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Catalyze 2021: Liz Dimmitt of Fairgrounds

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.

When Fairgrounds opens sometime in the spring of 2021, the large-scale, immersive art experience’s founder and head visionary thinks St. Pete will be ready to have its long Covid thirst quenched.

“I look forward to audiences returning, because I do think that they activate some art,” said Liz Dimmitt, who first started talking about an innovative, non-traditional “art room” in 2018. “The audience being there really does make a difference.”

There have been zero audiences, of course, since last March, and Fairgrounds’ graduation from concept to full-color reality was seriously slowed. But Dimmitt’s enthusiasm has yet to be, well, dimmed.

“I’m really excited to see how guests respond to a new way of experiencing art. And where it goes from here.”

An anchor tenant at the upcoming art center The Factory St. Pete, Fairgrounds will include a series of themed exhibitions, by local artists, using an extremely wide swath of media. The company’s manifesto says it exists to “celebrate Florida’s many dimensions, embracing all things weird, wacky and wonderful.”

Dimmitt has plotted and planned several immersive art experiences, in different parts of the country, to great success.

Covid, of course, has been one big ol’ monkey wrench for everybody.

“I think institutions and artists are going to have to innovate, and think a little bit differently,” Dimmitt explained. “We have a creative technology team at Fairgrounds, and we’ve been designing touchless technology. Where we were having guests interact with things by touching, now it’s touchless technology. Or a foot pedal.

“From little things like that, where we’re re-thinking how you engage and move through a space or interact with something, to even how you advertise, broadcast, engage the audience to the kind of shows you mount, I think are even going to be a little different now.”

She is certain that isolation and quarantine – not to mention stress and fear – will get the creative juices going, collectively. “I think work and culture have been forever changed. But out of strife, difficult situations and adversity comes great art. So I know there’s been every kind of artist, at home, making something from theater, storytelling, literature, visual art, dance … thinking about this experience and how it affects them.”

We understand history, Dimmitt said, through the arts. There’s no reason to think that’s going to change.

“Artists are already using Zoom for artist talks and lectures. But just imagine the movies and the books that will have the characters on a Zoom call now. Or wearing masks. This life will be depicted in art going forward.”


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