If there is one word that has been thrown around extensively in 2020, it’s “pivot.” That’s precisely what everyone has had to do to carry on in the face of the pandemic. Museums and galleries were closed for a big chunk of the year‚ and performing arts have only recently returned. But since creativity knows no bounds, Tampa Bay’s arts organizations found ways to maintain the area’s identity as an arts destination.
Virtual offerings kept audiences engaged.
Museums, galleries and performing arts venues quickly adopted online platforms when the pandemic shut everything down in March. Hopefully these options will remain even after we’re out of the COVID-19 woods, for people who lack accessibility. The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, the Dalí Museum and the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art stacked their websites with virtual galleries and programming like activities and book clubs to keep viewers engaged. The Tampa Museum of Art received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand their art therapy and Museums for All programs online. The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance developed “Curate St. Pete,” an online video tour of the galleries in St. Pete’s seven arts districts. Galleries including Syd Entel Galleries and Susan Benjamin Glass, Articles Art Gallery and Mize Gallery put their collections and exhibitions online and created options for virtual shopping. Creative Pinellas’ “Emerging Artist Virtual Exhibition” was made on a cool platform that lets the viewer move around the “gallery” as they would in person. Coming up, Temple Beth-El’s Art Festival Beth-El and the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts will be entirely virtual.
In performing arts, which have been affected the most by the pandemic, theater companies including Jobsite and Stageworks beefed up their digital content, while Tampa Repertory Theatre and American Stage produced plays with small casts on stages with no audience to be streamed. St. Pete Opera launched an artist recital series and a maestro series that can be viewed on YouTube. The Florida Orchestra returned to live performance in October, but filmed select concerts and offered them as free livestreams on their website. The Studio@620 has virtual poetry reading, open mics and art exhibitions online. Ruth Eckerd Hall offered livestream concert packages, and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts’ Straz from Home series features performances from their vault.
The great outdoors became stages and canvases.
We’re fortunate in Florida to have great weather, even if the summers are sweltering. This made it possible for some live performance — outdoors. In June, choreographers Andee Scott and Amanda Sieradzki presented “Dance in the Time of Coronavirus,” a series of socially distanced performances that took place along sidewalks for people to walk or ride by. Freefall Theatre built an outdoor stage in their back parking lot and in October opened their season of drive-in performances. Opera Tampa and Jobsite Theatre performances were moved to the Straz Center’s Riverwalk Stage.
In visual art, more murals were funded, including the historical Black Lives Matter mural in St. Petersburg, as well as an intersection mural in Tampa of the same theme painted during the Art on the Block mural festival. Those gave opportunities to many artists of color. A Pride intersection mural brightens up St. Pete’s Grand Central District, while artist Cecilia Lueza’s inspirational Exuberance is a beacon of hope at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus. A smaller Shine Mural Festival brought 10 ocean conservation-themed murals by Florida artists to St. Petersburg.
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Rather than presenting CraftArt, the art festival that usually brings hundreds of artists to downtown St. Petersburg, Florida CraftArt produced the pared-down Craft Art With a Twist, with fewer artists’ booths around the gallery for two weekends. Gulfport’s art walks and Art Jones Studio Tour also moved outside.
Venues reopened with new safety protocols.
Museums could reopen in May, when Gov. Ron DeSantis included them in phase one of businesses eligible to open. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art was the first to open. But many waited until later in the summer and fall. New safety protocols include reduced capacity, timed ticketing, mask requirements, temperature checks, social distance encouragement through signage and directional markers, and continuous cleaning. Docent tours were suspended, as was the rental of audio tour equipment. Standout exhibitions included “Derrick Adams: Buoyant” at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, “Blake Little: Photography from the Gay Rodeo” at the James Museum and “Van Gogh Alive” at the Dalí Museum.
Galleries reopened with limited hours or by appointment. Art centers including the Dunedin Fine Art Center and the Morean Arts Center resumed classes, but with reduced class sizes and rearranged studios to accommodate social distancing.
Theater venues also opened to some extent with many of the same safety measures, and seating spaced out for social distancing. Ruth Eckerd Hall implemented a cleaning program that uses EPA-approved disinfectant, installed a thermal imaging gate system that eliminates the need for bag checks and body scans, and put in a commercial-grade air purification system there and at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre.
Relief funds and fundraisers were created.
DeSantis’ $92.2 billion state budget included $13.6 million for arts and cultural affairs, down from $21.2 million last year. That was a hit arts organizations couldn’t afford to take.
Local relief funds were created. The Pinellas Arts Community relief fund was established by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and Creative Pinellas in partnership with the Pinellas Community Foundation to provide more than $130,000 in grants to artists, arts organizations and creative businesses. The Hillsborough Arts Relief Program gave one-time, $500 grants to individual artists. They were paid out by Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts and backed by $100,000 in funding through the Gobioff Foundation, which was matched by the Vinik Family Foundation.
Visual and performing arts organizations have “donate now” messaging on their websites. Fundraisers include the Straz Center’s Raise the Curtain and American Stage’s Recover and Reimagine campaigns. Performances and donations of artwork from artists to benefit arts organizations happened throughout Tampa Bay. Various organizations, including the Florida Orchestra, have credited their donors and members for their continued support.
Progress continued despite the pandemic.
This year threatened a number of projects in the works, but a few are chugging along anyway. The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg wisely used the time they were closed to complete a privately funded renovation of the Collection Galleries, giving the museum a fresh feel. The Factory St. Pete, the arts/nonprofit/creative business space, has tenants and was a hub of creativity during December’s sneak peek event. Fairgrounds, the immersive arts experience housed at the Factory, is on track to open in the spring. The entirely artist-created space gave Florida artists the opportunity to earn income through stipends. Artists have been selected for and progress continues on Peninsularium, an immersive arts attraction in Tampa.