2020 SHINE Mural Festival - Artist: Alex Yanes

MUSE Awardees - Where are they now and what do they envision a post-COVID future to look like?

In 2014, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance created the annual MUSE Awards to celebrate the artists and art-lovers in our St. Pete community.  Unfortunately, we could not host our February 2021 MUSE Awards due to COVID-19 guidelines, however, that doesn’t mean we don’t have something to celebrate.  

2020 has given us plenty of time for self-reflection and for some, a transformation so we decided to find out what our past MUSE Award Recipients have been up to. We asked them questions about how receiving the MUSE Award affected their lives and what they believe the future holds for them and for the rest of the artistic world post COVID. 

2014 People's Choice Award
Becca McCoy

Being a MUSE recipient became a designation in Becca’s professional written and oral introductions and inclusion in the company of her highly respected peers. It was an elevation from someone raised in St. Petersburg to someone who contributed positively and quantifiably to the arts community of her hometown, and she states that was a tremendous honor.     

Becca moved to Atlanta recently with her partner, artist Justin Groom where they have individual studios in their house and are building them to be professionally self-sufficient.  Becca is taking classes and working with a coach in voiceover and has built a recording booth in her studio.  She is represented by agents in Atlanta and in Chicago and auditions regularly by self-tape and Zoom.    Right now Becca’s future plans are just to survive and remain competitive. (We understand that!)

Becca spends a lot of time wondering what our art community's future post-COVID-19 will look like.  The pandemic's impact on performing arts in particular has been absolutely brutal.  Becca has great faith that even if the institutional delivery method of performing arts to the public evolves, “We as human beings will always have a fundamental need to tell our stories and experience our stories, and our desire to share space will be irrepressible.” 

2020 Visual Arts Award
D. Yael Kelley

Receiving the MUSE Award opened up several new opportunities for Yael to share her work and experiences as an artist with a number of organizations as an invited guest speaker.  That in turn led to additional sales of her work to new collectors.  It raised awareness of Yael and the St. Petersburg Gallery - Red Cloud Indian Arts that represents her.  Red Cloud’s owner, Harriet Rambeaux related that several customers came by specifically to see her work after the MUSE announcement was made and had appeared in various publications.  

Currently, Yael is painting, painting, painting!  Because of COVID, socially distanced studio visits, as well as private gallery showings, have been a constant. The themes that Yael is now exploring in her paintings have absolutely been impacted by all the events of the last year both positive and negative.  Since COVID has put a halt on her usual travel, she is focused on opportunities here.  She is part of the Historic Kenwood Artist Enclave and serves on the Public Arts Committee. Zoom has also played a big role and allowed her to engage in the arts community, and to sit on several committees including the Dunedin Government Center Public Art subcommittee. Her work is still in the embassy in San Salvador as part of the Arts in Embassies program through the U.S. Dept. of State.

Yael’s future plans are all about more painting, painting, painting!  She was a faculty member for the 2021 Arts Business Academy and on March 11th will be sharing her art and process with the Dali Museum Guild as part of their Women Artists via zoom. Plans for a solo show at Red Cloud Indian Arts Gallery are underway. 

When asked what the future of our arts community will look like post-COVID, Yael believes virtual everything is here to stay, tours, shows, and meetings. She also thinks the lessons of the financial crisis of 2008 can be helpful in rebuilding the Arts.  “We came together - artists from all disciplines, arts non-profits and for profit, and governmental and found ways to share infrastructure, work opportunities, grant partnerships and basically anything that could keep us all going.  That led to a very unique arts community and I believe we will re-emerge from this with new creative energy.”

2018 Visual Arts Award
Charlie Parker Pottery

Charlie Parker says that receiving the MUSE award was an honor and a highlight. To be recognized for something he’s done for most of his life is a validation of the hard work and perseverance it took to have a career in a field he loves.  Since receiving the award, his business increased with more commissions and he expects this to continue in the future.

2020 was a challenging year for Charlie having to cut back on classes and shortening their hours. Though he’s had more time to work on his own art, it’s been difficult to solely rely on that. It’s going to take time to get back to where we were but he believes that we will get there and our arts community will come back stronger. Charlie Parker still has the inspiration and desire to create and thanks this community for its continued support. He cannot imagine living and working in any other city. “The St Pete Arts Alliance has been one of the most supportive and helpful organizations I have ever worked with.”

