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Liz Dimmitt has designs on an innovative new St. Pete art experience

Bill DeYoung

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Liz Dimmitt, with Burt Barr's 'Wave,' 2003, digital inkjet print produce by Graphicstudio at USF. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

The family business was founded in 1924, but Liz Dimmitt has worked there a little less than two years.

A seventh-generation Floridian, she’s now a fourth-generation automobile dealer. She is Managing Partner of Dimmitt Chevrolet in Clearwater, which was begun – nearly a century ago – by her great-grandfather, Lawrence Dimmitt Sr. (it was, of course, a Ford dealership in those early days of horseless carriages).

With a BA in Finance from Georgetown University, and a Master’s in Visual Arts Administration from NYU, Dimmitt has made a career as a “cultural strategist,” working with companies, cities, brands and individuals to create unique cultural programming, events and experiences.

Her passion is bringing business and the arts together.

She’s has served as a director at New York-based Circa 1881, through which private collectors with, literally, too much good art on their hands take it out of storage and loan it or lease it to museums, nonprofits and other organizations. She founded Gawker Artists, Gawker Media’s corporate art program, and worked as the director of Lehmann Maupin, a leading contemporary art gallery with spaces in New York City and Hong Kong.

In 2016, Dimmitt worked with the Vinik Family Foundation to create The Beach Tampa, a 15,000-square-foot immersive architectural, artistic environment set up for three memorable weeks at Amalie Arena.

She came back to the old hometown, fulltime, following the unexpected 2017 death of her brother Lawrence IV, who was the person in charge at Dimmitt Chevrolet. “That is how I’ve ended up running the dealership,” she says. “I’ve always worked in business, and been an entrepreneurial type, but it’s not at all what my life plan was, or what I was planning to do. But I’m here now, and enjoying it. ”

The dealership, she adds, has a “great management team,” and she’s always had a solid relationship with everyone there. “It was just sort of a natural transition. And on the arts side, I was focusing on more and more projects down here, in this art market. So I was already spending more time here and doing work here.”

Dimmitt’s creative eye is firmly fixed on the Tampa Bay art market – in particular, on 12,000 square feet of St. Petersburg she intends to turn into a “totally immersive and interactive” art experience called Fairgrounds (no “the,” just Fairgrounds).

“It’s a place where you go with your family and have fun all day, and play, and experience the cool, wild and wonderful things about Florida,” she explains. “So it really is a modern-day fairgrounds.”

No roller coasters, elephant ears or animatronics here, however.  “We’re going to be focusing on works of local artists, and Florida artists,” Dimmitt continues. “You come in and enter a totally artist-made environment. You’ll be able to touch, feel and walk over it, and there’ll be a loose narrative that you’re experiencing – a sort of choose your own adventure, if you will, an exploratory environment.”

She describes her vision as “part playground, part art world, part theme park, but weird and wacky, and fun. Our tag line is ‘Art for all, play for all, joy for all.’”

Through paintings, sculpture and more contemporary video and digital installations, Fairgrounds will tap all the senses as it tells a sort-of story. “But it’s the anti-theme park, because it’s made by artists, and sort of DIY out of the creative minds of these creative people,” Dimmitt explains.

“So it’s much more authentic. It’s not a perfectly manufactured environment. You’ll see things through the artists’ eyes.”

In May, the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area Commercial Revitalization Program gave Fairgrounds a $100,000 kick-start grant. Dimmitt says the project will cost around $1.7 million in total, with most of that coming from investors.

The Dimmitts and longtime family friends Kara and Jordan Behar have purchased, as Guru & Gaia LLC, a 90,000-square-foot manufacturing plant at 2630 Fairfield Ave. S from Madico Window Films Inc.

Madico, which recently moved its headquarters to Pinellas Park, is re-leasing the facility –  just outside the “borders” of the Warehouse Arts District – from the Dimmitts and the Behars through the end of 2019. After that, Madico is outta there.

When “The Factory” opens, in 2020, it will include the offices of Behar & Peteranecz Architecture, Keep St. Pete Lit and the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, plus the Brewery Collective, small artist studios and other tenants … including Fairgrounds.

According to Dimmitt, everything at The Factory will open at more or less the same time. “’Develop’ isn’t really the right word,” she says, “because we’re not building any new buildings, we’re re-purposing Madico’s existing factory structures into a destination for art and culture in South St. Pete.”

The model, Dimmitt insists, has been extremely successful in other places – she’s particularly fond of an innovative and exciting arts collective/entertainment experience in New Mexico, Meow Wolf.

The community, she believes, is ready. “We have a very culturally engaged and culturally aware audience here in Tampa Bay,” Dimmitt says. “We have a wonderful art institutions, we have incredible makers here, great universities and great schools, so I think we have a very developed and intelligent audience.

“So the time is now. This is St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay’s renaissance. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, and I’m just helping to put it together.”

And one more thing: Fairgrounds will function as a cog in a much bigger economic wheel. “I’m a big fan and supporter of the arts in general, but this I see as a way to fuel an entire a mini arts economy,” explains Dimmitt. “Because we’re going to be hiring all these artists to come and make their exhibitions, but then paying them a percentage of the profits from ticket sales.

“As a cultural strategist, I work to drive company or brand strategy by activating a cultural strategy. In those times, the artist is paid once: You put up an awesome mural, and people come to take their photos in front of it forever. But the artist gets paid once to install it, never to benefit again.

“My idea is really to pay them to install it, but then also pay them moving forward, as part of our arts clubhouse. So it gives funds to create a community around us, and makes it so people can re-invest in their art – and make the next cool thing that I can show in the next version of Fairgrounds.”

Because the artwork and the experiences will be continually turned over and switched out, a successful Fairgrounds means that contributing artists and collectives will generate new funds for themselves. Always a good thing.

As for the public, says Dimmitt, they’ll get to be immersed in “art like they haven’t experienced it before.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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