Set to bring Tampa its first and only permanent immersive arts project, Crab Devil is taking the next steps in sharing Florida’s forgotten and unforgettable.
The arts collective is composed of local artists and creatives including Tempus Projects, LiveWork Studios, Cunsthaus and more. Its debut project, the Peninsularium, is now inching closer to a tentative launch next year.
The Peninsularium will be housed at 3800 N. Nebraska Ave. in Ybor Heights, alongside nonprofit art organization Tempus Projects and brewery and tasting room Deviant Libation, helmed by revered local brewer Tim Ogden. The project will represent a compilation of all things Florida history and culture, held in a series of 40-foot shipping containers on site. Crab Devil is now in the process of advancing architectural site plans, approving artist proposals and making its plans for a permanent installation just that—permanent.
“It became clear to us that owning this property was going to be the only way to go,” Devon Brady, Crab Devil Company Officer, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Purchasing the property in late September helped solidify the Peninsularium’s future, he said. Now, the group’s next focus is its two-phase construction plan.
Phase one will be completing renovations and on-site work to the 8,000-square-foot building that will hold Tempus Projects, Deviant Libation and the Peninsularium’s entrance which will look like a stereotypical Old Florida bait shop look-alike. Next will be assembling the Peninsularium itself, where artists will begin creating their shipping container experiences. The team is eyeing a mid-2021 end date for phase one and hoping for completion of the entire project by the end of the year.
Earlier this month, Crab Devil released its full-length introduction video, made by Barbara Rosenthal, creator of Seders and Cigars, to spotlight the collective and its organizers and artists who are making the Peninsularium a reality.
An Old Florida-themed motel room, an LED-clad laundromat, a wind chime effect-producing bamboo room and a skunk ape research lab are just some of the shipping container experiences in the works for the Peninsularium.
After a “wildly successful” call to artists this summer, Tracy Midulla, Crab Devil’s creative director and Tempus Project’s founder and director, said 23 pieces of artwork were purchased for the Cabinet of Curiosities and plans for the immersive and unusual shipping containers have also progressed. Different artists are at different stages in their designs, Midulla said. About 13 containers are being worked on currently: some in planning phases, others undergoing construction, design details and fabrication.
“There’s a lot of cross pollination between artists that have certain skills to work with other artists that need a little bit of help in those categories,” Midulla said.
In line with fostering a community centered around Tampa Bay’s art scene, Crab Devil more recently held an Oct. 24 mural unveiling at its property, where neighbors were encouraged to attend. The mural, coined “Cultural Currency,” is a 40-foot panel adorned to the side of a shipping container, featuring Harriet Tubman on the front and back of a $20 bill. The project was a collaboration between New Roots Art Collective, Crab Devil, Tempus Projects and Illsol.
The mural represents the Harriet Tubman $20 bill proposed during the Obama administration. The proposed bill gained notoriety as what would have been the first U.S. bill to feature the face of an Black American—had it become a reality.
“What it means to people personally to see something like that on such a large scale is all about what we’re about,” said Melvin Halsey, a New Roots Art Collective curator and committee member who goes by the artist name Langstn. New Roots Art Collective was started in June to highlight Black artists in the community. Following the mural unveiling, the group saw plenty of positive feedback, Halsey said.
“They were just saying it’s refreshing to see a different perspective on public art here in Tampa,” he said.
The idea for the collaborative mural sprung up in response to the increased mobility of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, Brady said. “Our artistic process in putting this mural together was kind of an echo of the processes that have been going on in the streets."
Brady noted recent calls for the removal of Confederate monuments around the country in response to George Floyd’s death. Through the mural and unveiling event, Crab Devil wanted to bring attention not only to local artists but to Black artists in Tampa as well.
“Being a person who makes things, rather than complaining about what you don’t like about what’s going on, it’s better just to make something of yourself to respond to that situation,” Brady added.
Not only does Crab Devil hope to bring Florida’s weird and wild to Tampa with the Peninsularium, but it hopes to create new opportunities within the Ybor Heights neighborhood as well.
The project itself will create a number of jobs simply due to the hands it takes to run an operation of this scale, Brady said. A goal is to fill those slots with members of the community. He plans on seeing educational opportunities and programs for working artists sprout up as well.
Brady and his teammates continually try to work against gentrification in the areas in which they work. He hopes the Peninsularium will open doors otherwise shut by products of gentrification like increased property values and neighborhood redevelopment.
“How do you go into a community that has its own issues and its own people and its own identity and bring in something new without pushing out all the people that were here initially?” he said. Moving forward, Crab Devil is focused on breaking ground on the Peninsularium property in the coming weeks.
“Building out the property, building out the artwork, getting the tenants in there and having their operations able to open and get them back to some semblance of normalcy” is everything in store for Crab Devil, Brady said.
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