The Can Do Man

Mural artist Eric Hornsby, known as esh, has put his work on The Cube in the Jaeb Courtyard for a few years. Now he gathers some of the area’s premier mural artists to open a brand new Art on the Walk exhibit during our Open House Party on Oct. 6.

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Eric “esh” Hornsby in action. (Art/photos: Eric Hornsby)

Caught in the Act recently sat down with aerosol artist (a.k.a. medium of choice is spray paint) and friend of The Straz Eric Hornsby to find out more details about his story, his artistic process and the upcoming Art on the Walk exhibit that features him and other great Tampa-area mural artists Eddie Rivera, zeros, the Capco crew and reda3sb. Together, they’re installing panels of mural art inspired by people and places of Tampa during our annual free festival, the Open House Party, on Oct. 6.

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Woman with gharial (Art/photo: Eric Hornsby)

Eric’s roots in Florida go deep, starting when his family moved to Thonotosassa from the northeast after his grandfather, a retired New York police officer, bought a mobile home park in that rural area of Hillsborough County. “I have to give a lot of props to my Uncle Joe who passed away two, three years ago,” Eric says. “He had a canoe, and we didn’t even have to ask, we’d just borrow it. Literally walk five miles with the thing on our back to the lake and paddle out. I was a nature lover from the go. Living like Huckleberry Finn out there for real. We made homemade bows and arrows; we’d just camp out and cook anything we shot. We ate all that stuff. I used to swim from Sargent’s Park to Morris Bridge, that part of the Hillsborough River, for the adventure of it. Alligator-infested water,” he laughs.

Eric’s upbringing in the Florida woods led to his first career in the wilderness, first as a canoe guide, then as a park ranger, then to his job as an on-site land manager for Hillsborough County’s conservation department. Wild as he was in this career, he kept returning to his first love: art. Mostly self-taught by emulating manga, cartoon styles and comic books, Eric’s artistic style, a mash up of those styles with lurid nature symbolism, evolved. He wanted to be a professional artist, and the time came for him to put up or shut up.

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Mystery of the disco melon ball (Art/photos: Eric Hornsby)

“I read a book by Tim Ferris. Somewhere he says, ‘if you’re not doing the things you love …” essentially meaning if you’re not choosing the life you want, you’re living a false life. I was like, ‘I can’t live a false life!’ It really hit me hard, so I started moving from point A to point B, reading a lot of books to motivate me to do what I wanted to do,” says Eric. He dropped down to part time and focused on becoming a professional artist.

“Eat, Sleep, Hustle,” or esh for short, emerged.

To hear Eric speak more in-depth about his transformation and about when you can meet him and the other artists at The Straz, plug into Act2, the Straz Center’s official podcast. Our interview with Eric goes live on Thursday, 9/27/18. During the interview, we discuss his work outside of The Cube, including the paintings and murals pictured above.

We’ve included a few favorites from The Cube that you may remember below.

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The Threepenny Opera-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

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Wicked-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

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RENT-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

Come meet Eric at our Open House Party with the other mural artists (samples of their art pictured below) and remember to catch his interview on Act2.

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Art on the Walk exhibit artist: 20-year street art veteran, zeros.

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Art on the Walk exhibit artists: Capco mural team, Juan Pablo and Vanessa Parra

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Art on the Walk exhibit artist: Tampa graffiti legend Eddie Rivera

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Art on the Walk exhibit artist: International artist Reda3sb

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Art on the Walk exhibit artist: Eric “esh” Hornsby

The Fine Art Mystery of Morsani Mezzanine

Dr. Jay and Ann McKeel Ross Art Exhibit

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A drawing of a robe. Toddler dresses. Abstract boxes in a row. What are these art works hanging unceremoniously on the walls of Morsani Mezzanine? Where did they come from? What do you mean some of the greatest visual artists in the world are on display at the Straz Center?

The Tampa Bay area is a land of many secrets.

Our history holds several little-known treasures: the West Tampa cigar workers who rolled the instructions for the first Cuban revolution into the cigar destined for Havana; Woodlawn Cemetery, which features a fairly nondescript section dedicated only to circus folk, and Keith Richards, whose stint at the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel in Clearwater churned out the guitar lick to “Satisfaction.”

