A 'perfect storm' of arts in Bradenton

March 24, 2013 

In local arts and entertainment circles, the conversation in recent weeks has been dominated by the opening of the Manatee Performing Arts Center. That's appropriate. It's a big deal for Bradenton, and its completion is a monumental achievement for the Manatee Players.

So it's easy to overlook other developments in arts and music.

It's kind of astounding, even to arts leaders, that so much is suddenly happening in Bradenton arts and entertainment, all at one time.

"With the Riverwalk being completed in 2012, and the Bradenton Blues Festival getting off to such an amazing start last year, and now the opening of the Performing Arts Center opening, bam, bam, bam. It's kind of like a perfect storm," said Johnette Isham, the executive director of Realize Bradenton.

Why it's all coming together at this moment is anybody's guess. Some projects, such as the Riverwalk, took forever to come to fruition; others, such as the blues festival, exceeded expectations right from the start.

"The Riverwalk used to be called the Sandpile," Isham said. "There were about 60 years of false starts and stops."

The inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival sold out last year, which surprised organizers. This year they're prepared for sell-out crowds, especially with a lineup of national acts (including the great Shemekia Copeland) that's even better than last year's roster.

Established festivals and an increasing number of outdoor concerts such as the Main Street Live series, are adding to downtown Bradenton's burgeoning reputation for arts and entertainment.

Even arts-oriented Sarasota is starting to pay attention to the arts scene in Bradenton. "Embracing Our Differences," a huge, internationally known exhibit of outdoor art with a

life-affirming message, is branching into Bradenton for the first time this year.

And there's a ripple effect into non-arts arenas: A Sarasota-based business organization called BarCamp Sarasota is staging its biggest event of the year, a four-day destination event in May, at Riverwalk. The organization has even changed its named to BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton.

The net result is that Bradenton, and downtown Bradenton in particular, is suddenly and rapidly becoming a more enjoyable place to live and visit. Gradual growth has led to startlingly colorful blossoming.

Last week, Isham was talking to a national leader in the "walkability" movement -- which encourages making cities more friendly for pedestrians -- and he said he'd been hearing more and more about the quality of life in Bradenton.

So, while a lot of people are concentrating, especially this week, on the Manatee Players, others are taking a broader view, and seeing the new Manatee Performing Arts Center as just one part of a much bigger picture. It's an exciting time, and a lot of work that has been going on unseen for many years is coming into focus.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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