Bob Devin Jones’ legacy includes supporting Black artists with a mission of ‘yes’

Bob Devin Jones hands over the reins to his successor, Erica Sutherlin, as artistic director of The Studio@620 in June.

BY J.A. JONES | Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The Studio@620’s founder and artistic director, Bob Devin Jones, has built a legacy of embracing a village of diverse artists, community members, and organizations since the performance space, art gallery, community meeting space, and theater opened two decades ago.

The Studio has been home to a broad cross-section of the community and has offered an affordable option for independent arts producers, creatives, educators and businesses looking to invite their audiences to the ideally located, versatile space.

“When you pass through the doors of The Studio, look to be entertained, educated and challenged by art, heritage, history, song, literature, theater, moving pictures and moving bodies through space,” Jones noted in 2019 in an interview with The Weekly Challenger about receiving IMA’s Legacy Week Award.

Jones took a fan’s comment that it had become a place where “the answer is always yes” as his programming motif. “We took that as our motto, and then we took it as our philosophy. Not only as our motto but as our mission — the answer is always ‘yes.’ I don’t want to miss a thing.”

Jones announced his retirement as producing artistic director late last year. The transfer of reins to his successor, Erica Sutherlin, a dynamic and visionary artist, entrepreneur and arts administrator in her own right, officially starts June 30.

Erica Sutherlin, Bob Devin Jones, Mark and Sandra Russell at 2024 Studio Honors.

As he prepared for the opening of the production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” he’s currently directing, the veteran artistic force was thoughtful about preparing for the next phase of his life.

“It’s a time for reflection. I think there’s a definite time, just like any harvest; it’s a natural transition,” he acknowledged. “I’ve learned to listen,” he said, adding he will continue to write columns and is working on a play, along with his memoirs. He commented that he looks forward to keeping his “own council.”

Currently operated with a skeleton crew made up almost entirely of the wonderous studio manager Marcus Wehby, The Studio has seen everything from yoga to art classes to theater to the “Through Our Eyes” Journeys in Journalism annual student photo exhibit by students from Melrose Elementary, John Hopkins Middle, and Lakewood High schools.

While it has been home to a large and supportive non-BIPOC community of artists, art lovers, donors and supporters from around the globe, Studio@620 has also been home to the local BIPOC arts community. BIPOC audiences have steadily acknowledged that The Studio presents art and performances by artists that speak to their life experiences.

Bob Devin Jones

A playwright, poet and performer himself, over the years, audiences have been blessed with Jones’ performance in his one-man show, “Uncle Bends: A Home-Cooked Negro Narrative,” as well as his performing in plays, hosting artist and political talks, and directing annual productions. These include the memorable 2017 production of Voodoo Macbeth, starring Sutherlin as Lady Macbeth, Sharon Scott as Hecate, and featuring Jai Hinson’s Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet.

Jones’s reputation for daring to say “yes” always included offering space to a number of veteran Black singers, performers, and artists, including Scotty Wright, Sharon Scott, Fannie Green, and Gary L. Lemons. The Studio has held annual Gospel Brunches that have seen elbow-room-only community attendance with performers including the legendary Scott, Leotte-Keiva Harrell, Alex Harris, Edward Leonard, among many.

Over the years, the Studio has seen Black and Brown creatives offered space under the banner of Lift Every Voice In Art visual art and dance pop-ups with artists Evan Cool and William Lunderman, Real Loud Open Mic shows sponsored by The Blunt Space and a live-stream of Anthony Murphy’s “It’s gonna be a Great Day” jazz, soul and Broadway fusion concert.

Sunshine City Film Festival and DreamMakerz Productions have held film screenings; other recent presentations have included David Weathersby and Khari Bowden’s Chicago body-positive, house music documentary Thee Debauchery Ball, Sharon Preston-Folta’s Little Satchmo and a screening of Sutherlin’s Lifetime “Kirk Franklin’s A Gospel Christmas.”

Jones and the Studio’s daring has also included its long-running Social Justice Round-table series; in the last few years, it has expanded into its larger Social Justice Initiative. Through these offerings “with an added focus on equal rights and justice for all groups regardless of race, orientation, or gender,” the Studio has inserted an even wider number of BIPOC artists and presentations reflective of the whole of St. Petersburg and the world.

These include Vincent Terrell Durham’s “61 Unused Pages,” directed and produced by Patrick Arthur Jackson, the solo theater piece “Never Had A Friend” by Dr. Micah E. Johnson and the recent exhibit “The Florida Highwaymen: La Florida, Re-found.” Jones’ own play, “Further Down the Road,” an ode to the Florida Highwaymen, was performed for an evening during the exhibition.

The Studio@620 cordially invites the community to experience the captivating rendition of Shakespeare’s timeless masterpiece, “Hamlet,” under the direction of Bob Devin Jones, his final directorial endeavor as artistic director of The Studio, Bob Devin Jones with studio manager Marcus Wehby at a rehearsal with actors Michael Gregory, Lance Felton, Anthony Gervais and John H. Bambery.

Larger group events have included Green Book of Tampa Bay’s annual shows, including the “Poetic Justice Artist Showcase” and “Journey to Emancipation” exhibit. The Well’s Healing While Black Summit’s “Poetic Joy” performances and Pinellas Diaspora Arts Project’s annual Tampa Bay Afrofuturism Festival exhibitions and panels have brought local and traveling artists, presenters, panelists and educators through the doors — examining the global BIPOC community’s past, future, and present. Artists, including Dr. Dallas Cooper Jackson and Vivia Barron, enjoyed solo art shows at the location.

In the last several years, the mission of “yes” has also offered a home for a new wave of Black creatives, from former artist-in-residence Alex Jones and projectALCHEMY to poet Meisha Brundridge hosting open mics to art shows by young artists, including the now-with-the-angels Nick Davis and Jabari Reed-Diop (i.B.O.M.S).

Other Black live arts events have included “Unplugged, A musical experience” featuring J’Nelle; Eris Eady’s poetry performance “How I Got Over” and “An Evening with Artist Jennifer Msumba,” a music show by the heralded BIPOC autistic performer.

Jones has been open about recent health challenges, but catching a recent rehearsal of “Hamlet” reveals his chops and expert theatre instincts are sharp as ever. He prefers to let audiences draw their own conclusions regarding the play’s timeliness. “The connection is there for those who have ears to listen,” he recommends dryly. He admits to telling his actors not only to learn their lines but also to “pay attention to the headlines.”

As he looks forward to a new chapter, he assures us that his legacy of daring will remain intact at The Studio. Based on her body of work and community commitment, it seems likely that BIPOC artists will continue to enjoy a home and a solid foundation of support and encouragement under Sutherlin’s upcoming tenure.

“Turning the reigns over to Sutherlin is a joy. But the mission, however, she artistically grows with the place; the mission is a ‘yes’ in the community. We haven’t wavered from that.”

There are still remaining showings of “Hamlet.” For tickets to upcoming productions, visit

To reach J.A. Jones, email

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