Perhaps one of the most enduring and prolific gems in Tampa’s atlas of uniqueness is the University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio, an experiment in art and education started by artist and professor Dr. Don Saff in 1968 that goes strong right now, even as you read this.

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Rauschenberg in his studio with Graphicstudio staff Patrick Foy, Tom Pruitt and Donald Saff, working on In-Dependents/ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works) in 1990. (Courtesy of Saff Tech Arts. Photo: George Holzer)

USF Graphicstudio has provided, over the last several decades, a refuge and workspace for some of the most famous, most promising, most daring visual artists to push the evocative, provocative printmaking form. Graphicstudio holds a well-deserved revered status in the art world as a studio at the forefront of international fine art publishing. One of the first artists to work with them was none other than the innovative genius Robert Rauschenberg.

Although The Stones were making headlines in the ‘60s, the boundless eruption of experimental art flourishing in the United States had a home with a group of artists in New York inventing what would be known as Pop Art. Its purveyors – Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Claes Oldenburg – pole-vaulted into the vaunted halls of fame, fashion, fortune (for some) and made art focusing on popular culture a “thing,” a “happening.” Soup cans transformed to colorful social commentary, collages aping advertising slicks erased boundaries between high and low art, and these artists purposefully muddied the waters around concerns with the interbreeding of politics and mass media, consumerism and community integrity. These artists built the complex platform of cultural questioning that each of us stands on today, and two of these Pop Art all-stars – Lichtenstein and Rosenquist – worked in Graphicstudio.

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But before them came Rauschenberg, whose style, labeled Neo-Dada, built the scaffolding for the later work of the Pop Art movement. Rauschenberg is a legend. There’s no other way to put it. He was the one who reconsidered and reconfigured what constituted artistic materials. He put found objects on painted canvases and threw the distinction between sculpture and painting into a tailspin. Rauschenberg was the guy whose White Paintings – canvases covered in uniform strokes with nothing but white house paint – totally confounded the definition of art, making some people really angry and awakened others to a canvas’s possibility for the artistry in shadows or as a backdrop to the art of life. Rauschenberg’s audacity made people question their fundamental assumptions, which made him both loved and loathed, as most great artists are.

Contemporaries admired him, art historians uphold him as one of the most influential American artists of all time and critics continue to debate interpretations of his kitsch-meets-classical work style that upended the boundaries of what it means to make art. Rauschenberg spent years, from 1972-1987, in and out of Graphicstudio, an effort that resulted in 60 editions of prints that experimented with form and technique. Rauschenberg, with the dedication of USF faculty, staff and students, tested his ideas in photo transfer, cyanotype, sepia prints, printing on cloth and ceramics, new material sculptures and a hundred-foot-long photograph during his tenure with Graphicstudio. His works Made in Tampa Two, Made in Tampa Eleven and Made in Tampa Twelve now hang in the easily accessible pop-up gallery of the Morsani Mezzanine.

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Rauschenberg’s Pop Art contemporary, Rosenquist, noted for his deft and original use of juxtaposition, also has two works from his time with Graphicstudio on display in Morsani: Iris Lake and Discover Graphics Smithsonian. After noticing the Rauschenbergs and the Rosenquists, a leisurely stroll across the Mezzanine reveals the art placards carry one gigantic name after another:

• There are four Untitled works from the master maverick of the Pop Art era, Nicholas Krushenick, whose ultra-bold simplistic color blocks lined with black traces conjure an almost Simpsons-esque aesthetic – only 25 years before Matt Groening became a maverick in his own right. It’s worth noting that during this artistic time period, when almost everyone could be categorized somewhere from Op Art to Pop Art to post-Abstract Expressionism, Krushenick is the only one who defies category. He belongs everywhere and nowhere, which is an admirable feat among the wild bunch of enfants terribles cranking out art in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

Krushenick

• Chuck Close, whose John I and John II appear near the staircase, is one of the last living giants of the age. His singular, mosaic-style of painting meticulous portraits from a grid, often using each 1×1 square as a minute canvas as part of the whole canvas, reinvented the art of portraiture.

