses. Almost 70 artists have been invited to participate in a concept proposal phase. Some of those were notified of their inclusion in Floridarama, one of Fairgrounds’ signature installations inspired by dioramas at Florida attractions.

A separate news release announced that selected artists, including Chad Mize, Chris Parks AKA Palehorse, Macy Higgins and Emiliano Settecasi, will move on to the request for proposal phase, where they will be asked to submit a detailed proposal outlining their ideas for Fairgrounds.

Mansion said he would be working with artists to embrace new technologies to incorporate into their work.

“As a full-time artist working in St. Pete since 2006, I am thrilled to be a part of this fascinating project with the team at Fairgrounds,” Chris Parks said in the news release. "A permanent installation here in my hometown is a dream opportunity to harness, amplify and direct all of this creative energy that I’ve been cultivating over many years into a next-level, multisensory experience that seeks to inspire and enchant curious guests from all walks of life.”

The chosen artists will be given budgets that range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. When the attraction opens, artists will continue to be paid through a profit-sharing model from ticket sales.

Fairgrounds will continually evolve, with installations and exhibits cycling in and out over time. It will also feature events, workshops and creative education programs. For more information, visit fairgrounds.art.

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