USF starts St. Pete arts renaissance archival project inside [email protected]

Archiving an art space is about collecting and digitizing materials that tell its story.

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click to enlarge 'We’ve done a pretty good job of, not archiving, but hoarding all the collateral, some of which we framed,' Bob Devin Jones told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. - Photo by Jennifer Ring
Photo by Jennifer Ring
'We’ve done a pretty good job of, not archiving, but hoarding all the collateral, some of which we framed,' Bob Devin Jones told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Looking back on 17 years of art and culture at The [email protected], cofounder Bob Devin Jones is most proud of the seeds he’s planted. He recalls a scene from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

“Banquo is coming to the court of Macbeth’s,” Jones told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “He says something about planting the seed, and if it grows, the harvest is yours.”

The line comes from Act I, Scene IV. Macbeth and Banquo have just returned home after winning a key battle. King Duncan thanks them for the roles they played and promises to nurture their talents. “I have begun to plant thee, and will labour to make thee full of growing,” Duncan says to Macbeth and Banquo.

Banquo responds, “There, if I grow, the harvest is your own.”

The quote carries great meaning for Jones, who’s made it his mission to nurture art and culture in St. Petersburg via The [email protected].
Location Details

The [email protected]

620 1st Ave. S, St. Petersburg Tampa

(727) 895-6620

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“We started The Studio with Dave Ellis,” Jones said on a recent visit to The [email protected], located at 620 1st Ave. S. “We were artistic directors squared. He pursued certain things; I pursued certain things; and we met in the middle. He retired after five years, but the template was set: looking out at the community and seeing what was delicious about that and how we could amplify it, promote it, nurture it, mentor it. And then the harvest would be there for the entire community. That’s how we grew into ‘The answer is always yes.’”

Saying yes to everything has made for an interesting 17 years at The [email protected] It’s hosted all kinds of arts, culture, and literary events. Currently, it’s home to Ann Wykell, who’s archiving The [email protected] in collaboration with USF Nelson Poynter Memorial Library’s Special Collections Department.

How do you archive an arts space? And why start with The [email protected]?

She and Nelson Poynter Memorial Library Dean Dr. Kristina Keogh offered a behind-the-scenes look into the process.

Archiving an art space is about collecting and digitizing materials that tell its story.

“What we’re trying to do with this project—Bob Devin Jones at Studio 620—is gather materials to tell his story and the story of The Studio,” Keogh told CL in a phone interview.

Jones has collected 17 years worth of postcards, posters, and clippings related to [email protected] events, but it never occurred to him to archive these things. Most of them are sitting in plastic boxes in a big office space on the second floor of The Studio building.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of, not archiving, but hoarding all the collateral, some of which we framed,” Jones tells me, pointing to a collection of posters hanging on the wall of his second-floor office at The [email protected] They represent collaborations with The Dali, The Florida Humanities Council, Manhattan Casino, and American Stage.

“They have hundreds of postcards and a lot of clippings from what was the St. Petersburg Times, and also Creative Loafing and The Weekly Challenger,” says Wykell, who’s in the process of going through the boxes. Wykell labels the items by event category—visual art, dance, theater, literary, and social issues. She then enters them, with minimal descriptions, into a spreadsheet.

It’s these diverse categories of events, a direct result of saying yes to everything, that make The Studio unique. It’s more than just an arts space. It’s also a cultural center that values diversity and the sharing of ideas.

“When you look at the parade of events that have taken place in The Studio over the last 17 years, what’s really unique about The Studio is that it’s been a forum, a home, and a showcase for areas of activity that we consider important for diversity—lots and lots of events featuring Black culture and history, gay culture and history,” Wykell added in a phone interview.

“It’s also been a place where audiences for fine art and popular culture have crisscrossed,” Wykell continued. “And it’s been a place that’s had a real focus on social issues and social justice. This mix is really unique. You can’t say that it’s an art or theater or music venue. It’s a studio. They named it The Studio because they envisioned it as a place for developing ideas, experimentation, and trying things out. It’s really been a place where people could bring their ideas, be it an artist who wanted to put her work on the walls and see what came of it, or a playwright who wanted to get their work out on a stage, or a place for young actors to do Shakespeare. It’s been an exploration type of a space.”

USF St. Pete’s interest in the space budded from its longtime desire to document what’s unique about the Sunshine City.

"It’s a representation of the renaissance in the arts in St. Petersburg.”

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“USF St. Pete historically has been very connected to the community here in St. Petersburg, so it’s definitely important to us to find out what’s unique, what’s great about this community that we live in, and how we can preserve it and share it with the rest of the world,” said Keogh. “What’s really special about Bob Devin Jones’ [email protected] is that it’s a piece of the story of St. Petersburg. And more specifically, it’s a representation of the renaissance in the arts in St. Petersburg.”

No one knows how long the St. Pete Renaissance will last, but the seeds have been planted.

“We’re well into our second decade of the [St. Pete] Renaissance,” said Jones. “And what we know about the Renaissance in Florence: it took like 300 years. So we’re just at the beginning of ours.”

Similarly, the archiving of The [email protected] and the St. Pete Renaissance is only in its beginning. Wykell is more than halfway through sorting the items in all those boxes, but sorting is only the first step.

After Wykell’s done sorting, Special Collections scans everything that can be scanned (programs, posters, postcards, fliers), collects public media items like newspaper stories and interviews, and shapes these items into a story. Once completed, anyone can access the complete story of The [email protected] via USF’s Digital Commons.

“There’ll be introductory materials kind of summarizing who Bob Devin Jones is and his connection to St. Petersburg,” Keogh told CL, “and then they’ll be different entry points.”

“Somebody could systematically go through all of the materials that have been digitized and added to the collection,” Keogh continues, “but we’ll utilize different digital tools. There’s something called StoryMaps that lets you tell a geographical story with the items. We can do digital exhibits where we can gather different items together. If we have interviews, that adds that oral element so you can listen to Bob or listen to people talk about him and his impact on the community. So all of those things.”

About The Author

Jennifer Ring

Jennifer studied biology for six years, planning for a career in science, but the Universe had other plans. In 2011, Jen was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that sidelined her from scientific research. Her immune system, plagued by Scleroderma, had attacked her lungs to the point of no return. She now required...
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