Art, culture, and art titan is big business in downtown St. Pete, toted by national media outlets such as USA Today, and, Architectural Digest. With seven arts districts in one vibrant downtown neighborhood and robust arts events (2nd Saturday ArtWalk, Shine Mural Festival, El Cultura) and several new museums and galleries, it’s no wonder tourists and locals flock to DTSP.
dR Tampa Bay caught up with three of downtown’s Titans of Art representing the diversity of the city’s arts offerings: a traditional museum that is anything but traditions (MFA), an emerging arts district (WADA) and a beloved performing arts venue with theater and multimedia programs and a new free student pass for Main Stage productions. (American Stage).
Titan: Kristen A. Shepherd, Executive Director – Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)
dR: Why did you choose to come to Tampa Bay and MFA?
KS: I could not resist the opportunity to return to the Tampa Bay area to make a difference at a museum I have loved since I was a kid. The MFA is the flagship museum, a center of gravity, for the vibrant arts community in St Petersburg.
We are the only comprehensive collection in this area, so everything is possible here. We can tell all the stories and serve this community in ways no other museum in our area can. Hidden gem no more! The opportunity to lead the museum into its next big chapter is an opportunity few cities could offer.
dR: What’s on the horizon this year that excites you?
KS: We are starting to move into the exhibitions and programs that I initiated with our curators when I arrived, so I am really excited to see some of those projects come to fruition. They all underscore the incredible diversity of programming that only we can offer – from a backyard archaeological dig for ancient mosaics, to a new view of abstraction by women artists of color, to presenting one of the most important collections of mid-century jewelry design in the world – we get to do all of it this year. And that’s just three projects. There are so many more! We will be busy.
dR: What’s your take on the Tampa Bay performing arts scene?
KS: In my first year back in this area, my focus has been almost exclusively on the MFA and getting to know the visual arts community here. That being said, I am a fan (and supporter) of The Florida Orchestra and I look forward to getting out to experience even more in the performing arts spaces in the coming year.
dR: What do you hope to see happen in the performing arts scene?
KS: I hope the performing arts will continue to be an important part of the overall arts scene in this area. And you can definitely expect to see more performance at the MFA! I am planning an exciting exhibition two years out that focuses on theatre arts by modern masters, including Picasso, Matisse, Hockney, and many others. It will be an opportunity for us to activate our galleries with music, dance, spoken word, and more.
Titan: Diane B. Morton, Executive Director – Warehouse Arts District (WADA)
Morton is the new executive director for WADA, which encompasses 1st Avenue North to 10th Avenue South and 16th St. to 31st St. with 200 artists, arts businesses and organizations including Duncan McClellan Glass, MGA Sculpture Studio and the Morean Center for Clay. warehouseartsdistrictstpete.org
dR: This is a big change for you, going from law to running an arts organization.
DBM: For more than thirty years I have practiced law in Tampa Bay while simultaneously serving on non-profit boards. The opportunity to serve as Executive Director combines my love of the Arts with my love of community. I am thrilled to be at a pivotal place in the development of the District.
dR: What’s going on this year for WADA?
DBM: We are growing in every way from site improvement at the Arts Exchange to strengthening our businesses in the District. Our gallery and event space will introduce new artists and art installations to our community. Our studio artists, working in our recently completed rent controlled studios, create wondrous art every day. We hope to bring groups to experience art as it is being made.
dR: What’s your take on Tampa Bay’s art scene?
DBM: My take is a phrase I learned when I lived in London: “spoiled for choice.” Every weekend we are spoiled with a myriad of choices for first class art experiences. From professional theatre to art exhibits we are incredibly lucky. Even better, we don’t have to travel a long distance to have these experiences.
dR: What would you like to see more of?
DBM: With all our growth I’d still like to see more author events and dance performances. We have plans in the Warehouse Arts District to build an education center to include a professional dance space. Our event space is perfect for author events and readings.
Titan: Stephanie Gularte, Producing Artistic Director – American Stage
After an acclaimed career in California, Stephanie Gularte joined American Stage in 2015. She has produced more than 90 plays and musicals and directed or performed in more than 75 productions. Her inspired motto? “All experiences are an opportunity for growth.”
dR:Why did you choose to come to Tampa Bay?
SG: I had been deeply immersed in my community in California for many years and was so grateful to have had the opportunity to develop my skills as an arts leader and to make an impact in a region which had not previously been considered an “arts city.” The decision to make the move to St. Pete to join American Stage represented an opportunity to become a part of community with a rich history in the arts, but also to join in a kind of renaissance where the progressiveness, vibrancy and diversity of the arts landscape is exploding.
dR:What’s your take on the Tampa Bay performing arts scene?
SG: Dynamic. Diverse. Evolving. With continued forward momentum our region has all of the ingredients to become a world-class performing arts destination.
dR: What do you hope to see happen in the performing arts scene?
SG: A healthy performing arts scene includes multiple tiers of organizations, including educational, community, semi-professional and professional. This allows for the development of a strong local talent base as well as a sustainable model of collaboration, advocacy and viability. I’d love to see these tiers continue to be clearly defined in our performing arts community and for our organizations to work together to elevate the profile of the performing arts in Tampa Bay.