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Downtown Bradenton seeks to grow its arts scene

As more people flock to the area, the arts and culture scene is growing with a new gallery and a $15 million expansion.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. June 14, 2023
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ArtCenter Manatee's new center is expected to more than double its square footage.
ArtCenter Manatee's new center is expected to more than double its square footage.
Courtesy rendering
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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For 33 years, Jody Goldman ran a co-op art gallery on Anna Maria Island. But as rent escalated and foot traffic ceased as a result of nearby construction, it didn’t make sense to stay. So Goldman, along with the 28 other artists operating out of the studio, picked up and moved to downtown Bradenton. 

“Bradenton is growing, growing, growing,” she says, adding that there were already four other art-centered entities there: ArtCenter Manatee, a three gallery center that provides classes; the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature; The Manatee Performing Arts Center; and, notably, the Village of the Arts, which is a colorful live-work community featuring studios, healing arts, bakeries, art galleries and specialty shops in the form of brightly painted cottages. 

Jody Goldman working on the piece that won third place at The Endangered Fine Art and Photography Contest.
Courtesy photo

“It’s created a corridor for the arts,” Goldman says. “I wanted to be a part of that growth.” 

Goldman is part of a small but mighty group of arts entrepreneurs who are working to make the downtown Bradenton area the next big thing in arts. With the potential sale of City Hall, plus other work-live-play projects, their timing could be spot on.  

The move has been particularly positive for Goldman, who says prior to moving, Island Gallery & Studios, previously known as Island Gallery West, had virtually no walk-in traffic due to the constant construction. Now at 456 Old Main St. in downtown Bradenton, there’s walk-in traffic every day. 

Island Gallery and Studios recently moved to downtown Bradenton after being located on Anna Maria Island for 33 years.
Courtesy photo

Prior to the move, Goldman did her research, noting she and her husband Darryl Goldman walked nine blocks one day asking around for potential places to settle. She also made a point to visit the Village of the Arts and spoke with Carla Nierman, ArtCenter Manatee executive director. Goldman wanted to make sure everyone knew Island Gallery wasn’t coming in as competition. 

“That’s the kind of relationship I hope we continue,” she says.

Nierman remembers encouraging Goldman to move there. 

“It was a suggestion because I want them to succeed,” she says. “When any arts and culture business succeeds, it’s good for all of us.” 

That mindset is exactly how several artists in the growing arts community in Sarasota — some 15 miles south — have done it. 

Working together

Sarasota, of course is known nationally, even globally, for its arts scene, from galleries to ballet to opera. It's also home to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Ringling College of Art and Design. 

Outside those well-known spots momentum is growing behind the pedestrian-friendly arts destination dubbed the Limelight District, on Lime Avenue between Fruitville Road and 12th Street in Sarasota. The area was officially recognized as a district by the city in 2020. Since then, a number of artists have flocked there, mainly due to escalating rents in other parts of town, multiple gallery owners say. 

The "Lime Babe" was designed by Karen Chandler, an artist at The Bazaar on Apricot and Lime.
Courtesy photo

Craig Palmer, owner of Palmer Modern at 925 N. Lime Ave. opened his studio in March, alongside five other artists who work out of his space through occupancy agreements. This followed the February addition of a second arts collective Creative Liberties location at 927 N. Lime Ave., which has its flagship nearby at 901 Apricot Ave. Creative Liberties co-founders Barbara Gerdeman and Elizabeth Goodwill operate the studios, which together house roughly 20 artists at any given time. 

Gerdeman and many others in the Sarasota arts sector live by a 'we're all in this together' mantra. There's even the Sarasota Studio Artists Association, developed by Palmer and his wife Jen. 

“That’s one of the things our group is doing,” he says. “The organization is there to help other artists. Our purpose is to help artists grow their business.”

Another component of that is creating a pamphlet for visitors so they know where to go look at art. 

Goodwill recalls handing those pamphlets out and seeing eyes light up as if to say ‘I’m not going to be able to do all of this in a day.’

Between Palmer Modern, Creative Liberties’ two locations and The Bazaar on Apricot & Lime, a visitor could see roughly 60 artists and art-related vendors all by foot — one of the core disconnects of the Bradenton art community. While the Village of the Arts itself is walkable, one would have to drive separately to the Island Gallery and Studios, ArtCenter Manatee, The Bishop and Manatee Performing Arts Center. 

Though Nierman doesn’t think the walkability aspect is as big of a hindrance. 

“If you come down Third Avenue, then turn down Main Street and head straight down to the Village of the Arts, you have that connectivity,” she says. “There is a string of arts and culture.”

Still, the art community in the Limelight District have synced up.

Barbara Gerdeman and Elizabeth Goodwill recently opened a second Creative Liberties locations to make room for nearly 20 artists. Still, their wait list is 15 artists long.
Courtesy photo

Goodwill says that’s where putting together an organization like the SSAA can be helpful. “It’s been a huge catalyst in the growth that we’re experiencing,” she adds.  

Through the SSAA, there are 85 active artists that have a studio outside of their homes in Sarasota. Both Palmer Modern and Creative Liberties have a waiting list for artists looking for studio space. 

“There’s more artists than we have space for,” Goodwill says, noting they get inquiries at least two or three times a week. Currently, there are 15 artists on their list. 

Change is afoot

Throughout the 22 years Nierman, with ArtCenter Manatee, has been in Bradenton there’s been another constant, in addition to the 86-year-old nonprofit.   

“I’ve always heard ‘Bradenton’s going to grow up,’” she says, before noting there’s yet to be any real movement. “Everybody’s been talking about it for a long time.”

She thinks that time might be now.  

“I think there’s a buzz now in Bradenton,” Nierman says, pointing to the Bradenton City Council voting on changing Third Avenue West to Avenue of the Arts. “There is (an attempt) to create an arts and culture corridor down Third Avenue.” 

Things are also moving forward for ArtCenter Manatee, which is currently building a new facility that will more than double its current 10,000-square-foot space. That project is projected to cost $15 millionwhich is being funded by foundations, private donors, county and city governments and business donors.

In 2019, Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing Bradenton, partnered with the city of Bradenton and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce to put together a market analysis through a consulting firm. One of the two key market development strategies listed during a follow-up conference in May 2020 was to make downtown Bradenton a regional destination for creative industries. 

Nierman echoes this, predicting a focus on developing more places to live, adding a walkability aspect to the downtown area and an emphasis on more restaurants over the next five years.

“We want to be a part of this shift in the community,” she says. “Our city leaders understand the impact of arts and culture on a community. You need arts and culture to have a thriving community.” 

When ArtCenter Manatee hosts their International shows and showcases, the area gets visitors that shop, stay in the hotels and eat locally. “(It’s a) ripple effect that impacts a number of other industries,” she says.  

In a document the ArtCenter used for its capital campaign, it was stated that the organization’s economic impact is currently $1.82 million annually based on overall attendance, county population and expenses. With the new building, that’s estimated to increase to $2.73 million.

And Nierman believes this will only bring more artists to the area. 

“Success follows success,” she says. “If all the arts and culture groups are succeeding and doing well, then yeah, I guarantee you there will be others that will follow.”


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