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• Miriam Schapiro, the printmaking revolutionary who invented “femmage,” a collage-like style that must include at least seven of fourteen distinct criteria including scraps, sewing, patterns, photographs and a woman-life context, is represented by one of her most enduring works, Children of Paradise, created during her time at Graphicstudio from 1983-1984.

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• Jim Dine, Nancy Graves, Robert Stackhouse and the founder of Graphicstudio himself, Don Saff, all have work on the wall in Morsani mezzanine.

Graves, Dine, Stackhouse

That a collection so impressive, so unique hangs rather humbly in the Morsani Mezzanine raises a very important question: how did they get there? The answer lies with Jay and Ann McKeel Ross. Ann Ross, who moved to Tampa around the time that Rauschenberg was collaborating as set designer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company on Taylor’s 1957 The Tower, graduated from USF. Ann and her husband Jay loved Tampa, loved this area – and they loved art and culture. In 1968, they helped Saff start Graphicstudio, leveraging their relationships to create a pool of supporters to start a subscription program to help fund the artist residency. The subscribers, now called Research Partners, make an annual contribution to support the research mission. In return, they have opportunities to purchase work from Graphicstudio artists for a special price. (Note: anyone can buy full price Graphicstudio prints and sculptures from the studio’s website.)

A Straz Center trustee, Ann – along with her husband Jay – has been a long time donor to The Straz. She loaned these pieces of her personal collection for community enjoyment and appreciation of the fine work happening at Graphicstudio, which is now recognized as the nation’s leading university-based art research workshop.

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Ann and Jay Ross.

“Ann and Jay are the only collectors that have been members of the subscription program since its inception and therefore have a complete collection of prints and sculptures produced for our Research Partners over the last 50 years,” says Margaret Miller, the director of Graphicstudio. “They have been generous in loaning works from their collection. How fortunate we are to have Ann and Jay in our community. They continue to demonstrate their commitment to advancing art and culture in this region.”

We are very proud and honored to be able to exhibit such a high caliber of work in an open community space like the Morsani Mezzanine, and we encourage you, on your next visit to The Straz, to come early and spend some time with the pieces from Ann and Jay’s collection. If you would like to get involved with Graphicstudio, check out their website: graphicstudio.usf.edu.

 

Local Profiles: Sculpting Out a Future

Jim and Joan Jennewein helped shape the Straz Center in more ways than one.

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YES! by Martin Eichinger is a bronze sculpture that was a part of the original Performance In Sculpture exhibit in Morsani lobby.

In the spring of 1981, a young visionary architect named Jim Jennewein walked across a scraggly five-acre parking lot alongside the Hillsborough River. In his mind, he built a future performing arts center for the people of Tampa Bay. The plans, drawn up by the firm in collaboration with a Canadian team led by Arthur Nichol (who was responsible for the National Art Center in Ottawa), advanced to the final round of consideration for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center project.

By June 1981, the competition stalled out in a two-way tie, requiring then-mayor Bob Martinez to break the draw. He announced McElvy, Jennewein, Stefany and Howard would be the architects with Jim named architect of record. The Straz Center began, slowly, to materialize.

Jim, the son of the great sculptor C. Paul Jennewein, grew up in an environment that nurtured the process of creating three-dimensional art. For Jim, that process included making buildings. His father, whose famous Art Deco sculptures include the Spirit of Justice in the United States Department of Justice and her counterpart, Majesty of Law, created several pieces of distinction for national buildings. Jim’s likeness stands in sculptural from (from the neck down) in the passageway to the White House library, a distinction that happened when his father found himself in need of a male model for the commission.

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C. Paul Jennewein’s Spirit of Justice and Majesty of Law in the United States Department of Justice.

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The Noyes Armillary Sphere, by C. Paul Jennewein, in Meridian Hill Park. It suffered serious damage and is thought to have been removed for repair sometime in the 1970s. Its whereabouts are presently unknown.

