Tampa women's artist collective Creatives Exchange formed in 2015 after Jenny Carey, the group’s founder (and CL alumnus), recognized the benefits of individual artists working in groups.
During her tenure at the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, “we would get these groups that would form,” says Carey, “The North Tampa Arts League in particular was one group that kind of formed when I was there. There was a group of artists that began to populate the 1906 North Armenia building... Years before even I was writing, when I was in Ybor, there was Titanic Anatomy, which were some artists from USF... Artists always tend to come together.”
When her time at ACHC came to an end, Carey was not ready to leave her friends on the Artists Advisory Committee behind. “I missed my friends,” says Carey, “so I said, ‘well, let’s have a breakfast,’ and it just kind of kept going from there. So that’s how this group started.”
The Creatives Exchange is relatively new, but they are following an old, time-honored tradition in the art world. Women’s art collectives have been around since the late '60s, when women had trouble getting their work shown in the male-dominated galleries of the time. Rather than continue to rely upon men for career opportunities, women artists decided to rely upon each other, coming out of isolation and forming groups for increased visibility. Thus the women artists’ movement was born.
The need for such groups has decreased over the years, yet they still remain relevant today. “A lot of artists work in isolation, and groups provide support and inspiration,” says Carey.
On one wall of the first-floor Art Gallery in HCC Ybor's Performing Arts Building, Suzanne Williamson’s photographs form grids of blue, gray, and orange. Up close, you can see that each box is a waterscape taken at a different time of day, in all sorts of weather. The similarities and differences, viewed close-up and from a distance, give the work uncommon depth.
Adjacent to that, Suzanne Camp Crosby’s photographs of painted walls simultaneously delight and confuse the senses. Because of the subject matter and the printing process, they look like paintings. And then there’s that whole "walls on a wall thing" — Mind. Blown. Next to these, Marina Shepwell’s "American Spirit #1" and "American Spirit #2" — self-described as “empty cigarette boxes, framed” — create an interesting pattern, but then she disrupts it. Is it about conformity and breaking away from the norm? I'm not quite sure, but it's compelling and thought-provoking.
Candace Knapp’s "Water Reflections," Paula Brett’s mixed media on board, Debra Radke’s sheep prints, and an interactive piece by Victoria Jorgensen spread across the back wall. Knapp’s colorful acrylics result from three years spent wandering Hillsborough parks, taking photographs and painting sunlight reflected on local waterways. Paula Brett’s work in mixed media is shown all over the world; Radke’s sheep conjure images of the countryside; and Jorgensen’s "Leftovers" storyboard is sure to elicit interesting photo-inspired stories.
“Within the group, a number of people are very political,” says Carey, and nowhere is this more evident than with Eileen Goldenberg’s work. Goldenberg has two works of art in the show, "Pro Family, PRO CHOICE" and "United We Stand," both designed to empower women.
Multimedia sculptures, pottery, and glass art throughout the gallery lend a third dimension. Three sculptures from Melissa Fair’s art doll series, Kimberli Cummings’s pottery, and Rose Rosen’s glass art are all on display. Kim Radatz’s Flocked series adds a splash of red and nostalgia to the gallery. If you’ve ever had a shelf of Little League trophies, then you can probably relate to Radatz’s "Glory Days" sculpture.
Brenda Gregory’s multimedia sculptures are the result of a scrapbooking hobby gone 3D; she now collects small items from her travels to assemble into evocative wholes.
I loved the diversity of art created by this tight-knit group of women.
"At this point we’re as much best friends as we are cultural partners," Carey said. We have a lot of meaningful moments ...personal moments.”
Through the years, contemporary art created by women has been welcomed at more and more institutions, but there is always room for improvement. “One of the things that is important to everyone in our group is that we support female artists,” says Carey, “We don’t exactly have a mission statement, but that, I would say, is incredibly important.”