TAMPA, Fla. — Walk through the side door of Selina Román’s unassuming studio in West Tampa and you immediately get a taste of her artistic style and favorite subject matters.
Nature. Feminism. Architecture. Pastels. The Florida aesthetic. And everything that makes the Sunshine State weird, quirky, and uniquely Florida.
“Florida’s beautiful, but it can kill you at the same time kind of thing,” she laughed, as she showed a large landscape photo featuring two glittery inner-tubes floating down a shallow spring-fed river through a dramatic, unforgiving Florida wilderness.
Her Cherry St. studio gives the fine art photographer the space to brainstorm future projects. It’s here she can draw inspiration from past works, like the sequin-adorned mannequin that stands quietly in a corner of the studio or the photography series featuring colorful, kitschy Florida motels that hang on its walls.
“They’re abstracted self-portraits of my body,” Román said Thursday, as she edited a more recent photography project in Adobe Lightroom. “It’s one of those examples of having a studio — if I wouldn’t have had a studio space I could not have been able to do this work.”
But, Román said a space like hers is a luxury many local artists don’t have. She said affordable studio spaces are hard to come by, along with reliable collectors and affordable housing. Because of those shortcomings, she describes Tampa's art scene as an inconsistent patchwork.
“There’s a lot of things that make a town or a city a great art city, and we have some of those components, but I feel like not all the pistons are firing,” she explained. “Because of some of these holes, right, in the art fabric a lot of us, you know, we graduate from USF or institutions, and then, they leave for other cities like New York or Atlanta or Chicago.”
An old warehouse in Ybor City, however, might be Tampa’s answer. The building, which is somewhat of a sight for sore eyes currently, will soon transform into a visually-appealing concept dubbed Meatyard Ybor.
The project, which is being developed by Darryl Shaw, will create 56 affordable artist studios, a woodshop, print lab, and about 3,000 square feet of gallery and exhibition space.
Shaw hopes Meatyard will bring creators back to Ybor City.
“There used to be a very strong artist contingent in Ybor — well known. Artist contingent in Ybor — they moved out when Ybor began to gentrify and rents became more expensive,” Shaw said. “Hopefully, Meatyard will be the impetus for a greater arts district.”
But his vision expands beyond the arts. Shaw hopes Meatyard — when combined with other budding developments like Gas Worx — will help the historic district become a better blend of nightlife, shops and restaurants, homes, public spaces, and arts and culture.
“It’s known as an entertainment district, but there’s so much more to Ybor and so much more than it can be,” he said. “I think over the next five to 10 years we’re going to see a dramatic transformation.”
Back at her studio, Román is excited about Meatyard. While she can’t say if she would leave her West Tampa studio for a space in Meatyard, she believes plenty of other local artists will thrive in the new, affordable spaces.
Meatyard, she hopes, will help solidify Tampa’s artistic identity.
“I think a town without art is probably a very sad place,” she said. “When a city has something like that, it just shows that a city is serious about its artists.”
Shaw, meanwhile, hopes to have Meatyard opened to artists by the end of next year, but complications with supply chains and other current challenges could impact that timeline. Because of those fluctuating factors, Shaw cannot yet pinpoint the size of the investment.