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C. Paul Jennewein designed the large circular discs with eagles and fasces on the pylons of each pier of the Arlington Memorial Bridge. (Photo: Flickr user hwro)

Jim and his wife Joan are long-time Tampanians with an equally long track record of community involvement, engaging from the nascent stages of Straz Center planning and staying involved as donors, patrons and members of the Opera Tampa League to this day. Joan, in fact, holds the title of one of the longest-standing members of the Opera Tampa League Board and served as the Opera Tampa League chair from 2008-2011. Both Jenneweins lend their talents and experience in other areas including art preservation and land conservation.

Humble and likeable, the Jenneweins downplay their own involvement in The Straz, and, like many long-married couples, genially share sentences with Jim often reaching to Joan to supply details of their great stories of family, life and work.

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Joan and Jim Jennewein pose next to The Ballet Dancer in Morsani lobby. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

The Jenneweins’ inherited interest in sculpture served the Straz Center several years ago when Jim, a member of the National Sculpture Society board (NSS), pitched the idea of doubling The Straz’s spaces as a sculpture gallery. The idea flew, with Jim paving the inroads to build a partnership between the performing arts center and the NSS. The partnership marked the first time the NSS branched out to a community. The stunning sculptures in the Morsani Hall lobbies, The Conductor and The Ballet Dancer, represent two of the permanent works in this otherwise on-going, revolving exhibition. The works, unlike in a museum, are for sale, and The Conductor was purchased and donated back to the Straz Center, but anyone can buy the other sculptures.

“The sculptures here represent the first continual NSS show outside of New York City and Brookgreen Gardens [one of the largest outdoor sculpture gardens in the world],” says Jim. A new set of sculptures arrived in October 2016 and are on display along the Morsani mezzanine balcony.

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More sculptures from the original exhibit. L to R: Lift Her With Butterflies by Angela De la Vega; Heinrich by Wayne Salge; Ascent by Leo E. Osborne; Dancer by Olga Nielsen.

For 34 years, Jim and Joan have been part of the Straz Center family, part of the first generation of Tampanians to believe in a place to build, share and exchange culture and do the work investing time and resources to make it happen. They have been shaping and sculpting the success of the Straz Center as it, like an evolving work of art, changes shape to meet the growing needs of the Tampa Bay community.

“We are so lucky,” says Jim.

“That’s right,” Joan says. “To have been involved as much as we have, as long as we have. It’s a great place.”

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Guests at the opening reception for the exhibit. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

Interested in knowing more about how the Straz Center launched the massive overhaul of downtown Tampa? Check out this recent article by Richard Danielson for Politico Magazine, “How Tampa Turned a Dead Zone into a Downtown”.

Go With the Flow

Florida-born National Water Dance Day connects dancers to the life source

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Water Dance Day participants in Miami, FL.

Earth is mostly water, a chemical compound that covers about 71% of the surface of our extraordinary, life-rich planet. The infant human body, by comparison, starts at about 75% water (so, very similar), though we drop in wetness as we age. The human fruit, we see every day, starts quite grape-like and ends quite raisin-like.

Water, a simple molecule of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom (H20), serves a complex, vital, fascinating function in the creation and perpetuation of life on earth. We drink it in liquid form, eat it in solid form, use it to cool down, use it to heat up. Water feeds our food and cooks our food, cleans us and supplies a lifetime of happiness in the forms of swimming, fishing, diving, paddling, snorkeling, boating . . . the list goes on.

Most importantly, water keeps us alive.

Water inspires every single artistic discipline: painting, sculpting, pottery, textiles, music, theater, filmmaking, photography.

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Inspired by travels and deep water dives, Shayna Leib, a Madison, Wisconsin-based artist, created a stunning glass artwork series, Wind and Water.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), The Wave, 1879.

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Alberta Ferretti presented an ocean-inspired FW16 collection at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, 2016. (Getty Images/Francois Durand)

Water, in particular, inspires dance. Most ancient and indigenous cultures celebrated the deities of water or bodies of water themselves in specific dances. America’s wild woman modern dance matron, Isadora Duncan, gained acclaim performing to Strauss’s The Blue Danube and rose to fame with her meditation on water, Water Study, in the early 1900s. Her style of dance became synonymous with the free-spirit of modern dance and dance’s obvious connection to nature—a “body” of water, a “body” of dance work, so to speak.

