How do you summarize 10 years of showing art in Seminole Heights? Tempus Projects thought about this a lot as they planned their upcoming 10th-anniversary exhibition. A top 10 seemed obvious, but Tempus founder Tracy Midulla wasn’t thrilled with the idea. “You pick out the top 10. I’m not doing it,” Midulla told her Advisory Committee.
Blissfully unaware of these earlier conversations, I proposed a top 10 for this very article. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for CL coverage, Midulla desperately tried to negotiate a different angle. I’m just kidding — there was no desperation.
“We won’t call it a Top 10,” Midulla told CL. “We’ll call it ‘10 highlights.’”
“We have so many wonderful artists that we’re working with, we can’t pick a top 10,” she explains.
For Midulla, it’s not about the 10 best artists, 10 best exhibits or 10 best events. It’s about relationships.
“It’s always been very important to me that Tempus is a place where people can gather, share ideas, see artwork,” Midulla told CL, “and I think there’ve been a lot of creative relationships and partnerships that have come out of that.”
Without further ado, here are 10 highlights from Tempus Projects’ history, with an emphasis on creative relationships.
1. Embracing the experimental in a Seminole Heights’ garage
When Tempus first landed in Seminole Heights it was in a garage next to the Dollar Tree. “I was paying $400 cash to the landlord,” Midulla told CL. “We didn’t have a bathroom. We didn’t have a sink. We certainly didn’t have Wi-Fi. We used to carry our laptops to the edges of the property to try and pick up a signal every now and again. We used to have a key to the back door of our landlord’s building to go in and use the bathroom.” It wasn’t exactly glamorous.
Yet somehow, Tempus pulled off several successful art shows in that old garage. Their 2012 tribute to avant-garde composer John Cage, Things Not Seen Before, is one of their favorites. Both Creative Loafing and the Tampa Bay Times recommended the show despite its unorthodox location.
Why? Because Cage was one of the most influential composers of the 20th century and 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Independent curator Jade Dellinger assembled a collection of work not just by Cage, but also by artists who counted Cage as one of their influences. It was the perfect fit for an alternative art space like Tempus that embraces the experimental.
2. Showcasing Tampa’s Contemporary Art Photographers
In 2012, Tempus gave nascent Tampa photography collective, Fountain of Pythons, their first group show, Between Earth and Sky. According to Fountain of Python’s leader, Becky Flanders, Tempus was instrumental in helping Fountain of Pythons get their start.
“At first, [Fountain of Pythons] was just a handful of photo geeks meeting up to basically say, ‘hey look what I made… what do you think about that?’ We would have a couple of drinks at someone’s place and do critiques and geek out about equipment or printing process,” Flanders said in a 2019 interview with VoyageMIA Magazine. “Then after a while, some of the professors from the University we had attended joined up with us. After a couple of years of meeting, one of the local non-profit galleries Tempus Projects suggested that we have members show there, and of course, we rocked it.”
It was the first of many shows in Tampa featuring Fountain of Pythons photographers.
3. Getting Tampa Bay Arts luminary, Theo Wujcik, to show his work in a garage
While Tempus was still slumming it in a Seminole Heights garage, Theo Wujcik’s work was already in several local museum collections. How did Midulla get Wujcik to show his work in their Seminole Heights garage in the spring of 2013 is anybody’s guess. In a 2014 interview with CL’s Megan Voeller, Midulla suggested that Wujcik was simply being charitable.
“While Tempus has hosted many solo exhibitions that we would love to highlight (like Langdon Graves, Ryann Slauson, and most recently Roger Palmer), [Wujcik’s] On a Clear Day holds a very special place for us,” Midulla told CL on the eve of Tempus Projects’ 10th-anniversary celebrations.
4. Getting out of the garage and providing a space for local artists
When Tempus moved into their current space on Florida Avenue at the end of 2013, they gained so much more than a bathroom. They gained the opportunity to provide space for other artists.
“I like that we were able to provide a space for QUAID the first year that we were open in our current space,” Midulla told CL. “When we left the garage, QUAID wasn’t QUAID yet. QUAID was Tampa Drawers Sketch Gang, and they wanted to start an exhibition space. We wanted to rent the whole building, but we couldn’t afford the project space yet. So we sublet to QUAID. In one of the first exhibitions in that building, [QUAID: The Tampa Drawers Sketch Gang], we highlighted the artists from QUAID.”
5. Starting an artist residency program
In 2016, Tempus Projects brought even more art to the Tampa Bay area with their new artist residency program. Artists from all over the world could apply to spend a month living in an apartment above Tempus, making art.
“Many of our first resident artists came through recommendations from people that have shown with us, [or] that have very close ties to us,” Midulla told CL.
