Artsy soiree makes comeback

The Artists & Writers Ball, a bohemian celebration, reappears after an absence of nearly two decades from the Tampa scene.

Published October 8, 2006

TAMPA - Art was on the walls, the floor, the tables and on the bodies of the partygoers.

After an 18-year sabbatical, the Artists & Writers Ball returned in all its waggish glory Saturday night at Ybor City's Cuban Club.

"There is a sense of debauchery in this whole event, which is all in fun," said Joanne Karpay, a muralist who came to the event dressed in disco-inspired outer space garb. "Artists and writers have a bad reputation. It's about celebrating that."

Led by photographer Bud Lee, a group of Ybor City artists and writers introduced the ball to Ybor City in the 1970s, a spoof of the area's Gasparilla krewes.

The ball became an outlet for creative types to let loose - to drink, party and socialize while dressed in outlandish costumes.

The balls stopped in 1988. But this year, organizers wanted to revive some of Ybor City's lost bohemian spirit.

"It's bohemian. It isn't fine art; it isn't a cocktail party," said Janet Henderson, an event organizer.

Joe Redner, Tampa strip club king and Hillsborough County Commission candidate, came to the party with friends from his Mons Venus club.

"I don't drink and I don't smoke," Redner said of the environment. "Just here to be entertained."

Actor and artist John Reimer, clad as St. Peter, told guests to go to either Heaven or Hell - two terraces of the Cuban Club decorated accordingly.

The crowd was a mix of old guard and new guard.

Bud Lee's children helped organize the event. Any proceeds will benefit Lee, who was partly paralyzed after suffering a stroke in 2003.

Organizers plan to hold a public ball in February around Gasparilla parade time. Organizer David Audet said the theme will be "the Secret."

On Saturday, that was far from his mind as he rushed around setting up slide shows and sound systems.

"Let me get through tonight, first," he said.

Jorge Acosta - an actor, singer and director who was crowned king of the ball as "Jorge the Adequate" - said the event is a breath of fresh air for a city he feels has been overly commercialized.

"There's an energy. There's a buzz here," Acosta said. "And good art comes out of it, eventually."