Fairgrounds St. Pete: The Concept
After two years of planning, Fairgrounds St. Pete officially opened in December, spearheaded by a team of four enthusiastic entrepreneurs from Tampa Bay. The concept was the brainchild of Liz Dimmitt, an arts consultant and strategist who has helped produce other large arts experiences like Beach Tampa and Art of the Brick, a Lego exhibition, in Tampa.
Wanting to create an immersive arts destination in St. Pete, Dimmitt (now Fairgrounds CEO) met and teamed up with Mikhail and Olivia Mansion who were behind OK! Transmit, an art and technology meet-up in St. Pete dedicated to building a community of artists and technologists. Mikhail took the lead on design and technology and is the Chief Creative Technology Officer, while Olivia as is Director of Communications. COO and Managing Director Tyson Johnson came on board a short time later providing expertise in financial management and logistics operations.
With financial backing and consulting support from philanthropists Jeff and Penny Vinik, the team was able to set the Fairgrounds in motion. The Viniks have long been recognized as strong supporters of the arts and technology in Tampa Bay.
“From the start, Fairgrounds St. Pete set out to innovate in the fields of storytelling, art and technology,” said Dimmitt. “We immerse visitors in a playful narrative that celebrates the weird, wacky, wonderful aspects of Florida. Every visit to Fairgrounds St. Pete provides a new experience.”
Why St. Pete? “We chose St. Pete because it has a beautiful tight-knit community which already celebrates arts and culture,” said Olivia Mansion. “Ninty percent of the artists who were commissioned are from Florida. When we share the concept, people always say, ‘This is so St. Pete.’ We are providing a platform for our creative community to come together, experiment and grow.”
IF YOU GO
Head to the heart of the Warehouse Arts District and look for the Factory warehouse complex at 800 28th St. S. Fairgrounds St. Pete is located in the Factory and is open Thursday through Sunday; times vary. Admission is $27/$25 Florida residents, college students with ID, military and first responders, seniors 65 and over;$22 children 4-12. Parking is free. Check out the website at fairgrounds.art to learn about participating artists and installations.
Whimsical, wonderful Florida takes center stage at the Fairgrounds. Enter if you dare.
By MARCIA BIGGS
PHOTOS/FAIRGROUNDS ST. PETE
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It’s not exactly a museum, although over 60 local and international artists are presented in various forms. Some might call it an attraction for its many experiences. The busy yellow Doodle Wall at the entrance that beckons you inside definitely screams circus funhouse (it’s the handiwork of local muralist Chad Mize). And fun, it is.
Fairgrounds St. Pete is 15,000 square feet of imagination under one roof that combines wacky and wonderful art installations, technology, video and sound, all in one way or another an homage to Florida.
As visitors wander and explore the various rooms in the roadside Mermaid Star Motel, fantasy and reality meld. Escape reality, or become immersed in fantasy, it’s your choice.
The ”grounds” of the motel are like a maze, drawing the visitor through the retro lobby into the pool area where a massive Flora-Da-Scope aimed at the sky offers a kaleidoscope universe of neon starfish and shells and palm trees rather than constellations. It was created by Aleisha Prather, Alex Kaufman and George Retkes, all Tampa Bay sculpture artists who have designed and fabricated large scale public art for Mark Aeling’s MGA Studio in St. Pete.
Beyond the scope in the darkness something is watching. The 24-foot Wall of Eyes by Bec Conrad of Durham, NC, shows silhouettes of glowing eyes belonging to six animal species who make their home in the Florida Everglades. Can you tell which is which?
Wander into the Everglades Arena space where you are greeted by twilight and a panoramic sunset in the Everglades. It’s a 20-minute animated video on a 50-foot digital landscape made by Fairgrounds St. Pete in collaboration with Olivia Sebeskey. Here you can sit a spell and relax,
but you can’t ignore the round CentCom room that resounds like a giant pinball machine. Step inside to find a 3-channel video installation where Nintendo 64 and PlayStation games have been corrupted and now play continual loops of patterns and sounds. It’s by Eddie Lohmeyer of Orlando.
A fascinating experience awaits with Mike Hicks’ (Clearwater) A Mysterious Portal to the Bay. Look through a non-descript slot in the wall and you find yourself beneath a bridge on a warm summer night where you see and hear Tampa Bay stirring in the breeze with the skyline in the distance. It’s a merging of projection mapping, 3D modeling, 3D printing, audio and a lot more.
In the Floridarama room, artists have designed custom dioramas offering a view into tiny worlds all reflecting versions of the Florida experience past, present and future. You’re not human if you don’t get a smile or two from Drive-In and Swamp Motel by Ashley Cantero of Tampa. In contrast, Babs Reingold of St. Petersburg offers The Last Sea, depicting a desolate scene of sand and debris where no life exists; it’s a warning for Florida if environmental issues are left unchecked. Mark Mitchell’s (St. Petersburg) Fountain of Youth is a satirical piece, poking fun at the tendency of so many aging Floridians who attempt to recapture their former youth.