Like everything in Dunedin, the city’s visual art scene is small — even quaint at times — but not without sparks of attitude so sassy that they’ll stop you in your tracks, impressed that such a diminutive burg, the kind of place where grocery store aisles are a logjam of grannies on the lookout for a two-for-one on Miracle Whip, can be so full of spunk. In Dunedin, a lot of those sparks emanate from the Dunedin Fine Art Center. Founded in 1974 by five Junior Service League volunteers, the cornerstone of the city’s visual arts community is set to break ground this month on an addition that will boost the size of its main campus to a whopping 31,000 square feet (roughly half the scale of the Tampa Museum of Art, while Dunedin’s population measures one-tenth of Tampa’s).
There’s just one catch. To finish financing the addition, DFAC needs to raise $1.2 million by the end of May 2014, when construction is scheduled to be complete, a reality that occasionally keeps executive director George Ann Bissett awake at night.
“My heart beats faster every day,” Bissett says. “We’ve got to do it.”
August is generally an exciting month at DFAC because Wearable Art, the art center’s annual showcase of unconventional fashions designed by visual artists and other peculiarly talented individuals, is ascendant. Always nice and frequently rather naughty (for its PG-13 revelations of flesh), the event turns 9 this year. Its format, a proven crowd-pleaser that habitually sells out in advance, remains the same — an hourlong runway show of designs, created by 11 artists this time around, book-ended by before- and after-parties with booze, food and music on tap.
This year’s line-up features a mix of Wearable Art newcomers and veterans, including Mark Byrne, the master balloon manipulator whose show-stealing contributions last year included a stilt-wearing bat-lady and glow-in-the-dark balloon dresses, and Rogerio Martins, a genuine fashion designer who can claim to have sent a model down the Wearable Art runway (in 2010) dressed in a raw meat bikini before Lady Gaga was seen sporting one. Newbies include Julian Hartzog, whose revealing outfits crafted from wide bands of aluminum will have the misfortune, to some eyes, of looking like half-hearted reprisals of the elaborate metal costumes by Frank Strunk III that originally established Wearable Art’s reputation. (Strunk, who last participated in Wearable Art 6, has been a hard act to follow.) And Lina Teixeira, whose seven-piece collection consists of wedding gowns painstakingly made from disposable items like doilies, make-up removal cloths and latex gloves collaged atop thrift store dresses or chicken wire frames.
Other participants include Rocky and Kathleen Bridges (the former a noted sculptor), Neva “The Diva,” Melissa Dolce, Eve Kuczynski, Johnny Hunt, the Garden Fairies and performance artist Alice Ferrulo, who will present her own work as well as a collaborative piece with Martins. Off the runway, the work of mixed-media artist Kate Cummins will be featured inside one of DFAC’s art galleries.
After the excitement of Wearable Art, DFAC doesn’t slow down much. Early next year, construction will begin to interfere with the art center’s ability to put on exhibitions, as staff move temporarily into the galleries while offices are renovated, Bissett says. Until then, a full slate of fall shows includes “Spirited,” a selection of religious folk art from the local collection of Dr. Robert and Chitranee Drapkin that should be one of the season’s highlights. And when the addition — DFAC’s fourth and last, Bissett promises — is complete, the art center will boast a third exhibition gallery, four new art studios and a renovated cafe and gift shop. The most recent prior expansion ended in 2011 with the opening of DFAC’s Louis and Valerie Flack East Wing, which includes an interactive children’s museum and expansive art studios for adults’ and children’s classes.
The current expansion came about as a consequence of belatedly receiving a $500,000 state grant for completion of the Flack Wing, which was funded through private donations. In order to keep the grant, DFAC matched it with already-raised money and launched immediately on the last phase of its plan to grow to more than 20 times the size of its 1974 footprint, a mere 1,400 square ft. where co-founders Syd Entel and Meta Brown and their Junior Service League associates first envisioned a visual arts center for one of Pinellas County’s most charming communities — a community that Bissett hopes will keep giving.
“We’re called the Dunedin Fine Art Center because of the wonderful support of this small city,” Bissett says.
Gender essentialism. Thumbs down.
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