Multiple organizations continue to rally around the Village of the Arts vision

myoung@bradenton.comMay 18, 2014 

Like a canvas that many artists in the Village of the Arts use to transform vision into beauty, the Village of the Arts continues to grow from a dream to reality.

Thanks to multiple organizations, individuals and local government entities, the rallying cry to take a once family-friendly community, that over time fell into a blighted neighborhood, and return it into something special is making steady progress.

The latest ally in the cause to transform the VOTA into a destination spot is the Manatee Chamber of Commerce's downtown redevelopment committee, which voted May 4 to make the Village its priority project.

According to chamber board member Ben Bakker, the vote was unanimous, "to both endorse and support the VOTA tapestry plan," which is a multi-layered plan with long-term, short-term and priority projects interwoven into one overall vision to improve and enhance the village.

The idea of the village dates back several decades to Jamaican artist Herbie Rose who opened a studio in the village in the 1980s encouraging other artists to join him in becoming a community of artists.

Over the years, artists of every genre began to filter into the village and in 1999 when the Artists Guild of Manatee was founded, the village saw an influx of new artists arrive.

Christine Turner, who owns Baobob Tree Gallery and Studio 54 with her husband Gordon, moved into the village in 2003, as part of what Turner calls "the second wave. About every four years we were getting a new wave of artists moving into the village. Then the economy tanked and the growth stalled, but I think it has recovered enough to where we are about ready for another one."

More artists are the foundation of the village's vision and why it was rezoned in the late 1990s to commercial and residential to allow artists to create gallery homes. That was an attractive venture for Valeri Borstelmann, a mixed media artist who also founded the Bradentucky Bombers roller derby team.

"We knew there weren't many areas zoned for something like that," said Borstelmann. "We looked at the community and saw there were several artists already here, but they weren't doing a lot to promote themselves and it was still considered to be a blighted neighborhood. That worried us because we wanted to start a family."

Borstelmann said she attended all of the early meetings about the vision for the village and bought into the

idea. She moved into the village in 2001.

Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, said civic leaders, residents and creative partners saw it as an opportunity to transform an entire community.

"It took a lot of courage, cooperation, hard work, time and money," said Isham who praised city leaders like Mayor Wayne Poston, Planning Director Tim Polk and Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff who she said have worked hard over the past few years to invest all of those things into the village.

"The community has evolved and changed a lot over the past few years and now with this tapestry project and so many people and organizations coming together, we are ready to take the village to the next level of success," said Isham.

Amara Cocilovo, president of the Artists Guild of Manatee, said success is bound to establish a greater sense of place.

"We have things we are doing right now to accomplish that, but it's about freshening our perspective and strengthening our sense of brand that is going to continue to allow the village to grow in the direction we all want," said Cocilovo.

The long-term goal, according to Turner, is to see all of the blighted homes gone and occupied by artists, but it's also about retaining a strong sense of community.

"The great thing about the village is that it is a real community like the 1950s where you sit out on your porch and within minutes there are 10 people who walk by that you know," said Turner.

"It's a throwback to a time where friends and neighbors just drop by to say hi. That doesn't happen anywhere else. Everybody is passionate about where the village is and where it's going."

Cocilovo said the slow and steady progress of transforming the village has been a positive.

"Yes we all want the vision to be now, but the slow steadiness has built a foundation of viability and there are things that can get lost in doing things too fast," she said. "One of them is that sense of community and that is the one thing none of us want to lose."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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