Half art gallery, half retail outfit, Florida Craftsmen is at heart a successful non-profit organization that has been representing the craft artists of Florida for well over 50 years. Once popular predominantly with the more mature art connoisseur, Florida Craftsmen is looking to "hip up" their audience, as Executive Director of the gallery, Maria Emilia likes to say. And what better way to spice things up than to bring a fresh new voice to the non-profit, in the form of Curatorial Assistant Elizabeth Kozlowski.
Elizabeth, who is originally from Delaware, relocated to the Tampa Bay area to pursue a degree in Museum Studies. Finding her niche in Ybor City, she began to engulf herself in the local art scene, creating the "Ybor House of Artists" collective and curating several shows at places like the Skatepark of Tampa, Ybor City Museum, and even an Art After Dark with the Tampa Museum of Art.
"Our mission at Florida Craftsmen is to empower the artist, enrich the community, and engage the next generation," says Elizabeth. She brings an edge to the gallery, and stresses the reality that craft art is not crafting.
"We present the idea of craft through a fine art lens," she says. "[We] exhibit artists that use traditional craft mediums and techniques to produce works of art that align more with the contemporary."
But what is fine craft art, you may ask? Fine craft art is a very familiar aesthetic, one in which artists utilize traditional craft materials such as glass, wood, textiles, and metal to create innovative works of fine art for both residential and commercial consumption. Fine craft art includes glassblowing, weaving, pottery, metalwork and takes the form of sculpture, installations, wearable art, and much more. The possibilities are nearly endless. Does Chihuly ring a bell?
Continues Elizabeth, "We are constantly trying to present fine craft in an innovative way. We are unique in that we are the only statewide non-profit arts organization that represents Florida's fine craft artists. Our retail gallery space allows for over 200 artists and their work." If you have never been to the retail space, you are missing out. From found art jewelry and handcrafted trinkets, to glittery Frida Kahlo miniatures that can be hung on a tree or on the wall, and everything in between, it's a great place for unique gifts and unusual finds.
"We also have three on-site exhibition spaces to allow for local and national exposure of fine craft," remarks Elizabeth. Herself a clay artist, she realizes the importance of keeping fine craft art both alive and relevant.
In addition to the retail and exhibition spaces, Florida Craftsmen stays busy by developing programming for the art-minded public and housing a young professionals group similar to Avant Garde at the Tampa Museum of Art.
"Our young professionals group consists of arts-related individuals from all over the state. They will become the steering committee for Florida Craftsmen, assisting in a new generation initiative and addressing the interests of young audiences and members. Our current gallery programming includes gallery talks with artists working at the leading edge of their disciplines and hands-on workshops."
I was lucky enough to attend one of Florida Craftsmen's artist programs, and not only found the information presented to me to be quite useful as an artist myself, but was impressed with the caliber of artist speakers the gallery was able to bring in to conduct the seminar. Attendance was high, and the networking potential was sublime.
Elizabeth is quick to mention that "it is necessary to continue to build upon the audience that appreciates fine craft art or else we will become a dying breed." Florida Craftsmen seems to be on top of its game in this respect.
Concludes Elizabeth, "I'd like to encourage a connection over the bridge to Tampa and beyond."
For a comprehensive schedule of programming, membership opportunities, and additional gallery information, visit www.floridacraftsmen.net.