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  1. Visual Arts

St. Pete Women's Collective opens Venus, an art co-working and event space

St. Pete Women’s Collective board and founding members (L-R) Emily Stone, Jodi Chemes, Ashley Sweet, Mitzi Gordon and Tiffany Elliott. [St. Pete Women’s Collective]
St. Pete Women’s Collective board and founding members (L-R) Emily Stone, Jodi Chemes, Ashley Sweet, Mitzi Gordon and Tiffany Elliott. [St. Pete Women’s Collective]
Published May 22, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — As the city keeps growing, it can be hard for artists to find affordable places to work. Many are discovering the solution in artistic incubators: spaces where they can create, exhibit and co-work for an affordable fee, with a like-minded group of people.

The St. Pete Women's Collective is one example. The group's new headquarters, Venus, has been quietly operating for several months and is celebrating with an art show this weekend.

The collective was founded in 2017 by a group of six women, four with studios at the Bloom Art Center. When the space closed in late 2016 for financial reasons, the women, including Ashley Sweet and Mitzi Gordon, decided the time was right to create their own collective.

"We wanted to create a safe, welcoming space for artists of all kinds that supports and elevates women," Gordon said.

Sweet, director of research for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida and a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in sexual trauma, had envisioned a women's collective for years, inspired by the women she saw shaping St. Petersburg's arts scene. But her ideas weren't just about finding a way for the women to capitalize.

"This opportunity came to bring an intentional collective to this arts space," she said. "It brings creativity as a way to communicate some of the social issues that I'm passionate about, like women's rights and empowerment."

The founders rented a bungalow in Historic Kenwood's Artist Enclave in 2017. Sweet is the board president and Gordon is the secretary for the volunteer-run collective. Over two years, they presented 40 events, many intersecting with the Women's March and the #MeToo and Time's Up movements.

The collective moved close to downtown earlier this year, in the Fringe District with businesses including Planet Retro Records and Bodhi Basics.

"We could not ask for a better spot, between the location, the size and the price," Gordon said.

Twelve artists have rented studios in Venus, featuring high ceilings and built-in stalls. The spaces are often shared and there's a wait list.

Sweet takes counseling clients in her studio, which has doors and a floral motif on the wall. The public can pay a day rate of $10 or a $75 monthly bundle to use the space to work or create. An area in the back is set up for stained glass and jewelry making. Gordon stacks the overflow of books from her Bluebird Books Bus in a library. The bus promotes reading and writing through a mobile popup; Venus is now its home base.

The collective has hosted a book release party, a coffee tasting and an erotic poetry reading. Gordon wants to program free or reduced-cost skill-sharing events — one on grant writing, for instance. The group has done an Adulting 101 series, teaching life skills to millennials.

And they're open to suggestions.

"This is fertile soil here," Sweet said. '"If you have an idea, come here and water it, and we'll support you."

IF YOU GO

Venus

Grand opening ceremony from 4-7 p.m. Thursday. The group exhibition, "Visions of Venus," features 30 local artists and opens with a reception from 6-9 p.m. Saturday. The collective is open for visits or co-working from 10-4 p.m. Monday to Friday. 244 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. stpetewomenscollective.com.

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

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