By Sharon Therien and Tim W. Jackson
Oftentimes, the best way to truly experience a new destination is to understand and embrace its local culture. And good news—you’ll find plenty of cultural expressions in the Bradenton area on the sunny Gulf Coast of Florida.
Artists, performers, and various creatives have contributed to the rich cultural history of Bradenton, and the area’s artistic offerings continue to provide things to do in the area and opportunities to ignite your passions.
Village of the Arts
For a day that’s out of the ordinary, take in the whimsical style of the Village of the Arts, or VOTA, with its colorful display of eclectic influences. Created with the mission to “build a community where artists live and work while enhancing the quality of life and creating a harmonious environment,” this neighborhood gives locals a rare live/work/play mix.
This unique spot turns an entire village into a piece of art and celebrates different sources of creativity, from quilting to healing arts, making it one of the best cultural expressions in the Bradenton Area! Award-winning restaurants and specialty shops sit alongside galleries and studios, all housed within a grouping of historical Florida homes and bungalows.
See this remarkable area for yourself on monthly art walks on the first Friday night and Saturday afternoon, complete with live music, incredible food, and unique indie art spanning every genre. It’s also the perfect opportunity to score one-of-a-kind souvenirs!
Downtown Bradenton and the Riverwalk are within a quick car or bike ride of this neighborhood, where grassroots beautification continues as more residents and businesses call the area home. So, whether you’re drawn to an art walk, gallery visit, or delicious food, this fun and family-friendly environment is worth the visit.
Within “the friendly city,” the charming downtown area of Bradenton invites you to explore local shops and restaurants, a public market, and numerous types of cultural expressions. Going downtown brings you to artistic and cultural experiences like VOTA, the art along the Riverwalk, and numerous galleries, such as Island Gallery, Studios on Old Main Street, and Joan Peters Gallery on 11th Avenue.
The organization Realize Bradenton puts on events like ArtSlam and the Bradenton Blues Festival that draw a crowd to downtown Bradenton. ArtSlam is a daylong experience on Old Main Street that showcases art and other forms of creative expression through an interactive setup that makes you a part of the fun and brings the activities to life.
A unique asset of Bradenton is the beautiful outdoor space that runs along the Manatee River. The 1.5-mile park spanning the downtown has also become known as a home of public art, making it one of the top cultural outdoor activities Bradenton has to offer.
Stroll the Riverwalk for a first-hand glimpse at numerous works of art and murals, including Boats by artist Jean Blackburn and Our Roots Run Deep by Don Brandes, both an homage to the impact of the Manatee River in Bradenton’s history and growth. Abstract sculptures by Mark Fuller invite visitors to enjoy the Riverwalk splash pad, while actress Jane Seymour’s sculpture helps people reflect on the idea that “if your heart is open, love will find its way in.”
This area is also home to fantastic festivals and events. Be sure to check out the Bradenton Riverwalk Fine Art Festival at Riverwalk Pavilion at Rossi Park, held annually.
After a thorough sweep of these artistic assets, visitors can catch the Gulf Islands Water Ferry from the downtown stop located right on the Riverwalk.
Island Gallery West
Previously housed on Anna Maria Island, Island Gallery can now be found on Old Main Street to contribute to the arts and culture in the heart of downtown Bradenton. Here, it resumes its 33-year history as an artist cooperative, displaying artwork in different mediums by local artists, artisans, and craftspeople.
The range of artwork on display features many types of cultural expressions, including paintings, photographs, ceramic art, mixed media, stained glass, jewelry, and pottery.
A guest artist program brings new faces and pieces to the gallery, so it’s worth a trip from time to time to see new methods and styles.
You can even bring your favorite pieces of local art home with you as the perfect souvenir. If you regret not buying a piece of art after your visit, you’re in luck because it’s easy to purchase through the website from home and have it shipped to you.
Manatee Performing Arts Center
The Manatee Performing Arts Center is a significant part of the cultural history of Bradenton, as it started as a community theater in the 1940s and grew from there. Despite its amazing growth over the decades, it has maintained its charming community feel through local auditions and a youth program.
This site has continued to evolve and grow, opening a new, state-of-the-art venue in 2013. This active performing arts center is a great place to visit for an ever-changing array of live performances, including Broadway and other musicals, popular plays, concerts, and dance recitals.
This vibrant center hosts “more than 70 contracted directors, musicians, and designers” who bring their talents and offer new artistic experiences on a continuous basis. Check the schedule to see what’s playing here at any given time.
HerriNG Center for the Arts
Herring Center for the Arts, formerly known as ArtCenter Manatee, is a visual arts center that has contributed to the arts, culture, and history of the area since it started in the 1930s in Downtown Bradenton. This fun and interactive site allows you to take in unique art exhibits each month through three galleries.
Visit the website to see what is on display at any given date and to check for the events this center puts on.
Individuals and families can also participate in artistic learning opportunities through a slew of classes, workshops, and children’s camps in all different mediums. Another option is fun group creative nights to make a drawing, painting, piece of jewelry, or other creative piece. These activities offer a fun thing to do in Bradenton with friends or a night out with the family.