ST. PETERSBURG – A deep blue sky with cotton puff clouds served as the backdrop to the second annual Black Arts and Film Festival sponsored by Gallerie 909 last Saturday, Feb. 25.
A colorful array of tents could be seen lined up on both sides of 22nd Street South from as far away as Fifth Avenue.
Continuing down the street led to a rich array of color creations hanging from the tent of returning vendor Eugenia Conner Washington, a quilter, fabric designer and fiber artist from Clearwater.
“I’ve exhibited at the Gallerie 909, and we participated in the festival last year,” said Washington. “I’ve been a 909 fan for a while.”
Before Washington stepped out on her own as a fabric designer artist, she used to work for the State Department of Elderly Affairs.
Organizer and Gallerie 909 owner Carla Bristol was all smiles as she went from vendor to vendor to welcome them to the event. She talked about the growth and purpose of the event.
“Last year we did the arts festival here on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 22nd, and today we’re excited that the street – the Deuces – is actually closed,” said Bristol.
According to Bristol, the festival drew a variety of artists and not just of the local variety.
“We have featured artist Gilbert Young all the way from Atlanta. We have folk artists. We have jewelry artists. We have sculpture artists and lots of painters. So it’s a true Black Arts Festival and Fine Arts Festival.”
The event kicked off last Friday at Studio @620 with the showing of the film “Dancing Like Home” by filmmaker Joyce Guy from California. Bristol confirmed enthusiastically that the festival is well on its way to becoming international.
However, an international flavor was present this year with visual artist Tom Rutz originally from Rio de Janeiro.
Living in Europe before moving to Florida, Rutz arrived in the Sunshine State approximately three years ago and enjoys the exposure his artwork has.
“It’s better here than in my country,” Rutz stated, as he stood in front of two of his colorful paintings, one of a little girl formally dressed in red and white and one of an indigenous group.
Sandy Hall was one several artist from Atlanta.
“I paint about stories that have been passed down from my childhood,” said Hall, adding that the stories were told to her from both sides of her family since she was a child.
Mixed media sculpture artist Arnold Swepson, Jr. showed off his artistry with sculptures made out of air conditioner filters and recycled metal.
“Then I dressed them up,” said Swepson, as he stood with his hands on the shoulder of one of his life-sized creations entitled “Maasai Warrior.”
Swepson also created an indigenous African shield used by Maasai warriors. The life-sized sculpture caught the startled glances of many people who passed by.
Originally from Philadelphia, Artist Bonnie Burrell designs interior art for the home out of mud cloth.
“A friend of mine made some (mud cloth) pillows for me for my birthday, and I fell in love with them,” said Burrell.
The artist said that she has been purchasing and experimenting with mud cloth ever since “doing pillows, curtains and interior products, but the mud cloth pillows are my heart.”
Burrell looks eagerly to the day when she can travel to Africa and import mud cloth from the continent wholesale.
Millennial visual artist Morgan Welch migrated to Tampa from the east coast of Baltimore.
“I’ve been painting and drawing since I was four, so it’s been about 20 or so years,” said Welch.
One of Welch’s paintings features a young black woman with an Afro and clenched fist raised above her head. The backdrop is a black and white American flag, and the message on the woman’s t-shirt reads, “Does my brown skin offend you?”
East coast native Floridian Tiffany Elliott is another millennial female artist. She melts metal to create her products.
“I form metal from melted metals making gold and silver earrings and necklaces,” said Elliott.
Young, the festival’s featured artist, is a former curator and conservator for the Fine Arts Collection at the University of Cincinnati. He worked at Ohio University for 27 years before moving to Atlanta and setting up a studio.
“My claim to fame is a picture called “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” said Young. “It shows a brother reaching down for another brother and helping him out. The key emphasis was on three words, ‘helping him out!’”
The seasoned artist said that his paintings are “really narrative in nature.” Young said he feels most at home when he’s in his studio creating art.
Bristol foresees the Black Arts and Film Festival becoming one of the country’s prominent international festivals in the very near future, if not by next year.