Florida, a former coral reef with some of the greatest biodiversity in its water systems in North America, has its own peculiar history with water. With most of the state covered in swampland when America hustled and bustled into the mid-20th century as a major industrialized nation, the biggest obstacle to growth and development was the pesky problem of how to literally drain the Florida swamp. In his comprehensive Everglades history, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise, historian Michael Grunwald recounts the Army Corps of Engineers’ steps to tame by force Florida’s mighty waterways. The Army Corps issued Waters of Destiny, a propaganda film pitting humankind against its worst nightmare, water, a “villain” that was “the scourge of mankind, burying life and land under its relentless and merciless depths.” This attitude was rather well-received at the time and ushered in several decades of the worst environmental degradation on human record. Clean water in Florida a generation later, like water in an alarming number of states and countries, inched towards crisis. From then ‘til now, news reports flow in detailing pollution, droughts, falling water tables, the collapse of the natural springs and the yearly algae blooms from the Lake Okechobee discharges, the need for citizens to respond to Florida’s predicament pushed Miami choreographer and dancer Dale Andree to create National Water Dance.

“National Water Dance is a catalyst for empowering and informing students, dance artists and the community. For us, it is an ongoing question of what are we achieving and what do we hope to achieve? Our goal is action through inspiration,” Andree says. The organization exchanges research, articles, and video clips of other dancers and choreographers who have a water ethic and are creating outdoor works.

National Water Dance, a non-profit dedicated to fostering this new water ethic of personal responsibility, organizes members on the internet. Every two years, members create a “movement choir” around the country and live stream the event. Participants spend the months prior to Water Dance Day collaborating on shared movements and phrases and choosing their site-specific locations. Some dancers perform in parks or near public city fountains, some dance in rivers or on beaches. All participants are guided through the process of securing permits if necessary and for using the shared movements in their choreography.

“Connecting to the environment through performance has a visceral effect on the performers as well as those witnessing,” says Andree. “It creates an opportunity for the participants to use their physical voice to bring attention to these water issues and to do it in community with concerned dancers all across the state and the country. Our hope is that the energy, beauty and commitment of these student and professional dancers offers another lens by which the audience can be touched and moved to action.”

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Dancers from Grinnell College in Iowa participate in Water Dance Day.

Although access to water, especially as the environmental toll on clean water spikes, has come under scrutiny as a modern-day battleground, Andree remains hopeful that each person’s efforts—each drop in the bucket—will eventually add up to a solution that works, especially for Florida and the United States.

“In creating National Water Dance, I wanted to focus on the United States because I felt we so often see the problems outside of ourselves and miss the ones facing us,” she says. “As I developed the project, I realized what a bridge it presented for our communities in such a divided time. One of the most satisfying experiences for me is the sense of belonging and of creating a movement that addresses real issues in every community. We are building that movement and belonging with dance. We share the knowledge of our bodies and the expression that results to address the issues around the most basic need of survival, water, by connecting to our diverse environments. Our internet community has formed bridges of understanding and experience beyond politics.”

The next National Water Dance Day will be April 14, 2018. Here is the video of Water Dance Day 2016:

For more details about National Water Dance, visit here.

Illustrator Sam Spratt Draws from Life

When The Daily Show senior political correspondent Hasan Minhaj needed a dope illustrator to make pieces for his upcoming show Homecoming King, he called on his buddy Sam Spratt.

A Brooklyn-based digital painter—a classic oil technique used on computer tablets—Spratt graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010 and took to the internet via shared content while working as the staff illustrator for Gawker and Gizmodo.

Spratt’s work, which ranges from portraiture to the new wave of ultra-artistic advertising and promotion, pops up in incongruent places—from the Long Day’s Journey into Night theater poster to interpretations of Angry Birds. He also has an impressive list of comic drawings and hip hop album covers.

