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Catalyze 2021: Brenda McMahon of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber

Bill DeYoung



We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.

Looking forward is part of the plan for artists and other creative types. It’s in their DNA to peer into the future and see something that does not yet exist, then proceed to make it so.

Looking back, not so much. Ceramic artist and gallery owner Brenda McMahon, head of the arts committee for the Gulfport Merchants Chamber and the founder of the popular Art Jones tours, took a moment to ponder the questions of Covid-19, the year 2020 and how they affected her business.

“It has been a year with a lot of fear and anxiety, and right at the beginning, in early spring, there was this fear that the bottom was going to fall out,” she said. “Ironically, for me and my business, one of the things I found out is that community comes together and they support one another.

“So where I thought I would falter and fall, I was actually raised and lifted by my community. By shopping online and, once we were open, they came to the gallery. They supported the local community, the restaurants and the bars, and the artists too. They asked me to do commissions, they purchased paintings, they bought jewelry – because everybody still had birthdays and anniversaries and things to celebrate, and instead of going on Amazon for stuff like that they came to the local art community.”

McMahon was responsible for the overhaul of Gulfport’s First Friday ArtWalk, turning it from a ragtag crafter-flea market into a juried show and sale of professional fine art.

The first one took place in October.

“Given the context, I was incredibly pleased,” she reported. “Part of the context was ‘Will anybody show up?’ They showed up, and they wore their masks, and they were respectful – and they were joyful! So for me, it wasn’t so much of a monetary venture so much as it was energetic. People’s heart chakras had been shut down, and art opens it wide open. We’d all been just ravenous for community.

“So Art Jones and the ArtWalks were very successful. And when people are happy, they spend money. The artists were thrilled when they were selling their artwork.”

As for the year to come, McMahon was happy to share her thoughts and desires. “For me, one of the more profound difficulties that came out of the pandemic was the inequity of the pain and suffering that came out of it,” she said. “That really spoke to me. For me, you can’t separate Black Lives Matter and the pandemic.

“And so my vision is how it will change us in the art world. Part of what has to happen is, the voices have to become more varied. And as a leader in my arts community, what we’ve decided in Art Jones is to start a scholarship fund for young, emerging artists and artists of color – to get those voices out in the art world. So that they can express their views, and we can all share and communicate and open that up.

“With ArtWalk as well – we want to be safe, and we want to be strong, and we want to be successful from a health point of view. But from a mental health point of view, and a social point of view – we have got to heal those wounds too. And all of that healing can happen just right within our communities.

“So what I see for me in my little world in 2021 is really tapping into the diversity of our art community, and being a host to make it more diverse, in whatever way I can do that.”
















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