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St. Petersburg Times

New Tampa Arts Festival Will Have Latin Theme


July 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved. 

It's way too early to start making comparisons to Spoleto, but a group of arts leaders in Tampa is giving it its best shot.

ArtsFestival of the Americas is the working title of a multicultural event planned for spring 2005 "that will tie in with the rich cultural heritage of Tampa,'' said Judith Lisi, executive director of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and one of the major players in the festival's formation.

"We had this vibrant immigrant Hispanic population here long before Miami,'' she said. "We wanted an event that would make an impact at the national level, which we've never been able to do.''

The Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., has become an international magnet for tourists and artists.

Richard Munoz, who specializes in matching Latin American performers and artists to venues in the United States, has been hired as the festival's executive director. His job is to create an umbrella marketing plan that pitches the event locally and nationally, as well as help individual organizations make contact with artists.

TBPAC, the University of South Florida and the Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo are committed to participating, Lisi said. Munoz said that other interested organizations include the Tampa Museum of Art, the Tampa Theatre and the University of Tampa's Henry B. Plant Museum, and in Pinellas County, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and the Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center, the Salvador Dali Museum and the Arts Center in St. Petersburg.

Representatives from many of those organizations, including Lisi, Munoz, Gulf Coast Museum director Ken Rollins and the director of USF's Institute for Research in Art, Margaret Miller, were among a group of about 60 that visited Cuba in April to check out the arts scene and make contacts.

Early discussions envisioned centering the event on art from that nation, "but it's politically difficult, and we didn't want it to become a political controversy, so we broadened the scope,'' Lisi said.

Noel Smith, curator of education at USF's Graphicstudio, said that there was a practical concern, too.

"It's so hard to get the Cuban artists into the United States, so we had to have other options,'' she said.

The first festival will concentrate on islands.

"Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Cuba are the ones on our radar,'' Munoz said.

Few specific performers or artists have been selected. Munoz said that TBPAC is negotiating with Cuba's Ministry of Culture for Danza Contemporanea, a modern dance troupe.

USF plans the debut of an opera by USF professor James Lewis about Alejandro Garcia Caturla, a Cuban composer and judge assassinated in 1940 by the Cuban military. The sets will be designed by Los Carpinteros, an internationally acclaimed collaborative of three Cuban artists. An exhibition of its work will also be on view at USF's Contemporary Art Museum.

The Gulf Coast Museum is working with Cernuda Arte, a gallery in Miami, to arrange an exhibition of Cuban artists such as Alfredo Sosabravo, whose oil painting La Destruccion de la Torre de Babel is shown here.

The catch is money. Each group will be responsible for arranging and funding its project.

"We're thinking it will cost about $1-million,'' Lisi said, if all 10 organizations buy into the event, which will span two weekends.

Like the event, the festival's name is a work in progress.

"We're tinkering with it,'' Lisi said. "We're trying to avoid using "Tampa' or "Tampa Bay' in it. I had no idea how strongly some people in Pinellas County feel about that.''

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