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Sam Spratt’s first illustration for a Broadway play. Read more about it here: http://www.richardsolomonblog.com/2016/04/sam-spratt-long-days-journey-into-night.html.

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Sam Spratt’s Red Bird. See more Angry Birds art here: http://www.samspratt.com/angry-birds-for-rovio/.

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Album cover for Logic’s Under Pressure (Deluxe). (Sam Spratt)

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Game Informer cover for the January 2016 issue. (Sam Spratt)

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Study in Scotch. (Sam Spratt)

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Portrait of Daenerys from HBOs Game of Thrones. (Sam Spratt)

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Illustration of the Foo Fighters for Rolling Stone. (Sam Spratt)

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Illustration of Janelle Monáe for Billboard Magazine. (Sam Spratt)

Minhaj, whose show explores his personal story as it fits into the landscape of the American Dream, wanted a Norman Rockwell-eque style of vignettes that Minhaj covers (hilariously) in his show. The result is this small collection of Spratt paintings, “New Brown America,” with explanations by Minhaj as posted on http://www.homecomingkingshow.com.

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‘Alone on the Bus’ by Sam Spratt / Some of my worst memories growing up were on the bus. I still don’t know how it’s a mandated policy to put 100 hormonal teenagers in a metal box for an hour and hope fights don’t break out; it’s basically World Star on wheels. Bullying and bus dynamics in middle school are complicated: at times visceral and blatant, but most days it came in a more subtle form: exclusion. On display and surrounding me daily was everything I hoped for: the flirting, the jokes, the high fives, the desire to fit in somewhere on the social hierarchy. The school bus was the most social form of isolation.

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‘Patel Brothers’ by Sam Spratt / Walk into any Indian grocery store and you’ll recognize a very distinct smell. I don’t know what it is; the daal, the dried Shaan masala, the bootlegged VHS tapes, but its uncanny and universal. The ambience is always a little left of what you’d see in a traditional grocery store, but the strangeness makes it familiar. The lights in the back flickered, the price tags were hand written and illegible, but the store owner knew customers by name and called my dad Najme Saheb every time we walked in. I miss those days, but I can relive them—even if its just for a moment—whenever I walk into a Patel Brothers.

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‘Prom’ by Sam Spratt / By the time my senior year of high school rolled around I had never been to a school dance, I had been cut from the basketball team for the third year in a row, and I had just gotten off of Acutane. I was pretty much crushing it. Sneaking out of my house to go to prom was the most badass thing I had ever done. For the first time in my life I actually grabbed the reigns of an opportunity and just went for it. No matter the consequences, that night was the epitome of my American Dream.

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‘October 9th, 2014’ by Sam Spratt / Standup comedy really is the mafia. We all start off as runners in the streets in hopes of one day becoming made men. We pine away for years in the back of dingy bars waiting for that one opportunity that could change everything. On October 9th, 2014 I got the call to audition for one of the most intelligent, poignant, and talented political satirists of the modern era. I had been doing standup 10 years, 1 month, and 9 days when I was hired to join The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jon took a chance on me, believed in me, and changed my life forever. Dreams really do come true.

To see more of Sam Spratt, check out his website.

 

STOP. SIT. PLAY!

The Straz Center @ the Riverwalk offers a medley of interactive objects encouraging everybody to stop by and play with us.

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Detail shot of Why Sit When You Can Play? musical bench created by The Urban Conga. Photo by Rob/Harris, Inc.

For 27-year-old architect Ryan Swanson, the moment of clarity came when he stood alongside his pop-up public art installment that included a 12-foot beach ball in downtown Tampa. A homeless man approached Ryan and his business partners for money.

“I said, ‘man, we don’t have any money, but you can play with our stuff.’ At the time, I was working for a firm, we’d all just graduated from the University of South Florida architecture school, and were doing these pop-up installations in our spare time because we were poor, trying to transform underutilized public spaces. We took the guy over to the beach ball, introduced him to the family who was playing with it, a middle-class family. Everybody was skeptical at first, then we left them to it. Next time I looked over, they were all like little kids, batting the ball to each other. I saw it: play breaks down barriers. It was just … people playing. I said to myself, I’ve got to designate more time for this.”

