Local arts scene enjoys growing reputation

Spend an afternoon navigating through the heavens at the South Florida Museum's Bishop Planetarium. Take a stroll through the colorful galleries of ArtCenter Manatee. Trek down to the Village of the Arts for an adventurous artwalk. Enjoy a delightful musical produced by the award-winning Manatee Players. These snippets of Bradenton help define the city's unique arts and cultural scene. The cultural sights and activities in the area keep getting better each year, attracting new faces that are interested in exploring all that our city has to offer, said Diane Shelly, executive director of ArtCenter Manatee.

It's a very exciting time for Bradenton, she said. I think the community is just awakening to the talent of our area. Shelly believes that what sets Bradenton's culture apart from the rest is the city's friendly approachability to arts from the annual Village of the Arts duct-tape contest to outdoor plays in Rossi Park. Much of the area's love of cultural arts comes from former northern residents with artistic roots who have settled in Bradenton, said Rick Kerby, artistic director of the Manatee Players. I think that we're our own little melting pot, he said. People come here looking for that outlet. Either we provide it or they create it themselves. Things like the Riverwalk Sculpture Park, which features outdoor public art, is one of such new art ventures that continues to define Bradenton's growing reputation in the art world. We're really blessed to have what we have here, Kerby said. Some of the most appealing outlets in Bradenton's cultural scene include: • ArtCenter Manatee: Earlier this year, the downtown gallery was one of eight galleries in the nation to host the annual American Watercolor Society Traveling Exhibition. One of the center's current exhibitions is Serendipity, A Fiber Artist's Journey, which will be on display until June 7. • Manatee Players: Bradenton's resident theater troupe has always been a staple of quality entertainment in our town. It plans to open a new $15 million state-of-the-art performing arts center in early 2009, allowing for more enhanced productions from the nationally award-winning community troupe. This season has featured several sold-out productions, appealing to residents in Bradenton and beyond. The Manatee Players' next season begins Aug. 21 with The Will Rogers Follies and includes hits such a brand new production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in December and Damn Yankees in February. • South Florida Museum: It's known as the largest cultural and natural history museum on the Gulf Coast, filled with exhibits featuring prehistoric life and an assortment of Florida artifacts. The museum includes the Bishop Planetarium and is also home to Snooty, Bradenton's beloved manatee, who just happens to be the oldest living manatee in captivity. • Village of the Arts: Bradenton's one-of-a-kind arts village features bungalows of artistic treasures for sale that attract a wide range of art lovers. An art walk takes place every first weekend of the month at the village between Ninth and 17th Avenue West and Ninth and 14th Street West. The village includes Bonni Bakes Edible Art shop, the unique artistic gifts of Fancy Free Boutique Blue Morph Gallery and dozens of other creative galleries.