Name something “cooler than a museum, smarter than a theme park, weirder than a carnival.” I’ll wait. Here’s the answer: Crab Devil.
Crab Devil is a Tampa-based multimedia arts collective comprised of members from other local art collectives like Tempus Projects, Cunsthaus, LiveWork Studios, Experimental Skeleton, and more. These talented creatives, artists, curators, and writers, from all over the Tampa Bay area are in the works of putting together an immersive art experience right here in Tampa, one of the largest, collaborative, multi-disciplinary arts efforts that the state has ever seen. Quality in this quantity equals gumption by the boatload — these folks are going big in our own backyard at 3800 N. Nebraska Ave.
If hearing the name Crab Devil makes you salivate for the dish borne out of Tampa (“devil” or “deviled” crab), that’s not by mistake. Inverting the name adds a layer of intrigue and mystery to the recognized and familiar, one that spices our familiar cuisine with a cryptozoological flavor. Such engagement of local legacy and witty imagination is crucial for the collective, whose aim to “provide a platform to showcase the talents and traditions of this unique city and its people in a way that can help to establish its identity on a national stage” is outlined in the Crab Devil manifesto.
Their premier attraction ‘The Peninsularium’ is a conglomeration of shipping containers which will house immersive art spaces. The manifesto reads, “Our desire is to create experiences and environments that instill new feelings, challenge perceptions, and create permanent changes in the viewer. We strive for an architecture of joy.” This shipping yard of art echoes Tampa’s enduring presence as a port city and harkens back to traveling circuses around the turn of the century. The name situates itself nicely in a history of dirt-road diversions that predated interstates or Disney World, like Gatorland, Gulfarium, Spongeorama, and Serpentarium.
Visitors will enter through the Crab Devil Bait Shop, set up like any other roadside attraction that Old Florida was built upon, where they are immersed in a unique atmosphere of gear and oddities that seem off in one way or another. If lured past those unusual lures, customers are transported through the Peninsularium to worlds uncharted and unreal. You should have gotten that cast net made of floss after all. Who knows what else waits to be discovered?
The structure of this new arts experience is quite a departure from typical museum or gallery spaces. Shipping containers certainly aren’t quick to be associated with art – rather, with the transportation of goods or trafficked human beings, or as the backdrop of cinematic action – but this further signifies just how clever Peninsularium’s structure is. The shipping container offers the same shape no matter what but the possibilities of what it can become are infinite, and their inherent mobility lends itself to endless arrangements of art experiences, which can exist singularly or spread through multiple containers.
Devon Brady, Company Officer of Crab Devil, explained that the collective’s realization after “working with groups like New Orleans Airlift, an artist-driven initiative who connects communities through experimental public artworks, and seeing business models pioneered by groups like Meow Wolf was that there was a way for us to tie all of these things together in a way that puts us in control of the experience, and puts local artists and fabricators in a position to benefit both creatively and financially by pushing the boundaries of what has been seen before.”
Working directly and sincerely with the community is a major cornerstone of the organization. “Cultivation of diversity is not just a lofty aspiration of ours, it is a necessity if this work is to succeed, to be original and engaging, and to speak to the people in the community that it serves,” is another potent line from the manifesto.
Crab Devil is seeking proposals for installations in shipping containers, dioramas, and objects for a cabinet of curiosities revolving around bizarre and beloved Sunshine State themes. “Stylistically, shows like Sunistra [Tempus Projects] were important in terms of honing a Florida-centric vision that we all shared – one that was a little darker, more nuanced, and ultimately more interesting than the typical Florida narratives familiar to most people,” said Brady. Our geographic peninsula offers no shortage of these fantastical and freakish ideas to inspire work.
And if reading the words “Tampa” and “art space” and “shipping containers” have you sweating from thoughts of how our signature year-round heat might play a role in Crab Devil’s ventures: fear not! These containers will be kitted out with insulation and drywall, electrical ports, and, most importantly, air-conditioning. Having such critical elements allows the nature of whatever imagined environment or reality presented to have full effect.
If you’re an artist or creative, get ready to think outside of the box; I can barely contain my excitement at what Crab Devil’s future holds.