Nestled in a quiet block of 1st Avenue South in downtown St. Petersburg, FL lies The Studio@620, a multiform gallery and performance space that is going to be celebrating its fourth birthday this June. Run by co-artistic directors Bob Devin Jones, an L.A. transplant, and Dave Ellis, one of the founders of Great Explorations children's museum in St. Petersburg, the Studio@620 provides many culture-heavy offerings at a fraction of the going ticket price.
A quick glance at their online calendar of events includes such diverse offerings as films from the Ironweed Film Club and St. Pete-Film Movement, dramatic performances by Stageworks Theatre Company, and a variety of spoken word performances, art openings, musical guests, and discussion forums. And that's just for the month of May.
"We didn't start the studio by conducting a market survery... we just thought if we did a variety of creative things, the community would come through the door. And that's what happened. We've been very successful, " says Bob. "The ecology is pretty fertile for things happening in St. Petersburg. Being downtown, we're a block and half from the Florida Craftsmen Gallery, The Arts Center. It's a good neighborhood for us to be in."
Dave chimes in, "It's hard work, but the fact that people in the community have embraced what we're trying to do makes up for any of that. We sort of went against the common grain in putting this together and kept being told by lots of people that this isn't the way we should be doing it and did it anyway. I really enjoy working with the people, and the opportunity to be a part of the decision making [in terms] of what we're able to put up. I enjoy the freedom and the interesting folks that we work with. And when the work's up on the walls I really enjoy the pleasure, the interest, and sometimes the revulsion of the folks that come to see it."
In addition to their original programming, Dave informs me that they often rent out their space to organizations and individuals for specific events, both private and public. "[Renting the space out] very often brings new audiences. It's pretty much open for anything. We've had weddings. [Next up] we've got Red Bull coming in... people have taken their cans and done an art thing with them. I don't know that we'd rent it to the NRA."
"No, we wouldn't do that," responds Bob, "but we have to find ways to subsidize. We have to find insurance, pay utilities and all those things.. but at the same time we don't want to shy away from a program or an idea because we don't have the money for it. and we certainly don't want people to shy away because it's too expensive for them. Our approach is we don't turn anyone away from the door. You don't show up, you don't show up. But you can't say you'll be turned away. That's a business model no one wants to hear about, but every organization still is struggling about always charging. Paying what you can, that just makes sense. Many people are in a situation that what they can pay is two dollars. But if they are going to show up it's good if you have a program like that. That's the way we roll."
And if things go as planned, you can expect to see a lot more from these two in the future. "I have no clue what's going to come next," says Dave. "It's pretty much across the board. We really want to get people across the full spectrum of age, race, religion, how tall you are... all that stuff."
What keeps them going is simple: "I'm inspired either by the work that I see, or by doing things that I haven't done before," concludes Bob. "I'm inspired by what's here."