Cultural Centers Bring Arts to Neighborhoods
Paul Berg didn't know what to expect when Carrollwood Cultural Center opened 10 years ago in the former St. Mark's Episcopal Church building on Lowell Road.
"I'm not sure anybody really had an idea what a cultural center entailed," says the Center's longtime executive director. "I was given kind of a blank slate."
He attributes the Center's subsequent success to its array of shows, classes, clubs, and exhibitions, and to feedback from patrons. Indeed, the diversity of programming, and an openness to new ideas, might be the Center's strong suits.
For example, when someone suggested starting a community chorus, Berg says, "We watched to see if people would show up." They did. The chorus now has 92 members.
Hillsborough County's two existing cultural centers are known for their daily and weekly offerings: classes, clubs, festivals, and performances. Instruction in painting, dance, pottery, yoga, and foreign languages take place throughout the year at one or both of the centers. Art created by local residents, from children to seniors, adorn the centers' walls. Summer camps and year-round visits by school students contribute to a lively vibe.
"It's gratifying to see where we started and where we are now," Berg says. "The partnership with Hillsborough County is outstanding. We wouldn't be here without that."
Carrollwood Cultural Center, which this year celebrates its first decade, is one of the operations whose main buildings are owned by the County. The other is Firehouse Cultural Center, established five years ago in a former firehouse on First Avenue Northeast in Ruskin. A third, New Tampa Cultural Center, is planned on County land along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in the Hunter's Green community.
The cultural centers are run by self-sustaining, not-for-profit groups. Programming is funded with fees, grants, and donations.
Their mission differs from those of major venues such as the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa and the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Programming at the cultural centers is more hands-on, accessible, and reflective of patrons' wishes.
The centers don't have money or space to draw blockbuster acts. But that's not their purpose. They stage plays and musical performances featuring mostly local talent, and sometimes bring in seasoned national acts. The New Christy Minstrels, for instance, returns Feb. 8 to the Carrollwood Cultural Center, and Janis Ian and Jonathan Edwards have appeared there.
"What these centers do is bring the arts into the neighborhoods," says Terri Simons, director of programs and communications for the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. "They make it easier for people to get involved."
They also bolster local economies by helping establish a sense of community and enhancing an area's appeal. Georgia Vahue, executive director of the Firehouse Cultural Center, says the Ruskin facility's programs and activities benefit not only South County residents, but also people and businesses considering a move to the area.