Friday, February 9th was a ribbon cutting of a different kind. Instead of a new shop or restaurant, citizens celebrated in front of the familiar red facade of The Studio@620. Why was the Chamber of Commerce cutting a ribbon at an establishment that has been open for twenty years?
The Studio@620 is celebrating the purchase of its long time home at 620 1st Ave South. Since its inception, the building that houses the venerable institution has been owned by a group of founding shareholders. The event signified a rededication of a venue that has been integral in the city’s art scene, and to defining and fostering the city’s unique sense of place.
Two decades of artistic innovation: how The Studio@620 became the heartbeat of St. Petersburg’s cultural renaissance
When the Studio@620 opened its doors, giving burgeoning artists a new home, St. Pete was in the budding stages of a revitalization. In 2004, Bay Walk (today’s Sundial) was just four years old. Central Avenue was coming back to life with First Friday. You could count the restaurants on Beach Drive on one hand, with a finger or two to spare. At the time, The Studio@620 seemed like it was in the hinterlands, an outpost removed from downtown’s orbit. Parking on the quiet surrounding streets was abundant.
Co-founders Bob Devin Jones and the late G. David Ellis brought national-level charisma and talent. They could see St. Pete’s need for a place for creativity and innovation, where artists could reach the community. It is not an overstatement to say the Studio@620 immediately became the beating heart of the city’s renaissance.
Over the years the Studio has hosted thousands of exhibitions, performances, and round-table discussions. Among the early events that stood out on the Studio’s busy schedule was a community forum on Social Capital that included prescient commentary from writer Peter Kageyama, architect Tim Clemmons, and urban planner Bob Jeffrey, discussing the ingredients it would take for St. Pete to realize its potential. They recognized that St. Pete had the elements to be an exciting and vibrant place to live and visit, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
After twenty years, one might ask, where does the Studio@620 go from here?
Looking Forward: The Studio@620 embarks on a new era with leadership transition and commitment to community artistry
Board chair Amber Brinkley sees the Studio@620 at an important juncture. “This particular year is critical to laying the path for the next 20 years. There are two major milestones that will enable us to keep doing what we do.”
In addition to the purchase of the building, Brinkley is talking about the naming of a successor to beloved founder and artistic director Bob Devin Jones, who recently announced his retirement (effective, appropriately, 6/20) on the Studio’s 20th anniversary. The board, in consultation with Jones, recruited Erica Sutherlin as Incoming Executive Artistic Director.
Sutherlin has extensive experience in arts education, as well as an MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and most recently held the position of Director of Community Engagement at American Stage.
Brinkley said, “We’re excited to have Bob pass the torch to Erika, to continue the vision of the Studio. And having the non-profit become the stewards of the building is really important to—as Bob would poetically say—‘how we occur.’”
Bob Devin Jones’ last project before easing into retirement will be a production of Hamlet in April.
Jones said, “This is going to be my final production as Artistic Director, but I’ll do other things. On Hamlet, I’m working with John Bambery, a young actor who went to Perkins, John Hopkins Middle School and Gibbs (Center for the Performing Arts).”
Bambery went on to the Moscow Art Theater, studied for 5 years at Juilliard and has performed in theater products from New York to San Francisco.
Jones described the Studio’s fresh approach to a theater classic. “It will be a very idiosyncratic, community based Hamlet with non-traditional casting. We will have open rehearsals. The actors will be dressed in all white and it will be performed in the round.”
Performances will run the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. For updates and a full schedule of events visit: firstname.lastname@example.org