Their first resident artist was Kalup Linzy. The USF alumnus is known for his soap opera-influenced art films combining amusing melodrama with thoughtful commentary on human relationships.
“Having Kalup wasn’t dumb luck,” Midulla told CL. Her board members, who have ties with USF, suggested him. Ben Galaday and Roxanne Jackson residencies came through those USF connections as well.
“I’m very proud of the residency program. I think that’s opened a lot of doors for the art community,” Midulla told CL. “But also, it’s certainly not all one direction. The community of artists we have here, the ties to art professors, to local artists — that’s actually what keeps Tempus running.”
6. Sticking it to the man
Also in 2016, Tempus acquired the storefront next door, allowing them to host Tampa’s newest femme-forward art collective, Cunsthaus.
“Cunsthaus has had a number of exciting feminist driven programming — Migrant Mothers and Woman of God are two strong examples — but We Want a President was an exhibition that truly defined the collective very early in its incarnation,” Midulla explained.
Cunsthaus put out an open call for the exhibition, asking artists to explore what makes someone presidential in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Local artists responded with art reflecting the qualities they desire in a head of state. USF Graphic Studio’s Margaret Miller selected works from Monique Blom, Will Douglas, Keiff Jones, Vincent Kral, Daniela Mora, Libbi Ponce, Ivan Riascos, and the Bridge Club Collective for the show.
7. Celebrating art in the Heights
Although Tempus is definitely a hub for art in Seminole Heights, it’s not the only art in the Heights.
DIY art spaces started popping up all over Seminole Heights in Tempus’ wake — QUAID in 2014, Parallelogram in 2015, and Coco Hunday in 2016. That’s a lot of art in garages.
“I’ve enjoyed seeing collectives grow, and I’ve enjoyed seeing independent spaces [pop up around Tempus],” Midulla told CL. “It’s been nice to see the community grow, and I do feel like Tempus has served as a little bit of a hub for those relationships.”
In 2017, USF Curator of Public Art and Tempus board member Sarah Howard proposed the 1st Annual Heights Art Studio and Gallery Tour to connect all the folks making art in Tampa’s Heights neighborhoods.
“We started the Heights tour as a way to build community around art in the Heights,” says Howard, “and [we wanted to give audiences] unique access to artists working in private studios and directing garage gallery programs [in those neighborhoods].” That first tour featured 14 sites, including Coco Hunday, Illsol, Bleu Acier, LiveWork Studios, and Parallelogram Gallery.
8. Going global
The art world got a little taste of Tampa when Tempus showed up for Miami Art Week in 2017. The annual art event, which began as a single art fair – Art Basel Miami Beach – in 2002, now has over 20 satellite art shows and draws over 70,000 visitors from all over the world.
Tempus set up three booths at SATELLITE, an art fair that is almost the complete opposite of the Art Basel.
“As Art Basel has evolved into a gazillion-dollar money-making affair, much of Miami Art Week has become traditional, less risky, and, well, predictable. But Satellite Art Show consistently brings the weird and the whimsy,” wrote the Miami New Times when crowning Satellite Art Show Miami’s Best Art Fair this year.
9. Empowering kids with art
LIZN’BOW’s artist residency in 2018 provided a unique opportunity for Tempus to work with at-risk youths living in the Tampa area.
Miami-based artistic duo Liz Ferrer and Bow Tie, aka LIZN’BOW, combine their skills in theater and digital arts to teach kids how to think creatively and express themselves using digital art and video.
In January 2018, LIZN’BOW collaborated with Tampa’s Community Stepping Stones to bring their New Media workshops to Tampa’s underserved youths. The collaboration gave Tampa kids the opportunity to learn new technology and express themselves in a fun talk show format.
10. Exploring Florida’s dark side
In recent years, Tempus strengthened its reputation for showing the unexpected with a series of shows exploring Florida’s dark side.
As Floridians, we’ve grown very accustomed to seeing that Chamber of Commerce version of Florida — all sunshine, white-sand beaches, and beautiful women in bikinis. We expect paradise, or at the very least, we aspire to it. But no one really lives in paradise.
In Spring 2018, Tempus invited Florida artists to share the sinister side of Florida in a group show called Sunistra. This was followed by Sad Tropics, a two-person exhibition featuring work by Florida natives Christina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa, in Fall 2018.
Sad Tropics both celebrated and poked fun at Florida culture with its luscious tropical plants, water-based amusements and weird crime stories. With custom-made wallpaper and photo murals, Molina and Traviesa surrounded us in that idealistic tropical paradise where some of Florida’s strangest dramas play out. Within these walls, Florida Man lives out his adventures in stop-motion animation.
Tempus revisited the theme in Summer 2019 with Dark and Full of Flowers, a group exhibition and Sunistra sequel, once again exploring Florida’s dark side through the eyes of local artists.