Rebirth of arts scene should be welcomed

A steering committee formed at the community forum has created an e-mail address for artists and art lovers who want to inquire about the arts council: info@brandonareaarts.com.

Published May 12, 2006

It appeared to be just another Sunday night at O'Brien's Irish Pub.

Sure, the tents were still up from the Brandon bar's Cinco de Mayo festival - yes, an Irish bar celebrated the Mexican holiday - but other than that, it was business as usual. Outside, a few customers took in the cool breeze on the patio. Inside some folks bellied up to the bar and played darts.

In the back part of the bar, however, something different was happening. A group of about 35 artists and art collectors had come together for a Slide Slam and Jpeg Jam.

With the help of an LCD projector, the artists took turns talking about their works as pictures of them flashed upon the screen. Sculptor Candace Knapp spoke of the colorful guitar with the piercing arrow . It was titled Jimi, and any fan of Hendrix would understand the symbolism.

The explanations from the artists added a different dimension than simply strolling through a gallery. Yes, the beauty of art is drawing your own interpretations, but it was refreshing to hear the creators explain their motivation - even if they had to talk over music blaring from the jukebox in the other room.

For some reason, the music didn't really interfere. When Creed's With Arms Wide Open played in the background, I thought to myself it's an appropriate tune given that this area appears ready to embrace an arts renaissance.

Ripe may be the best word to use when you talk about the cultural arts scene in Brandon.

The area's rural roots and agricultural background have not always conjured visions of ballet dancers, eclectic sculptures and acrylic paintings, but there has always been a small group of artists in the area.

Naturally, as the area has grown, so too has the number of artists. BRAVA think BRAndon and VAlrico is an upstart arts support group that sponsored the slide slam, and the consensus was they need to have more slide slams, perhaps as many as one a month.

Other signs of change are on the horizon. Valrico artist and BRAVA member Martha Brooks Marshall said people filled the upstairs room at the Brandon Library for a poetry/jazz event in April.

"I'm always amazed at how many artists I run into and the caliber of the artists I run into practically every day," said Marshall, who has lived in Valrico for 20 years. "(The arts scene) hasn't changed much in 20 years, but it's on the verge of changing.''

Last month, the Arts Council of Hillsborough County held a community forum at the Winthrop Theatre as part of the council's ongoing plans to create a cultural arts plan. The gathering proved fruitful.

"The Center Place may be the county's first cultural arts center and it provides exhibition space and a meeting place for artists," said Art Keeble, director of the Arts Council. "But as more residents move into the area, they want more."

Keeble said one of the positive outcomes of the meeting may be an arts council for Brandon. A steering committee formed at the community forum has created an e-mail address for artists and art lovers who want to inquire about the arts council: info@brandonareaarts.com.

"I was really impressed with the energy of people who came," said Craig Dreeszen, a cultural arts planner working as a consultant for the county. "They didn't say, 'We want the county do this and that.' They realize that if anyone is going to represent their interest, it has to be the people in the Brandon area."

The consensus at the meeting was that the area has an overwhelming need for some type of performing arts center/exhibition space. In addition to the growing number of people in the fine arts category, Brandon also has a ballet group and five theater groups, most of which have to stage performances at Tampa venues.

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Valrico, has used his influence to secure state funding for a Brandon Advantage Center. The Legislature ended its session with more than $3-million budgeted for the proposed center, possibly at Brandon Main Street or Hillsborough Community College's Brandon campus.

"I could see it as having some really active performing arts classes,'' Keeble said.

However, it's unclear exactly how the center will be designed. Ideas include a center for the performing arts and a venue for major banquet events, economic development seminars and educational programs.

A new arts council could spur planners to design the Advantage Center as an incubator of Brandon's burgeoning cultural arts scene. Certainly the artists and art supporters craving a better facility need to pull together and let their desires be known.

As a father who will be carting his 4-year-old daughter to Tampa's Blake High School for a dance recital next week, I certainly hope they succeed.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section of the St. Petersburg Times. To reach him, call 226-3406 or e-mailhooper@sptimes.com.