BEST ART HAPPENING

Industrial Carnival

The Big Apple has Tribeca and DUMBO, and St. Pete has Central Avenue. But Tampa has its own unique ambiance, those wonderful, historic cigar factories on the threshold of restoration. For the last several years, enterprising arts community folk have held energetic, cutting-edge exhibitions in these facilities. Whether one-night stands or weekend events, they are phenomenally well attended. One such sterling happening was initiated by Jeff Stover and Jan Burch, who approached University of South Florida sculpture professor Richard Beckman with a proposal for a novel project. Their oh-so-catchy title? ¨Industrial Carnival.¨ Stover speaks proudly of his working-class heritage and experiences as Army mechanic and carpenter. It wasn´t a far leap to combining his own industrial background and the broad kitschy elements associated with the notion of a carnival. Beckman is well known for his superb sculpture and generosity in mentoring his students´ creativity. He agreed to co-curate the one-night event featuring 40 artists, many of them students. On an unusually humid April evening, with beer flowing and three bands hyping the festive energy, hundreds viewed interactive factory-aesthetic installations with hybrid art: a chair hooked to a hydraulically-operated film screen, a dancing skeleton covered with latex, a couch that began as a pickup truck bumper with legs like a gasoline pump, a performance of female wrestlers dressed as feminine archetypes. The whole thing screamed raw spectacle. But that was the point — simulating a carnival in all its low art adaptations. Offbeat shows like this provide the general community with broad exposure to artists who keep art from getting stale. And let´s face it. They´re mighty entertaining.

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