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Ryan Swanson, of The Urban Conga, demonstrating how to play the musical bench.

Ryan quit his job and The Urban Conga, a creative collective determined to transform static public spaces into interactive play places, was born. The vision, started as Ryan’s graduate thesis at USF, resurrects the idea of public space as a locus for human interaction. People can participate in something cool together, as a community, the way we used to in the good old days before screen devices became our primary social partners. “It’s been a hurdle to convince the old guard around town that building a park in and of itself isn’t going to draw people to it. Look at Curtis Hixon Park, for example. It’s beautiful. But people really only go there when there’s an event, some draw. It’s hard for the older generation to understand we live and experience in a completely different way now, though they’re seeing our stuff work. As with our ping pong tables at Gaslight Park. People looked at them like they were alien spaceships, now people are bringing their own paddles out at lunch. So, it’s getting somewhat easier for people to understand the importance of our designs, of our philosophies and ideas that play works to bring people together, to make a conversation happen.”

Last year, Straz Center Director of Programming Chrissy Hall approached The Urban Conga about activating some space around the Straz Center. “We have this wonderful location on the Riverwalk, we’re here for our community, and we want to be a destination where people come hang out, even if they’re not coming to see a show,” she said. “The Urban Conga has the right thinking we need to help make The Straz a place where people participate in our campus – a place where they can play and enjoy themselves.”

 

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Kids playing the musical bench at our Open House event.

After hours designing, welding, carving and revising, The Urban Conga installed Why Sit When You Can Play?, a bright-blue xylophone bench on the Riverwalk. Six steel segments comprise the 1.5 ton structure, a permanent installation, although the multi-colored sound blocks are made of hardwood maple and loosely affixed to give the blocks reverb to transmit sound. Anyone can sit and enjoy the bench. Or, pick up a mallet and give it a whack.

“We were so excited The Straz was open to us and our ideas for the musical bench. It’s a great feeling to come down here and see people playing it, or sitting together and talking while strangers walk up and start hitting it. It’s about musical collaboration, conversation … but all our work is a constant experiment to see how people engage,” said Ryan.

The success of Why Sit When You Can Play? prompted Chrissy to invite The Urban Conga, a trio that includes Mark Perrett and Brennen Huller as well as Ryan, to construct The Cube, an interactive, community graffiti-art project that happened at The Straz this winter.

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Local artist Angel Corela was the first to paint The Cube on January 20, 2016.

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After being up for only one day, our community had already left their mark on The Cube!

The Cube was fantastic,” Chrissy says. “We are in such an exciting time of change for The Straz as we make these huge efforts to offer easy ways for the public to feel a sense of pride and ownership in their performing arts center. We’re seeing the mission of the Straz Center in action, responding to social evolution. The role we’ll take in the future of this community is shaping itself before our eyes.”

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Local artist Cory Robinson paints another layer on The Cube on February 18, 2016.

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The Cube has moved to different locations around our campus. Here it is in the courtyard outside of the Jaeb Theater on April 16, 2016.

The next interactive exhibit hits the Riverwalk at The Straz April 30 and May 1 when Australia’s kid-centric imaginarium-makers Polyglot Theatre stage We Built This City, a free, family-friendly event featuring thousands of cardboard boxes that can be used to build any sort of cityscape participants desire.

With rocking music from an on-site DJ to fire the imagination and offer some creative hype, children of all ages can design, build, tear down, walk through and play in a city of their own making. The only rule is to have fun. Polyglot’s team will be in the mix guiding participants, acting as construction workers and hilarious characters and setting the tasks to bring people together.

 

More Hands-On and On-Site Fun

Fin Harp – Los Angeles-based performing art collective String Theory provided that dolphin-inspired Fin Harp that attaches to the roof of Morsani Hall. It was designed and built by Luke Rothschild. Read more about this permanent installation in this blog article.