2019 Special Volunteer Recognition Award
Edel Mohr

Receiving the Muse Award was the highlight of Edel’s photographic journey to document the murals in our beautiful city and publish them in a book. She says it was absolutely wonderful to receive such an honor. Currently, Edel is still capturing murals with her camera, but 2020 and 2021 really put a damper on all photographic activities.

2017 Performance Arts Award
Eric Davis of freeFall Theater

For Eric Davis, the awards gala brought awareness of freeFall Theatre to those interested in the arts outside of their discipline.  He is happy to announce that the theater is open and successfully running outdoor, drive-in performances currently and is “grateful to have found a format to be open with which they can keep the audience and the performers safe while providing programming to the community and fulfilling at least part of their mission.” Whenever conditions permit, they will reopen with indoor programming, hopefully by the fall of 2021.

2019 Arts Ambassadors
Jennifer and Jeff Lovelady

Receiving a MUSE Award opened up the Lovelady’s world to a whole new community of artists and arts supporters. Their family has supported the arts for years in St. Petersburg but kept a fairly low profile. They are proud to show the community how important the arts are to them.

Jennifer continues working in the family business, Great Bay Distributors, as Director of Community and Cultural Affairs.  They have filled their corporate office with murals and other art from local artists.  With their family’s blessing, they are continuing to acquire local art for their collection and expose their family of employees to all the wonderful art that is available in our community.  They are also working with arts organizations as they navigate the pandemic and plan to continue to support local artists, museums, and galleries.

They hope the future of the arts community post-COVID looks a lot like it did pre-COVID. “So many of our arts organizations have been deeply affected by the pandemic but it is amazing how creative they have become to continue to bring art to the community.”

2017 Visual Arts Award
Kyu Yamamoto

Winning the MUSE award was a growth experience for Kyu especially in public speaking, interviews, and media coverage. Currently, Kya is creating paintings and sculptures rather than teaching in-person classes because of the pandemic.  He continues to focus on his own artworks and challenges himself on two fronts: to express his feelings and frustrations and find ways to honor others through his work and to stretch his skills outside his comfort zone.  He also thinks we will back to normal after a year from now, but with more internet and social network art venues.

2015 Literary Arts Award
Kristine Radish

After winning the MUSE Award, Kris moved to Colorado to live in a rustic remote cabin for a year where she wrote a non-fiction book.  Since then she has relocated to North Carolina and finished her 16th book, a novel, and is working with a fantastic group of journalists on a podcast based on one of her books for Apple. She is also celebrating the fact that we now have a “President and VP who will bring back sanity, hope, and a love for the arts to our world.”

Currently, she is hiking, camping, worrying about the environment, reading, drinking wine, bird watching, and counting the seconds until she can come back and see her St. Pete family!

2020 Patron of the Arts Award
Hal Freedman and Willi Rudowsky

Post-COVID, Hal, and Willi think the visual arts and artists will be fine but are concerned with the performing arts: dance, theater, etc.  Hal muses, “Even when it’s medically safe to share space with strangers for a couple of hours, will people feel safe enough to return to indoor venues? When will the Equity union allow performers to be in close enough proximity to perform live theater? Will dancers feel comfortable touching each other? There will be a lag in getting back to “normal” for the performing arts.”

They are also concerned about the venues the performers work in.  Are the venues constructed in ways that would make people safe entering and exiting as well as staying for a performance?  That could slow or speed up the willingness of people to attend.  For example, Willi is less likely to want to go to a large venue with no center aisle while she might go to a smaller venue with easier access to seats.

2019 Visual Arts Award
Mark Aeling

More than just a great party and a Duncan McClellan bowl, the Muse award was a huge honor and a humbling experience.  It helped to elevate Mark’s profile in the community and gave him additional marketing material to use as a resource. “It’s surprising how much a nod from an organization like the Saint Petersburg Arts Alliance can bolster your confidence that things are headed in the right direction.”

Currently Mark’s business, MGA Sculpture Studio is focusing its energy on public art and has been in an aggressive growth mode for the past two years.  2021 has the facility bursting at the seams with projects, creating a variety of challenges including how to get the work done. A very talented, ever-expanding team is ready for the task.

In the future, Mark hopes to focus on some more personal pieces, perhaps another “Lips” casting, and focus some energy on expanding the revenue base for the studio with a line of sculptures intended for online sales.

In looking at a post-COVID-19 future, Mark says that attention will turn to more online sales and that the Warehouse Arts District Association of which Mark is board president, is focusing on outdoor space at the ArtsXchange for facilitating opportunities for artists.  Mark states that “These kinds of adjustments make things more versatile. One thing is for sure, creatives are very resilient and adaptable. Challenge equals opportunity in our world. I believe amazing things are in this community’s future.”

