When it comes to the Peninsularium, an immersive art and culture campus planned for Tampa’s Ybor Heights neighborhood, Neil Gobioff doesn’t want to overpromise. The project, which will include a building housing a brewery and a new home for the art space Tempus Projects, is coming ... sometime.
“We’re trying to avoid timelines,” said Gobioff, the chief financial officer of Crab Devil, the artists’ collective behind the Peninsularium. “With delays with permits and, of course, now we’re in the middle of supply issues, just like the rest of the world, I can tell you the building — but not the Peninsularium — will be open by the end of the year.”
Gobioff is more bullish on his other big project, the Tampa Arts Alliance. Announced in June, the group aims to connect Tampa artists with city leaders, benefactors and, most importantly, each other. Gobioff is the group’s chairperson and co-founder; his philanthropic Gobioff Foundation provided initial funding alongside Tucker/Hall, the public relations firm whose president is Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson.
“Many people seem to think that the arts begin and end at the Straz Center and Tampa Museum of Art and Tampa Theatre, and there’s so much more to the arts here in Tampa that need to be seen,” said Gobioff, the group’s chairperson and co-founder. “It’ll help if we can raise their visibility and increase the support they’re getting from the people who are interested. The outpouring of support that we’ve gotten so far just from people interested in being involved is a good indication that we’re on the right track.”
Gobioff chatted recently about the Tampa Arts Alliance’s goals, from burnishing the city’s image as an arts destination to working with developers and elected leaders to give local artists more say in how Tampa grows. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why didn’t Tampa have an arts alliance before now?
I don’t know why there hasn’t been one before. There just haven’t been people trying to organize one, is what it comes down to. This came to be through conversations that Bill Carlson and I had. We were introduced to each other a few years ago at a Tampa Museum of Art event, and we connected about our love for the arts and what the arts could do for Tampa. That led us to gathering some others together to start having conversations about ways we could push things forward.
“The arts” is a broad term. Can one new organization adequately represent musicians, playwrights, artists and and fundraising groups, all at once?
We’re going to try. The challenge isn’t so much in the difference in disciplines; it’s the ability to unify a community together. I’ve heard from artists for years about how fractured the Tampa arts community is. There’s different pockets doing different things, and it’s time that we all worked together and unified in elevating everything.
Can you give me a specific example of how you’d do that?
We’ve talked about something like a trade show for artists, where different arts organizations can set up tables and invite artists and the public to learn about what is going on in Tampa. We don’t have a specific arts district that you can just walk around and see a theater there, a gallery there. To have a single place where everybody can come and see as many organizations as possible and learn about what’s going on is an idea that we’ve had.
Did Tampa ever really have a cohesive arts scene? Maybe in the ‘80s in Ybor City?
I would think so. I’ve been here since ’95, but from what I understand, that was the tail end of that. That was before things started getting commercial, where the artists were starting to get priced out.
What’s the key to distinguishing Tampa as an arts community from St. Pete?
I’ve heard comparisons made by people, and I don’t want to repeat those, because I don’t want to give any ideas to anyone about what that identity might be. But Tampa is unique from St. Pete. It has a unique cultural history that is very different from St. Pete’s cultural history, and that’s reflected in the art that’s created here. The stuff that we see in the galleries here is definitely different from the stuff you see in the galleries in St. Pete. Some of those artists will also show in St. Pete, but what they’re showing in St. Pete tends to be a different style and tone than what you see in Tampa.
What about outside the area? How do you sell the idea of Tampa as an arts destination?
That’s going to be a challenge. It comes down to visibility. People won’t see it as a destination for the arts if they don’t know the arts are here. So one of the goals of the arts alliance will be to market the arts, both to the Tampa community as well as the broader community. If we can get the Tampa community supporting the arts that are here, that will lead to greater visibility on a larger scale.
Tampa is looking at several big, transformative developments in the next decade, from Water Street Tampa to Midtown Tampa to what investor Darryl Shaw wants to do in Ybor City. Have you considered what role the arts will have in those developments?
I’m involved in the Artspace Tampa Initiative. We’re working with Artspace, which is a national nonprofit developer of affordable live-work housing for artists, to have them develop a building here in Tampa. We’re hoping that one of these developers will donate land for that project. No one’s indicated that they will. But that would be a great thing to see.
Is the hope that the Arts Alliance would give the arts community a better seat at the table in big redevelopment discussions?
I think so. The Gobioff Foundation partnered with (neighborhood and community leadership group) Cafe Con Tampa to host a forum on the arts for mayoral candidates in the last election. We had 600 people register to attend at Blake High School. It was the largest candidate forum for the mayoral election that cycle. That sent a message to all the candidates, and also to the city in general, that the arts are important to Tampa. The Arts Alliance can definitely take that role now, where we make sure politicians are aware that the arts are important. Once they realize that, I think they’ll start inviting artists to the table.