Spearheaded by a variety of organizations, the city is well on its way to a cultural reawakening.
Plant City is growing. Over the course of the last decade, thousands have come to call the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World” home, according to a presentation Monday morning during the city’s annual budget workshop.
With that influx comes the demand for the cultural growth of the city to thrive as well. Always a step ahead, a growing core comprised of art advocates are well on their way to ushering Plant City into a cultural renaissance.
“People live here. People work here. Now we need to play here,” Vicky Saunders, co-founder of MAKE Plant City, said.
For decades, Plant City has had its fair share of artistic venues and events mainly spearheaded by the Arts Council, the East
Hillsborough Arts Guild or Plant City Entertainment. Other groups would pop up and make their mark, but a lack of communication between the organizations made it nearly impossible to kickstart a city-wide movement.
Over the last few years those walls dividing the individual groups have begun to crumble. MAKE Plant City was created solely for the purpose of uniting makers to foster that long-lost sense of companionship.
“Everyone in the past had this ownership mentality about their projects and their desires for the city,” Marsha Passmore, president of the Arts Council, said. “Now people are working together. I love it, as an older person I look at these active and invested millennials and am excited to pass the torch on to the younger generations. We’ve been working for years to get this movement going and it’s nice to know there are generations coming up that will continue to fight for the arts in this city.”
City Planner Mara Latorre has been active in MAKE Plant City since its debut last October. She said the arts help forge the identity of a community. With the push for arts education rising throughout the nation, there is a major trend of people traveling to different cities and towns solely to take part in their cultural offerings.
The Arts Council is bringing new art-themed banners to historic
downtown and is working on bringing the return of the beloved J. Seward Johnson sculptures. Clay Hollenkamp, creator of “Join the Circus Productions,” sparked the flame for improvisational theater in Plant City and created the group “Under-Medicated” to bring the unique comedy troupe to the city he grew up in.
But no revolution is without its obstacles. Plant City, for all its positive attributes, does have restrictions in place that can hinder a flourishing art community. When asked what the largest barrier for the movement was, nearly every group immediately responded, “The mural ban.”
Nearly a decade ago, a mural was painted in downtown Plant City that sparked a controversy. A portion of the painting appeared to display male genitalia, though the artist claims it was simply the arm of a chair.
Though the artist argued for the design, he altered the mural. But the controversy led to city commissioners placing a ban on murals in most instances throughout the downtown historic district.
Another challenge is the ability to acquire funding for the various art groups attempting to revitalize the city. State support for the arts has been slashed significantly over the past several years and many organizations also double as nonprofits.
Hollenkamp said funding is inarguably an issue, and some organizations fail to take advantage of the funding that is available. He sits on a grant committee and, during one session, only one Plant City organization even applied to be considered.
While some grants have simple application processes, others essentially require a member of the organization to solely be dedicated to navigating the intense requirements to make the group eligible for the funds. Since the majority of the organizations in Plant City are entirely volunteer-run, strict applications may not seem worth the hassle.
Nonetheless, the groups are pushing forward. Within the next
five years, they said, they hope to see Plant City have an arts and music festival, art walks, murals splashed across vacant walls, galleries and more.
There might soon be regular meetings between the art and culture groups in the city so that cohesiveness can continue to build. Dodie White, Arts Council member, said it is essential they continue to stay connected to ensure the movement continues to grow.
She said communities don’t change. If they don’t evolve, they die. For decades they have worked to grow the love and appreciation for arts in this town. Now that the interested parties are here, she said it’s time they work together to establish Plant City as a cultural destination.
“Plant City needs the arts,” Latorre said. “I think one of the countless reasons why the arts are so important for a community is it brings people together, but it transcends boundaries that we’ve constructed like race, age, ethnicity, your political or socioeconomic status. There’s something about the arts. You may have all these labels, but when you come together for the arts it just, all those barriers become broken and people just come together to celebrate creativity. It almost becomes a spiritual experience.”