ST. PETERSBURG – An unusually warm Friday night, air thick with humidity vibrates from pulsing African drums in the near distance. The rhythms emanate from the southwest quadrant on the Deuces and Ninth Avenue South. Gallerie 909 pulses with iconic portraits of great African-American legends captured in a kaleidoscope of oils and mixed media etched on canvas. People enter the gallery and migrate towards the rhythms of the drums on the patio in the back.
The drummers are arranged like an orchestra in three sections of local residents of multiple ethnic backgrounds, each person adding a layer to the syncopated community percussion ensemble. Life is good and worth the living as Gallerie 909 celebrates the first year of its grand opening on the Deuces.
“I’m just an optimistic kind of person,” said Carla Bristol, owner of Gallerie 909.
As people poured into the space and paused at various paintings as if to hear them speak, Bristol stated her first year in operation “was about creating brand recognition, getting people to identify with the gallery and attracting people to come from all over.”
A lead drummer fires off a staccato of beats. Bristol discusses the works of featured artists on exhibit.
“The current exhibit here now is by Anthony Armstrong out of Deland,” said Bristol. She described his work as using mixed media and a lot of oils on canvas. In the background as Bristol spoke was a mixed media collaboration that commemorated the Motown Era and the Blacks Art Cultural Movement that kicked off in the 1960s. Very close by was the picture of iconic Jazz singer Billie Holliday.
Bristol then discussed premier artist Cora Marshall of Gulfport.
“She has a series here now entitled ‘Going, Going, Gone’,” she said. Marshall moved to the south side of St. Pete from the Washington-Maryland area, according to Bristol. The premier African/Native American artist still teaches at the University of Connecticut.
Gallerie 909 not only features the works of visual artists, but also it highlights multiple art forms and creative talent from the Tampa Bay area.
“I do the spoken word every Sunday here at the gallery,” said Bristol. One of the workshops given at the gallery taught local residents how to take better vocation photos. Bristol aims to expand a variety of workshop activities for the community in the coming year. Another major part of Gallerie 909 outreach is to include local youth in artistic activities.
“Every Friday I invite the youth from the surrounding community in to show their art and to become a part of the gallery environment,” said Bristol.
Bristol emphasized the desire to increase the participation of community youth in gallery activities, and she was pleased with the attendance of youth at the first year anniversary. A visual scan of the gallery and the patio revealed that approximately 35 to 40 percent of people in attendance at the celebration were youth.
The young people at the event were not wallflowers either. They were drumming, dancing, looking at and discussing art. Even more encouraging was to see them intermingle comfortably with adults and elders of the community.
Unlike the images that too seldom flash across social media and television, the young people at the event demonstrated that our community has an untapped treasure chest of youthful talent in search of a positive outlet. Bristol hopes to make Gallerie 909 more proactive in that regard in the future.
“Just today when I pulled up, a young person in the neighborhood rolled up fast on his bicycle, dropped it and came to give me a hug,” she said as she revealed that she has become known among the kids as one who loves to give hugs.
Meanwhile, drumming and dancing were heating up in the patio area as the Friday night session was reaching its crescendo. People from all walks of life and ethnicities shook hands, gave encouraging hugs and promised to return.
Gallerie 909’s first year was a success and it is only the beginning of better things to come. Bristol, a native of Guyana and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., would not have it any other way.
For more information about events and workshops held at Gallerie 909, please visit their website at www.gallerie909.com.
To reach Allen Buchanan, email firstname.lastname@example.org