Coming to Water Street Tampa: A grocery store made entirely of felt

The free art installation created by artist Lucy Sparrow will be presented by the Vinik Family Foundation in partnership with Art Production Fund.
British artist Lucy Sparrow brings a felt grocery store art installation, "Tampa Fresh Foods," to Water Street Tampa in January.
British artist Lucy Sparrow brings a felt grocery store art installation, "Tampa Fresh Foods," to Water Street Tampa in January. [ LIV SMITH | Courtesy of @sewyoursoul ]
Published Nov. 2, 2021|Updated Nov. 3, 2021

The Vinik Family Foundation brought Tampa Bay an arena full of small plastic balls in 2016 (The Beach Tampa) and artworks made out of Legos in 2017 (The Art of the Brick), immersive arts experiences that were free to the public.

On Jan. 20, 2022, the Vinik Family Foundation in partnership with Art Production Fund are presenting a grocery store made completely out of felt artworks by British artist Lucy Sparrow at Water Street Tampa. Sparrow, who has created felt delis, bodegas and pharmacies, will unveil her most ambitious project to date, a fully functioning supermarket, titled Tampa Fresh Foods.

With 50,000 hand-created felt artworks, Sparrow’s installation is more than two years in the making. Sparrow traveled to Tampa at the beginning of last year to get inspiration, visiting Publix and Whole Foods and absorbing the city’s culture. Tampa Fresh Foods will be stocked with native Florida fruits and vegetables and a seafood counter with mullet, shrimp and stone crab.

Related: At the Lego exhibit his job is simple: Don't touch the art

While it’s free to visit Tampa Fresh Foods, all of the objects are for sale and will be “rung up” on felt registers.

Guests can build a felt Cuban from a sandwich bar and enter a climate-controlled humidor to pick a felt cigar, or a hand-painted box of them.

Speaking to the Tampa Bay Times by phone, Sparrow said she wanted to make the installation interactive because of the Vinik Family Foundation’s commitment to getting children and families involved.

Sparrow will be onsite for the duration of the project, which runs through Feb. 20. Her presence is an element of all of her installations, where she works and greets people. She said her work is all about positive mental health and creating an environment where it’s impossible to be unhappy.

“I’m constantly present, constantly performing and constantly perfecting the show as it goes along,” she said. “It’s my responsibility and it’s my thing that I put out in the world ... I can’t seem to stay away.”

The process of creating the objects starts with Sparrow’s design. Assistants make multiples and then each object comes back to Sparrow for hand-painted lettering.

Sparrow burst onto the contemporary art scene in 2014 with the Cornershop installation in London. In 2015, her American art market debut happened at the SCOPE Miami Beach Art Fair, where Penny and Jeff Vinik, founders and managers of the Vinik Family Foundation, first saw her work.

“As long-time fans and collectors of Lucy Sparrow’s ingenious felt artwork, it is our great pleasure to bring Tampa Fresh Foods to the city of Tampa in 2022,” a statement from Penny and Jeff Vinik on behalf of the Vinik Family Foundation said in a news release. “... We look forward to sharing this immersive art experience with as many people in our community as possible.”

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Art Production Fund is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to commissioning and producing ambitious public art projects, reaching new audiences and expanding awareness through contemporary art.” Past projects include Sparrow’s Lucy’s Delicatessen on 6th in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.

Among her many installations, in 2016 Sparrow was commissioned by the BBC to re-create the Crown Jewels in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. Her work has been shown in galleries across the world and at international art fairs.

Tampa Fresh Foods will run Jan. 20-Feb. 20, 2022, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. 1050 Water St., Tampa. More information is coming soon.