2016 Literary Arts Award
Maureen McDole

The honor of winning an SPAA MUSE Award helped to elevate Maureen’s organization, Keep St. Pete Lit, and her profile as a poet in St. Pete. She is about to have her third poetry book “Feast” published by St. Petersburg Press and is continuing to grow to Keep St. Pete Lit. Their office just moved into The Factory St. Pete.

In addition to their local literary programming, Keep St. Pete Lit is working on a state-wide poetry anthology for Florida high school students in partnership with USF and Poetry Out Loud. They are also partnering with the National Senior Games to help their athletes write their stories about their path to being athletes and how they have overcome ageism. And personally, Maureen is working on her fourth poetry book and a hybrid book of essays/poetry about her eclectic Florida fisherman family. 

In the post-COVID-19 future, Maureen believes we need to continue to innovate through and past these uncharted times and continue to be as collaborative and supportive of each other as we have been in the past. She “hopes the private sector becomes more involved in supporting the arts, and that the city begins to focus on low-income housing so our creative class doesn’t get priced out as St. Pete continues to grow.”

2015 Arts Ambassadors
Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse

Winning the SPAA MUSE Award was a great honor for them and they remember the event joyfully.  The MUSE Award allowed them to be known by more people in the community.

In the summer of 2017, they moved from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs and are the current Creative Pinellas Art Laureates.  Living now in Tarpon, they view the county holistically and see the unity of the county as a high priority.  Hence, they are strong advocates for the Arts in St. Petersburg, in Tarpon Springs, and in the rest of Pinellas.  “Our county has so many riches.”

Their multi-level show, Expanding Waters, will open on March 17 and run through mid-June at Creative Pinellas showing paintings and a large installation.  The show will include theatre (Shakespeare), Dance (Paula Kramer & Company), Literature, Music, Science, and much more.  Expanding Waters explores the issue of Climate Change and ways of mitigation.

“The Arts Alliance deserves great accolades for the work it has done over the years in establishing St. Petersburg as an important art mecca.  Now there are many innovators and supporters for the Arts.  But without the work of the Art Alliance, St. Petersburg would not be where it is today.” –Carol and Robert

2018 Arts Ambassadors
Paul Wilborn and Eugenie Bondurant

As the longtime emcees of the MUSE Awards, winning in 2018 really ruined their annual joke about never winning. But to be serious, the award seemed to set the stage for so many good things that happened for both of them. Paul’s book, Cigar City, won the 2019 Florida Book Awards (Gold Medal for Fiction) and Eugenie landed dream roles in two major films (Fear of Rain and Conjuring 3). 

Currently, Paul is making finishing touches on a new novel set in Florida called How Dawn Dies, and Eugenie continues to work on national film projects including new ventures in directing several local short films. And together they formed a new musical ensemble with Robin and Sher Sibucao called Front Porch Picnic where their first gig was at the 2020 MUSE Awards. 

Paul looks forward to the release of How Dawn Dies and the return of live shows at the Palladium Theater, where he is executive director, and Eugenie is looking at new projects for acting and teaching. She expects to continue directing short films. 

Paul and Eugenie both believe there will be some losses post-COVID.  The arts community has been the hardest hit by the shutdowns. But the arts and artists are resilient, and they think this fallow period could lead to a renaissance in local arts. They saw something similar happen in New Orleans (Eugenie’s hometown) after Hurricane Katrina.  

And for the future, they hope to still be emceeing future MUSE Awards events. It is one of their favorite nights of the year! 

2018 Literary Arts Award
Sheila Cowley

Sheila says that it’s an honor and a privilege to be part of this amazing arts community. When she and her husband, Matt, moved here from Tampa 7 1/2 years ago, everything about their creative lives got better.  They are grateful to live in a city where actors visit galleries and dancers go to plays, where visual artists go to concerts and everyone connects with each other at ArtWalk and The Studio@620.  No one makes theatre alone and she feels fortunate to work with so many incredible actors, dancers, musicians, and visual artists on theatre projects. 

Currently, Sheila is the managing editor of the Creative Pinellas Arts Coast Journal. She and Matt are creating audio tours for area museums, Selby Gardens, and the SHINE Mural Festival, and working on a City of Tampa public arts audio project with Paul Wilborn that celebrates immigration and diversity in Ybor City’s history. 

