Village of the Arts—reprinted from Retailing Insight

Posted December 20th, 2018 by anna and filed in "Real. Authentic. Florida.", Manatee County, FL, Mid-Town Manatee?
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Written for Retailing Insight’s January/February Issue.

COMMUNITY as Business Practice
Village of the Arts, Bradenton FL

Like a lot of people who have been involved with the Village of the Arts, I believed that Herbie Rose originated the concept of a creative community in the heart of Bradenton. A successful international watercolorist and art educator, his art studio was in a downtown neighborhood that was being overrun by drug dealers. It turns out that Bill Theroux, Executive Director of the Downtown Development Authority at the time, approached Herbie with the idea of an artist’s colony for countering the neighborhood’s deterioration. The rest is history. Herbie put the word out, and with the help of his artist wife Graciela Giles, he set in motion a project that is thriving two decades later. I am not alone in thinking that only Herbie could have accomplished this unique undertaking. With him at the helm, the idea of the Village of the Arts elicited excitement and support. Jo Ellen Gorris, recorded the beginning of it all in May 1999.

“…there was a meeting at the Bradenton Herald to see if there was interest in an Art Colony. There was an overflow crowd. Herbie Rose suggested we meet again the next night … The next night there was another oveflow crowd … it was decided to form an Artist’s Guild.”

Jo Ellen also recalls that Graciela sent out a letter to find those neighbors who were interested in selling and created a list of available properties for the Artist’s Guild. Soon Graciela bought a house behind Herbie’s studio. Then baker Bonnie Brown bought a property up the street. It was November 9, 1999 when Jo Ellen bought her house two blocks south of Graciela. Soon, the rundown properties in the neighborhood seemed to magically turn into colorful houses filled with unique creations. But it wasn’t magic. It was Herbie’s iron will.

Anna D’Aste remembers that when she was working to get the Grand Opening organized, the people that she contacted for help were often ready to hang up until she mentioned Herbie’s name; then the floodgates opened with whatever she needed. Linda Brokema told me that when she was restoring her house and trying to get her quilting business up and running, she often despaired. “I don’t think I would have made it if Herbie and Graciela hadn’t come by every week to cheer me on .”

I went to some of the early Guild meetings. I was always in awe of the quiet way Herbie managed to steer a group of freewheeling spirits on a steady course toward success. If the cross talk got too loud, Herbie would tap the end of his pen on the table a few times and suddenly there would be silence. He managed to stay above the inevitable bickering and laid a foundation of cooperation and attention to quality that turned a dying area into one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. Elliott Falcione, Executive Director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau describes today’s Village of the Arts this way: “Visitors to the City of Bradenton are often blown away by the galleries, studios, cafes and fashion found within the vibrant and welcoming Village of the Arts. We are proud to be home to the state’s largest (and most unique) live/work art community and promote how significantly it contributes to the overall richness of our Arts and Culture scene. Thanks in large part to the Village of the Arts and those working towards its continued development, the Bradenton Area has emerged as one of the growing arts centers in the South, offering quality and diversity of opportunities, attracting thousands of visitors and generating millions of dollars in economic impact on an annual basis.”

Herbie died in 2017. Leadership of the Village had long since passed to others, many of them newcomers. There have been, and continue to be, growing pains. Conflict is inevitable in the midst of such a creative environment, but Herbie’s sense of community support continues to be the thread that weaves through the ever-changing fabric of the Village of the Arts.

After wrestling for months with how best to describe the sense of community in the Village of the Arts, I finally decided that the best way to communicate that is to let some of the Villagers speak for themselves. I have presented a small sampling of the Village businesses. What they all have in common is their commitment to the future of the Village and each other.

Jo Ellen Gorris is the unofficial matriarch of the Village. Her emotive clay people have found homes around the world. Anna D’Aste is not only a premiere clay artist, she is a leading art educator. She was instrumental is helping to get the Village up and running. Zoe von Akerkamp is the go-to place for authentic Florida folk art (like Missionary Mary Proctor and Hugo). She inaugurated the Village’s annual Night of the Skeletons celebration (which carefully adheres to the traditions of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival). Guy Cannata is the longest existing restaurateur in the Village. He parlayed his Sicilian background, his love of cooking, and a beautiful Old Florida house into a destination restaurant. Chris Turner, artist and art educator, supported her artist husband Gordon in creating a studio and gallery in the Village. Since his death, she has come into her own as a key purveyor of inventive works of art. Linda Brokema’s Bits and Pieces has blossomed from a small antique and quilting business into the area’s definitive quilting resource. Preston Whaley Jr.‘s Yoga Arts provides life-changing instruction, especially for people with serious physical limitations. Jean Farmer is relatively new to the Village. Her metal art works and intriguing bottle cap art, coupled with her enthusiasm, quickly made her a welcome addition.

The dynamic story of the Village of the Arts is just beginning. Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston sums it all up this way: “Arts and culture are critical pieces of Bradenton’s DNA. The Village of the Arts is our showcase, and has been for more than a decade. Herbie Rose’s legacy lives.”

Anna Jedrziewski is a new consciousness author and consultant, as well as founder and director of Spirit Connection New York , Inc. ( Photos © 2018 Inannaworks

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