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Art galleries revive Tampa’s historical district

Residents of Ybor City, an area best known for its club scene and love of debauchery, are attempting to atone for the area’s sullied name by picking up the paintbrush again and bringing the area’s rich 45-year history of Latin art back into the public eye.

Ybor Art Association (YAA) co-founders Brad Cooper and Walter Romeo are two of the lead activists in this local renaissance. The YAA is a coalition of independently owned and operated art galleries, fine arts-related businesses and their sponsors. Cooper and Romeo, along with Romeo’s wife Sara, created the nonprofit organization this year to provide a united voice on topics of mutual concern within the art community.

The YAA recently launched the First Saturday Ybor ARTWalk. In the mid-90s, the ARTWalk was an annual event run by the city, but is now a monthly effort by the YAA geared toward supporting the community’s art scene.

The event, which began June 7, takes participants on a tour of seven galleries including the Brad Cooper Gallery, Romeo Gallery, Casa Lala Gallery and Arnold Martinez Art Gallery. Tourists can also visit various studios and performance venues, giving them the option of enjoying a Saturday night in Ybor without the traditional barhopping.

“We had a great turnout of residents and visitors to Tampa. When this event is held over and over again the first Saturday of the month, we will build in attendance,” Cooper said. “This has the capacity to shift Ybor City into an environment that is more diverse and exciting to visit.”

Other institutions in Ybor are supporting the art community as well, including the city’s retail incentive committee and the Ybor Chamber of Commerce.

“(Art) is a big part of our community,” Chamber of Commerce President Tom Keating said. “Ybor is the Greenwich Village of the Tampa Bay area.”

Keating is working to promote and support the art community by creating more offices and businesses in Ybor.

In addition to revitalization events like the ARTWalk, the YAA reports that a surge of new displays and galleries founded by local artists has occurred in recent years. Since the revival began, more than 20 cultural venues and artist studios have been established in the city. The YAA members said they hope to encourage other artists and galleries to move to Ybor, where the creative community is steadily re-emerging.

“We want Ybor to be seen as a place for family and retail. The bars had taken over there for a while, but several of the bigger bars are beginning to move out. Those places have given Ybor a reputation as a strictly night-time area,” Romeo said. “We want community members to bring their families to Ybor in the day to enjoy the art and shop around. We’re working hard to bring the city back to how it was years ago: a center for retail and culture.”

The ARTWalk is held the first Saturday of every month from noon to 6 p.m. For a city layout and gallery addresses, click on the events link at, or call the Brad Cooper Gallery at 813-248-6098.