Who We Are: Faces of Tampa Bay – French-American photographer Daniel Chauche spent two weeks in residency photographing portraits of the Tampa Bay area community from all walks of life. The photographs are on display through May 2016 along the Tampa Riverwalk. Read more about this free, outdoor exhibit on our website.

 

Finding the Art in Nature

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The Callanish Stones on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. (This photo of Callanish Standing Stones is courtesy of TripAdvisor.)

Art and the performing arts are, at their basic level, a means of creating community and expressing our understanding of the world and ourselves. They have been interwoven with our natural world since human beings evolved to make art – our unique language of creativity that has incredible power.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, evidence for both visual arts and performing arts dates to roughly 40,000 years ago, although, quite unexpectedly, in separate parts of the world. The Stone Age cave paintings of Sulawesi in Indonesia and the bone-carved flutes found in Europe emerged concurrently. Both early artifacts record humans’ reflection in and use of nature. Nature inspired our artistic abilities, encouraging our creative minds to flourish in painting, sculpture, music and dance. Humans used art to honor animals, sacred places and celestial events. We then applied our talents to ceremony and ritual, inextricably weaving our self-expression to nature and to the heavens.

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Cave paintings on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are among the oldest of their kind. (Photo: Maxime Aubert/Griffith University/Australia)

Not much has changed for many artists who still draw inspiration from nature and use natural themes and materials to communicate their ideas and impressions of our world. Today, the National Park Service includes an artists-in-residence program, encouraging the continuation of humanity’s vital artistic interaction with the natural world. From Isadora Duncan’s early modern dance work in nature to Asadata Dafora’s 1932 landmark Awassa Astrige/Ostrich dance that introduced traditional African nature dances to American audiences, choreographers have drawn on natural phenomena to explore dimensions of the human experience. Nature herself provided humans with a built-in instrument, the voice, which scientists argue was our first experiment with music-making some 530,000 years ago.

But, over the past few thousand years, humanity’s relationship to nature drastically changed our environment and our way of thinking about it. Art is how we see life, so as growing concerns over clean water, loss of species, climate change, natural resources and overdevelopment affect our future, many artists responded by offering art and the performing arts as part of global discussions on such concerns.

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Photo: Straz Center Instagram (@strazcenter)

In 2008, artists and scientists gathered in Europe and Asia as part of the Connect2Culture Initiative to begin talks about the intersections of art and sustainability and how the arts and performing arts can create a new way of thinking about the natural world. Around the United States, universities are offering classes in arts and the environment, and new fields of study—such as dance ecology and music ecology—specifically deal with bodies and sounds as they relate to nature. Students of these artistic-ecological meldings produce exquisite examinations of movement and sound that delight audiences and uphold humanity’s artistic origins.

Our own backyard is chock-full of people unearthing the primal visceral power of art and nature to connect us to each other, ourselves and our world. In November 2014, St. Petersburg hosted Blue Ocean, a film festival and conservation summit, and the Springs Eternal Project in Gainesville creates partnerships between advocates, artists, scientists and researchers to inspire Floridians to revere and protect our fragile springs water systems. Kuumba Drummers and Dancers, Tampa’s only African dance ensemble, continues Dafora’s work in preserving traditional folkloric African dances used to communicate between performers, audience and aspects of nature.

Attendant to the performing arts’ ability to unite with science to help propel humanity into new perspectives is the basic, fundamental power of nature’s own artistry to heal the human heart and mind. In Florida, we are privileged to experience the choreography of flight in a flock of white ibis by doing nothing more than heading to the nearest body of water. We can go further in the Florida wilderness to witness the terrific symphony of bull alligators bellowing during mating season. In our backyards, we have the great belching chorus of frogs and toads that so enriches the dramatics of a sky full of stars.

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Photo: Daffodil’s Photo Blog

We, too, flock to the beaches, congregate on riverbanks and witness, every year, a great migration of human beings to the Sunshine State. Why? Because, deep within us, lies our undeniable connection to the beat of life. We participate in the art of nature whether we know it or not, and we draw together in the many expressions of our artistic celebration of living on this earth. There are tracings of many human hands surrounding a prehistoric deer on a cave wall in Sulawesi to prove it.