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  1. Visual Arts

10 notable people and things that started at St. Petersburg's Studio@620

MONICA HERNDON | Times Myalyn Pompey, 8, walks past a wall of images at the opening night of Through Our Eyes: Midtown and Beyond on Friday November 6, 2015 at Studio 620 in downtown St. Petersburg.
Published Jun. 13

ST. PETERSBURG — It's not unusual to find the Studio@620's space transformed.

The home to a multitude of art and community programs is constantly shape-shifting. Peek in the windows now and see festive piñatas, specially made for the studio's 15th birthday party Saturday. It's a Quinceañera.

Before Bob Devin Jones and David Ellis opened the Studio@620 in 2004, there wasn't another place like it in town. Jones was an actor, director and playwright from Los Angeles. Ellis was an exhibition designer who created Great Explorations. They met as neighbors and bonded over a desire to create a multi-dimensional community space.

They adopted a "philosophy of yes" whereby they wouldn't reject anyone who wanted to hold an event there.

"Part of what makes this space so delicious is the energy of those people from the community, the performers who come in here," said Jones. "It's in the walls in the rafters, in the concrete."

Ellis died in 2018. Jones keeps a picture of him hung up and said he feels his spirit there. Neither expected the studio to go on this long, but the programs have kept things interesting. Although Jones doesn't use the term, the place has been an incubator for many artists and programs.

Here are a few people and places that have roots at the Studio@620.

• The first Sunscreen Film Festival was held there in 2006. There were 600 attendees. Over the years it has expanded to 10,000 attendees and a series in Los Angeles. It has been recognized and sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

• Freefall Theatre began producing plays at the Studio@620 in 2008. In 2011, the theater moved into a permanent home on Central Avenue and has racked up awards and a stellar reputation among critics and audiences.

• When Lillian Dunlap and Jaye Sheldon approached Jones about presenting their Decades of Day Work "theatrical journalism" project there, he said yes, but. He pressed them to do a three-part series, in which hours of interviews with community members became scripts performed by actors. The success of the series led them to Your Real Stories, which took off. Their series St. Pete Stories was part of the inclusivity and diversity training for the city of St. Petersburg. Their program dealing with homelessness among LGBTQ youth, Out of the Shadows, sold out at the Palladium. They partnered with American Stage on the Spotlight Series. They operate out of the ArtsXchange, holding monthly events and an annual festival. Sheldon credits the Studio@620 with their success, saying that the space was instrumental in them realizing their vision.

• Literary group Keep St. Pete Lit held poetry readings there, small groups that soon swelled in attendance. The group now holds affordable writing classes in the Morean Arts Center and put on the annual SunLit Festival, that showers literary events throughout St. Petersburg.

• Zack Dorn came to the studio with his unique, well-received miniature puppet shows. He ended up getting a theater fellowship with Julie Taymor, who directed the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King.

• Aleshea Harris would visit the studio as a poet. She became a playwright and in 2018 won an Obie award for her play Is God Is.

• Longtime Studio@620 employee and artist Coralette Damme has exhibited her own work there and puts on the popular Hauntizaar and Holizaar artist and maker markets.

• When Jones saw the photography exhibit Midtown Through Our Eyes at the now-defunct Florida International Museum, he nabbed it and it has been held at the studio ever since. The exhibition is part of the Journeys in Journalism program for students, who act as docents during the opening receptions.

• Singer, actor and playwright Sharon Scott performed in the studio's Black Nativity production held at the Palladium for eight years. She debuted her own play about the life of Mahalia Jackson at the studio, and she and Jones are working on an upcoming tribute to Jones' mentor, the playwright Mark Mardoff. She'll perform at the celebration.

• Dancer and choreographer Alex Jones was introduced to the studio by his University of South Florida professor Michael Foley. In 2011 he presented First You, Then the Rest at the studio. It became a place for him to explore his creativity. As the studio's artist-in-residence, he started his own dance company called Project Alchemy. This summer he'll perform in Amsterdam with help from the studio, which is trying to establish an artist's exchange program there. Alex Jones wants to model his own company after the Studio@620 by providing opportunities for dancers to get experience. "The studio has been a huge part of my blossoming of an artist because the answer's always yes."

Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy@tampabay.com. Follow@maggiedalexis.

If you go

Quinceañera, the Studio@620's 15th birthday celebration will feature live music, piñatas filled with swag, birthday cake and a poetry reading. Free. 6:20 p.m. Saturday. 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 895-6620. thestudioat620.org.

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