During the pandemic, Sheila made theatre on Zoom, on film, and on the telephone, and collaborated with Creative Clay’s amazing artists on a future children’s book. Theaters in New Jersey and Miami have hosted Zoom performances of her short plays and two were published last year in an online literary magazine and as part of Gary Garrison’s latest book. And Tampa Rep produced Flying with an amazing all-Black cast, via Zoom. 

Sheila's future projects include working with Paula Kramer and their Sparks Collaborative Ensemble, a working group of all kinds of artists who create performances where visual, literary, and performing arts all work together.

Sheila has been very impressed with the online work that adventurous theaters are exploring around the country and in Europe – working with that format in unexpected and amazing ways.  She hopes that it will be a permanent extension of live performance – not to replace it, but as another creative outlet that makes theatre more accessible. 

“Cheers to the continued creative work of the St. Pete Arts Alliance and SHINE Mural Festival. It’s been a great pleasure to work with executive director John Collins, and I’m really going to miss him.” – Sheila Cowley

2019 Literary Arts
Sterling Watson

Winning an SPAA MUSE Award was a wonderful affirmation of Sterling’s writing, teaching, and the founding of Writers in Paradise.  He’s helped hundreds of writers in and out of the classroom, often mentoring them for many years, and appreciates being recognized for his contributions to the local and larger writing community.

His novel, The Committee, was selected by the Tampa Bay Times as a Best Historical Novel of 2020 and he’s in the process of finishing another novel.  Sterling continues to write and teach.  In addition to Writers in Paradise, he teaches in the Pine Manor College (Boston) low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Sterling thinks that a post-COVID-19 future will return to the status quo ante.  St. Pete is well situated for a quick comeback but he worries about the local theatres.  They will need infusions of cash and he’s hopeful that the angels of our community will be generous.

2016 Visual Arts
Steven Kenny

Steven says that winning the MUSE Award was an enormous honor and acknowledgment of his hard work. The award encouraged and motivated him to push on to greater heights. It also showed him that he has knowledge and experiences to share with other artists, especially those just getting started.  His commissions have increased in the last few months to the point where it's difficult to find time for his own personal work but that’s not a complaint! 

Steven has been an artist for 37 years and has a solid network of collectors. The MUSE Award helped increase his notoriety locally so he saw an increase in sales and exhibition opportunities here in Tampa Bay. If anything, he’ll put even more energy into his online presence.

Post COVID-19, Steven doesn’t see things returning to "normal." The changes caused by the lockdown will remain in place to a large degree. Artists' reliance on technology for interactions, sales, teaching, and exhibitions has now been more deeply ingrained in the way the art world operates. 

Steven has been extremely lucky since Covid struck. However, like many businesses, artists are suffering and many won't survive. But he says, “we're resilient and creative and maybe this disaster will spawn a whole new generation of artistic entrepreneurs who will flourish.” 

2020 Literary Arts
Your Real Stories – Jaye Sheldon and Lillian Dunlap

The moment the word went out that they had been selected as SPAA MUSE Award recipients, their worlds changed for good. Heartfelt good wishes poured in from people across the arts community. And, their colleagues and families echoed their approval and excitement. They knew that they had been heard, that their efforts to create work that carefully represents and celebrates the real stories of real people were working.

The year 2020 started off with a bang. Your Real Stories secured a national distribution deal with the new Black News Channel for what ended up being a two-season run of their 13-week television show called Your Real Stories. Each episode featured interviews and conversations with interesting, though not necessarily famous people. The first episode showed the story of Dorothy Davis, daughter of famous photographer Griffith Davis, the first roaming photographer for Ebony Magazine. The next show featured the story of Sharon Preston Folta, the only child of jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong.  And episode three featured the Tampa Bay Collard Greens Festival. Shortly afterward, COVID-19 hit and the rest of the episodes were produced using Zoom interviews with local people and others in various parts of the country. They will be sharing several of these stories with the Tampa Bay community later this Spring. 

Right now they are working on several projects for 2021, including COVID Stories: Race, Resilience, and a New Reality, with a grant from the Florida Humanities Council. They are also working with a well-known writer, a nationally recognized civil rights icon, and in collaboration with a national production and logistics company.

The arts community will do what it always does in difficult situations. Artists have found new ways to distribute their creative products. Live streaming and using Zoom interviews now will become part of the new creative toolkit. “While nothing can replace the human connection that we share when we experience art in shared physical spaces, now we know that we can digitally extend our reach and access to new audiences around the world.” 

COVID-19 shut down live performances all around the community. But now the public knows, maybe in a way that is brand new to them, that art is essential. Artists are essential.

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