“We encourage loitering.”
ArtCenter Manatee encourages visitors to soak in the arts as well as the sun.
Located on 3rd avenue – just steps away from The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature and a couple blocks west of the Manatee Performing Arts Center – is ArtCenter Manatee, another legendary repository of creative energy.
“I want the city to call this Avenue of the Arts,” ArtCenter Manatee’s lively Executive Director Carla Nierman says with a pause. “So much sexier than 3rd Avenue West, right?”
In Carla’s mind, these three invaluable institutions form the heart of a recognized cultural corridor right in the heart of downtown Bradenton.
“One of my overarching goals is to make the west coast of Florida the cultural coast.” she explains. And it’s just the beginning, with ArtCenter Manatee leading the charge. “You can see it’s already happening,” she adds.
Inspiration you can see and feel
This year marks ArtCenter Manatee’s 83rd year of operation and its mission remains the same: To help artists market, display and create artwork; educate the community on the value of art; and conduct community outreach, including summer camps and after-school programs for area youth.
Inside its sprawling 10,000 sq. ft. confines, an immeasurable amount of creative energy flows. The effect is palpable.
According to Carla, “When people walk in our building they always say, ‘It feels so good in here. What is it?’ And my answer is, ‘The walls are oozing with creativity.’ There is so much creativity here.”
Look at some art or create your own
Just don’t come expecting to passively view a bunch of paintings hanging on the walls. ArtCenter Manatee is as much about creating art as for observing it.
There are classes for silver-smithing, glass-blowing, jewelry-making and the like. But there are also 1,800-degree ovens in which you can practice the ancient Japanese art of Raku (also known as Raku-yaki) – a type of Japanese hand-molded lead-glazed earthenware that dates back to the 16th century.
Workshops can run from a few hours to a few days. If you’re lucky enough to have an extended stay, you can sign up for a four-to-five week course for most mediums on offer. One fun idea for couples is “Nights Out” – a Friday night art project slash date-night, where you can free up your creative side with some wine, beer and appetizers, and go home with something hand-made.
In all, ArtCenter Manatee has five art studios, three galleries and an art library featuring over 3,000 volumes of art. You can just drop in and look around. But the danger is that you might miss something.
It’s best to call ahead and ask for a personal guided tour.
Shows, shows and more shows
ArtCenter Manatee has repeatedly been voted the Best Art Gallery by the Herald Tribune and Bradenton Herald, and it’s easy to see why. Exhibitions featuring local, state and nationally acclaimed artists change monthly. Every collection is kicked off with an opening reception party, where you can meet the artist and enjoy some wine or beer, appetizers and live music.
In addition to the national artists, ArtCenter Manatee features international artists as well. Its most current show, Three Modern Masters, celebrates the work of three world-class watercolor masters. Entry to the international exhibition is a whopping $5. Or as Carla puts it, “For the cost of a cup of coffee, you gain access to the world of top artists.”
Pick up a one-of-kind souvenir
And for one-of-a-kind handcrafted souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else, there’s the Artist’s Market gift shop, which has recently developed an online presence at LiveArtfully.org – featuring the work of local and regional Florida artists and artisans, including jewelry, glass, pottery, woodwork and more.
“I do think that most people that come in are somewhat awed with that it’s different stuff,” Carla adds. “Everything in there is handcrafted. It’s not things you’re going to find in other places.”
Inspiration for everyone
Over the course of a single year, ArtCenter Manatee welcomes more than 50,000 visitors, employs more than 45 instructors and offers more than 350 day, evening and weekend art classes a year. That’s a whole lot of art appreciation!
“We have a very, very busy schedule,” Carla affirms, and getting busier all the time. “Because you can’t go to the beach every minute of every day,” Carla observes, ArtCenter Manatee offers an important alternative to the usual tourist destinations.
“Whether you’re just an appreciator, whether you’re just an artist, whether you’re an instructor, it doesn’t matter,” she says.
“Everybody seems to find something in it for them, which is really, really fun.”