At some time after I die, send out notices to personal list from computer at home, Art Keeble wrote eight years ago while still very much alive. In lieu of flowers, contributions should be made to the Tampa Theatre or the Henry B. Plant Museum. However, one nice display of tropical flowers in front of the podium would be OK. Podium is on stage right at Tampa Theatre.
Keeble wasn’t dying, but he’d been to enough funerals and memorial services that he knew what he did not want. And he knew how to put on a show.
PLEASE....don’t put up those stupid posters of pictures, no matter what anyone says. If people can’t remember what I looked like, they shouldn’t be there.
For more than 30 years, Keeble led the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. He co-founded the Ybor City Saturday Market. He co-wrote a book about baseball in West Tampa. And he worked, in visible and invisible ways, to improve the city he made home.
Keeble died Jan. 25 at 78 from ongoing health issues. The celebration he planned takes place at 3 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Tampa Theatre. He titled it “Bloom where you are planted.”
Consider this remembrance a preview. Expect no spoilers.
When people are seated, LIGHTS SLOWLY DOWN TO BLACK.
Someone reads this: I love stories so here is mine…
Keeble moved from Tennessee to Tampa in 1984 and got right to work.
In a July 26, 1984 Tampa Tribune story, the arts council’s boss was predicted to “become a new force.” The general public didn’t even know there was an arts council. He planned to change that. He wanted to better serve local artists. And he promised to “take art to the people.”
And that’s what he did. Soon, then-Hillsborough County commissioner and mentor Jan Platt started showing Keeble how to get things done.
One year, at the budget public hearing, I arranged for the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus to perform “God Bless America” to open the meeting … At the second refrain, the conductor turned to the Commissioners and invited them to stand and sing along. They did, and then the audience stood and joined in. I followed that with remarks from a senior citizen and then a student. I had tears in my eyes, and we got the funding. Total theater. That worked.
Keeble introduced a fundraiser that invited artists, both famous and amateur, to submit their work on small canvases. The arts council sold them, unmarked, to the public for $25. After purchase, people discovered who was behind the piece they bought. And the money raised went toward creative grants.
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Former St. Petersburg Times columnist Mary Jo Melone got one and attended the Yale Writers’ Workshop, “an event that opened my world,” said Melone, who co-wrote a book on baseball history in West Tampa with Keeble.
Eric Comas worked with Keeble as the council’s CPA for decades and saw an increase in revenue, programming, grants and cultural development, as well as fun.
Keeble built support for the Support the Arts license plate, which brings in money to counties across the state. He championed the creation of a regional arts conference. And he worked to better serve artists in the county. When he started “we had no contact, provided no services to individual artists. Today we have a list of close to 4,000,” he told the Times in 2016, the year he retired.
“I thought Art was one of the most creative and really innovative arts administrators in the history of Hillsborough County,” said Cynthia Gandee Zinober, a longtime friend and the executive director emerita of the Henry B. Plant Museum. “He wanted to support the arts, and he did it in every way he could imagine.”
Speakers …(no more than 2 or 3 please...let’s get this over with) I have been to some memorials where the audience is asked if anyone else wants to speak. This might work also.
On Saturday mornings, Keeble sat at the information table at the Ybor City Saturday Market, talking to vendors and customers and working on the crossword puzzles he’d collected all week. He never talked about himself or his work.
“I realized I was sitting next to a major community leader, a Tampa icon,” said Lynn Kroesen, who later became the market’s director.
That market is a stepping stone for businesses to build followers and for hobbyists to build businesses, she said. And often, Keeble did more than just make space for them. One Saturday, when the banana bread lady didn’t sell out, Keeble bought what she hadn’t sold, then delivered it to the kids at Community Stepping Stones, a nonprofit in West Tampa where he was a devoted volunteer. And at least once a year, he’d stop by Walmart and pay off the layaway orders of accounts with toys on them.
...The singer comes out and leads the audience in “Let There Be Peace on Earth”...at the end of the song... immediate BLACKOUT in theater...
Keeble’s celebration of life will have music and food and someone to read three pages of his memories. His friends are trying as best they can to create what he envisioned, which is something.
Again, no spoilers. But this feels safe to share – Keeble didn’t want a sad service. In the stories he shares, the music he chose and the surprises he planned, he wanted quality and laughter and soul-stirring art.
He used 2,434 words to lay that out for his friends, but the last 12 of them capture it best.
Put on a good party for me!!!! BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED!!!!!
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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