Creativity is a fickle beast. At times powerful and at times elusive, it comes and goes with no regard for your personal needs or wants. Like a bad partner, it often makes demands at the most inconvenient times and then disappears when you need it most.
Having a good relationship with creativity takes time, patience and commitment. And sometimes, it takes friends.
Our creative partnerships occupy a sacred space where everyone is accepted as they are, and every idea is given a fair hearing. Or at least, that’s how they should work.
When it comes to creating a welcoming space for creative women of all varieties, St. Pete Women’s Collective has really nailed it with Venus.
The group formed in 2017 when Bloom Art Center permanently closed. Four out of six of the original SPWC board members were working there when the art center closed its doors.
The day she found out she was losing this space to make art, Emily Stone tells me she went to her friends for support. They were all losing their creative spaces at Bloom, and they were wondering what to do next.
“We met for a month straight, two to three days a week,” Stone says. In the end, the group of six women — Stone, Tiffany Elliot, Jodi Chemes, Ashley Sweet, Jeannette St. Armour, and Mitzi Gordon — officially became the St. Pete Women’s Collective. Bloom was for bros, Stone tells me, even though Stone and Gordon were putting on all the shows.
SPWC initially leased a bungalow in Historic Kenwood for its new studios, but it really needed a larger space. This year, the group met a community-minded landlord in St. Pete’s Fringe District who was willing to work with them to create a business plan for a new space, Gordon tells me.
One of the advantages of forming a group is the collective buying power, Gordon says. She noticed early, when working out of Artists Unlimited in her 20s, the power of creative people banding together. “Everyone chips in to cover costs and put up exhibitions,” says Gordon, “then when the exhibition happens, everyone tells their friends and you get exponential exposure.
“It’s about how much stronger we are as a presence when we band together,” says Gordon.
Founding member Ashley Sweet also speaks to the power of women supporting each other. When I visit Venus during their soft opening on the last Saturday night of March, Sweet tells me about a Time’s Up Wall the group organized in January 2018. Hundreds of women came together and wrote the names of their abusers on the wall, Sweet tells me. “The support was incredible,” says Sweet, who saw complete strangers hugging each other during the event. “There’s some crazy amazing energy when you get women survivors together. It’s like nothing else.”
After spending a few hours at Venus talking to SPWC members and new tenants, I can already see the positive effects this new space is having on the group. Tiffany Elliot tells me she plans to teach a jewelry class for kids here. Elliot started making jewelry in middle school, but she never realized she could make a career of it. This is why she’s so passionate about helping kids — she wants them to see and understand all the opportunities this world has to offer. And she wants them to have this for free.
Elliot recently applied for a grant through the Boys and Girls program with a little help from her friends. If she gets it, she will be able to provide these classes free of charge to underprivileged youths. “It’s going to happen,” Stone says to her, reassuringly.
This support network is already extending beyond the original SPWC group. “We never expect our circle to expand, but it always does,” says Stone.
With the opening of Venus, SPWC hopes to provide opportunities to other artists in need of a safe space to create and to show their work. “I want to support other people fulfilling their passions,” says Chemes, “whatever they may be.”
The new space has five studios and three common rooms, including a library and a lobby/gallery.
Right now, the space is hosting Neon Sleaze, a couple from California that does illustration and graphic design work together; Karli Schneider, illustrator and founder of Take Bread, a zine shop run out of Black Crow Coffee; and Sakina, multimedia artist and creator of Nightbreed Creations, handmade jewelry featuring high quality gemstones and crystals. This is just a sampling of the artists who will be working at Venus, and the group will always be changing.
Because Venus is an arts incubator, the lease terms typically run from three months to up to a year — just long enough for someone to get started and then move on.
“We want stability, but it’s nice to have that flow of creative people coming in and out,” says Gordon.
“I’m excited to see what people bring to us,” says Stone.
“I like the idea of people being able to experience themselves in a different way, and Venus is a catalyst for that,” says Sweet. “I feel like it’s a transformational space.”
On May 25th, Venus will be hosting the first art show in their new gallery space, aptly titled Visions of Venus.
“The word ‘Venus’ has a lot of different meanings,” says Stone, “and we’re leaving it up to the artists to interpret this.” It’s a scenario that could lead to several interesting interpretations, and that’s kind of the point.
“The multifaceted nature of Venus is in line with what we’re trying to do with this space,” says Stone. “It’s about being able to show up as whoever the fuck you are.”
Visions of Venus
Opening May 25th
Venus, 244 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St Petersburg