Worth the commute: Pyramid and Creative Clay are Crossing the Bridge

The non-profits unite for their first joint exhibition.

Crossing the Bridge
Fri., Aug. 7, 7-10 p.m., at Pyramid Inc., 1508 W Sligh Ave, Tampa,
pyramidinc.org. On display through Sept. 4.
Sat., Sept. 12, 5-9 p.m., Creative Clay Cultural Art Center, 1114 Central Ave, St. Petersburg,
creativeclay.org. Through Oct. 7. 

It’s no secret that Tampa and St. Pete have had a friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly)` rivalry. Yet two separate nonprofits that work with developmentally challenged artists have accomplished what many are reluctant to do — they’re “crossing the bridge” to collaborate.

The first of its kind for Pyramid Inc. and Creative Clay, the Crossing the Bridge exhibition invites collaboration between artists who have never met. Six pieces originated from Pyramid and another six from Creative Clay.

The works will be on display at Pyramid during the First Friday Seminole Heights art hop, 7-10 p.m. on Aug. 7. Project Return Inc., a non-profit organization providing support services for adults with mental illness, will also be exhibiting that evening in Pyramid’s Wing-4 Gallery. The show crosses the bridge on Saturday, Sept. 12, to exhibit at St. Petersburg’s Creative Clay, during the city’s big Second Saturday art walk.

Shane Hoffman, visual art coordinator at Pyramid, beams as he speaks about the pieces the Tampa nonprofit clients have created. Works cover the walls, stacked shoulder-high in various rooms. As we chat, Pyramid artist Amanda completes her large drawing of two churches.

“All passionate work is good to somebody,” Hoffman says.

For him, passion is not the only part of making artwork; relationship-building is also integral. He gives an example in one of the more promising artists at Pyramid, Eric, whose eye-catching, colorful folk-pop style depicts iconic modes of transport. Under Hoffman’s encouragement, Eric has developed a relationship with one of the patrons, a woman from Kansas City who has purchased his work. She shared stories about her life with Eric, and those stories are reflected in the scenes he paints.

“Art isn’t about what you see, it’s about why it is being made,” Hoffman affirms. “You are buying a part of the heart of the artist.”

Hoffman, Creative Clay Executive Director Kim Dohrman and Director of Exhibitions/curator Jody Bikoff had discussed the idea of having their artists collaborate for a while. Members of both organizations visited the Breakout exhibition by PARC (now known as The Arc) at the Morean Arts Center in March. Shortly after, they realized the potential of what they could do together. They wanted to share more pieces and provide artists a larger audience — and perhaps, one day, even take the artists on the road.

For Crossing the Bridge, the nonprofits decided to collaborate by exchanging partially completed works. Artists would put their own personal stamp on a work before sending it back. The original owner then would decide what to name it.
“The collaborative part of this is something brand new and becomes a new narrative,” Bikoff says.

Creative Clay has always made it a mission to make art accessible to all. The most important thing for Bikoff is that the program evoke a “spirit of inclusiveness.” She and artist Calan Ree encourage students to create free-range art, including the use of non-traditional mediums and colors. Creative Clay artist Marquise R. incorporated a door he found in a dump. “I’m working on the wings,” he says.

Marquise's favorite part of the collaboration was adding something new to each piece.

“It wasn’t hard to do,” he says. “I just looked at it and added.”

Ali, another Creative Clay artist, points out some of the artwork she has worked on. Her trademark use of Mayan and Aztec techniques makes her pieces easy to pick out. She has already sold six paintings and 75 cards with patrons clamoring for more.

Creative Clay not only encourages students to market and sell their works, but makes them feel part of a larger community.

Artist Artemisa M., whose signature style involves edibles like cookies and cupcakes, shows off what she knows about commerce.

“My prices went up,” she boasts, pointing to her works on the wall. “When they sell, I’ll get another check.”

Though Creative Clay and Pyramid focus on teaching adults with learning disabilities, the artists are inspiring the teachers.

“I think it’s a fear of teaching that is beaten into you in America, that you must be taught something a certain way,” Hoffman says. “That’s B.S. We are trying to help artists be themselves.”

The spirit of individuality shows. It's the kind of artwork that only comes from fearlessness.

Thais Leon-Miller is a senior majoring in editorial journalism at USF Tampa.


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