A goodwill effort to get the arts community involved with The Regent fell short this week when only three people showed up for a meeting with Regent representatives Wednesday.
According to Marsh Rainey, attorney for the Brandon Community Advantage Center board of directors, which operates The Regent’s ballroom and downstairs meeting facility, about 25 to 30 local artists were invited to sit down with board members Heather Stump-Ochalek and Antonio Amadeo to discuss ways the board could work with the local arts community. The three people who attended the meeting are involved in the arts but are not artists.
“They were disappointed at the turnout,” said Rainey. “They’re really making an attempt to reach out to the art community.”
The Regent, located at 6437 Watson Road, Riverview, was constructed with $7 million in federal, state and county tax money to provide a venue for large Brandon gatherings. However, since opening the facility in January, the Brandon Community Advantage Center board of directors has received criticism for focusing on renting the facility for weddings and private parties instead of community events.
In an effort to change that perception of The Regent, said Rainey, the board has been reaching out to community groups interested in using the building.
The local art community is among those that have taken the board to task for its lack of community involvement. Winthrop town artist and public arts advocate Bryant Martinez, who received an invitation to Wednesday’s meeting but was unable to attend.
"I'd like to be involved in the future," said Martinez. "But I just wasn't able to make it to this meeting."
He and fellow Brandon artists have criticized The Regent's board for purchasing two commercially made statues to adorn the 10,000-square-foot ballroom rather than using the work of local artists.
According to Rainey, the board spent about $35,000 on decorative accents for the building including the two statues.
“That’s not a lot of money when you’re talking about a $7 million project,” said Rainey.
Nevertheless, some local artists believe the funds would have been better spent purchasing works by local artists.
In an effort to assuage the concerns of the art community, the Brandon Community Advantage Center board developed a public arts policy for the building and is attempting to form a task force with local artists.
However, Anne Drewry, president of the Greater Brandon Arts Council, and Tim Mandese, president of the Brandon League of Fine Arts, said they weren’t invited to the meeting.
Drewry said Amadeo, a Tampa architect who drew up the public arts policy for The Regent, did contact her about a month ago.
“He said he wanted me to attend a meeting in June,” said Drewry. “I told him to let me know when and where, but he never got back to me. I didn’t even hear about the meeting until the day it was happening, and I didn’t go because I wasn’t invited. They, quote, invited lots of people to the meeting but I don’t know of any artists that were invited. I can’t imagine who was invited.”
Amadeo and Ochalek were unavailable for comment.
Mandese also said he was unaware of any task force meeting at The Regent.
“That’s new to me,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t invited.”
At the meeting, the board members proposed hosting an outdoor art exhibit at The Regent.
“They also talked about hanging some local artwork in public spaces at The Regent,” said Drewry. “But the policy for hanging public art is so bad, I don’t think any artists would be willing to do it. Under the policy, the artists have to pay a fee to exhibit their work as well as pay for installation costs. I don’t know of any artist who would be willing to do that.”
The group also discussed hosting art classes in the downstairs meeting rooms. However, Drewry pointed out that the building isn’t set up for art classes. “There are no sinks to wash out brushes and there’s carpet on the floor so you’d have to put down drop cloths if you were holding a class,” she said.
“I think the board wants to appear as if it’s doing something for local artists but it makes no sense whatsoever,” said Drewry.
The board has also scheduled its first quarterly public meeting for June 23 at 5:30 p.m. In the meantime, it will be making a concerted effort to reach out to the local arts community, said Rainey.