TAMPA — Brian “B.V.” Cooper set up an art table in the clubhouse of a Town ‘n’ Country apartment complex. He poured paint into little round trays, put on happy music and offered wine and snacks to a group of residents who had gathered for the evening.
The Paint and Sip event is an amenity offered at the Amira at Westly in Town ‘n’ Country. It’s led by Cooper, an artist-in-residence who lives at the complex rent-free in exchange for leading free art classes. In addition to a year of free rent, he gets a stipend to buy materials and refreshments for the classes.
The program was conceived of by American Landmark Apartments, the Tampa-headquartered company that owns and operates the Amira, as well as other multifamily units in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Rachel Lubeck and Gladys Diaz started the program in 2019 as a way to provide both a relaxing community experience and a little housing relief for artists. It began in Fort Lauderdale, where there now have been three artists-in-residence. (There have also been two in Texas, one in Orlando and one in Wesley Chapel, and another one is set to debut in South Carolina.)
“We’re hoping that (other apartment companies) are inspired by our program and choose to do the same,” Lubeck said. “When we first started doing it, there were only like one or two out there. And now, we see a lot more people wanting to do the exchange, because they provide so much for the community that it’s really beneficial to the management, you know, they have happy residents. It’s really beneficial to the people who live there.”
Cooper was alerted by a friend about the opportunity to apply for the residency. He moved from Orlando to Tampa in April. In May, he led his first class — a group project to create a painting of Darth Vader in celebration of May the Fourth.
The residency allows Cooper to focus on his art career, something that was more difficult to do with the current cost of living. But he also said the opportunity has helped him grow as an artist.
Teaching was something he never expected to be doing, he said. He was nervous at first.
“As time has gone on, and I’ve been giving these classes and I’ve been watching my students progress, you know, it really gave me a boost of motivation and confidence too in my own self and my own work,” he said.
In addition to being a painter and working in digital art, Cooper is a filmmaker. He recently led a class to make one scene of a film. He also plays drums and would like to get fellow musician residents to come with their instruments and have a jam session. He’ll also paint a mural at the complex’s pool and plans kids activities, like chalk painting.
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At the class in July, Cooper used a video camera and monitor to lead the group in painting a night sky with treelines, water and stars. He went around the group, checking progress and demonstrating technique.
At one table sat a group of residents who had been coming to the class since day one. Chrystal Rincher had moved to Tampa a little over a year ago from Miami. Her roommate, Keith Shaw, told her about the new program. They went to the class and met Sarah Denton, who they discovered lived below them. Denton learned about the class through the complex’s resident portal and she also follows the complex on social media. Hope Charity is another resident who has been coming since the beginning, and the four have become good friends.
“I don’t want to miss it,” Denton said. “It’s so relaxing. It’s genuinely, like, get away from your day-to-day life and you’re able to come here and meet your neighbors and have this uninterrupted time.”
Rincher joked that they are actually “addicted” to the class and complimented Cooper as an amazing artist, teacher, friend and person.
At the table next to them, Manuel Vélez, his wife and two daughters were attending their first class. They recently moved into the complex and took the class to meet neighbors. They also found out about it via the complex’s Instagram page.
Halfway into the class, things were getting lively, with everyone interacting, laughing and talking. Cooper arranged for a friend, Kwasi Ransom, to play guitar and sing. He was joined by Sophia Alexandra Lopez, and the duo sang while residents painted and sometimes sang along.
At the end of the class, everyone posed for a group picture, new paintings in hand.
For information on American Landmark Apartments and to apply to be an artist-in-residence, visit artistsalapts.com.