Gulfport is often referred to as an arts community, and it is certainly true that many talented artists live here. But it is often the “community” aspect that sets Gulfport apart from other arts communities, especially in a time of need.
“I asked on Facebook if anyone was interested in a 30-day, piece-a-day art challenge,” says Margo Dalgetty. “It seemed like a good idea for people who needed something to engage their minds and was a great way for artists to interact.”
Dalgetty majored in art in college and became an art teacher. Five years ago, when she was looking for an artist-friendly place to live, she Googled art towns in Florida, and there she found Gulfport.
“Gulfport seemed to have the best sense of community. Since I didn’t know anyone, that was important to me. I’ve never known a community like this,” she says. “All my connections here are in art and at the dog park where I walk my dog Albie.”
Dalgetty taught altered books classes at Art & Soul until the business closed. Her abstract acrylics and polymer clay jewelry have been featured around Gulfport at Zaiya ArtiZen Market and the Beach Bazaar. She also paints old violins that she sells at a gallery in St. Petersburg.
What started out as a question on Facebook became the Art Challenge, a mix of professional artists and hobbyists with everyone welcome to participate in the medium of their choice. Challenge themes, such as “bucket list,” “dog days” and “food that comes from a can,” are collected in albums on the group’s Facebook page. The current theme is “reptile,” in preparation for GeckoFest season. All feedback is kind and encouraging, says Dalgetty.
“It’s nice to have something to get our brains working. Something fun when feeling bleak. We keep it light. It’s been a savior for me as well as participants.”
The group now has over 250 members and more than 23 albums filled with art.
“As a professional artist for more than 30 years, the Art Challenge has provided new springboards for me,” says artist Dawn Marie. “That said, it is truly the people that are part of the Art Challenge. The support, kindness and encouragement are unbelievable. I thank Margo for the brilliant idea in a time of national crisis to give us an opportunity to continue to create.”
Julie Armstrong, a former graphic artist who worked in printing in Virginia before moving to Gulfport, also appreciates the initiative.
“The challenge provided me with an outlet while taking care of my 93-year-old mother, and allowed me to pull out some of my old art supplies that I don’t normally work with,” says Armstrong, who has some of her work at Zaiya.
The Art Challenge has also helped some of the artists sell their work at a time when art shows, art walks and markets are no longer happening.
“All in-person shows have been canceled. The Saturday Morning Market, the Tuesday market, the 2Cool Art Show,” says John Shevlin.
Shevlin worked and displayed his art at Domain Home Accessories and Gallery for 15 years. And in March, his husband had to return to Newfoundland before they closed the Canadian border on March 23.
“We’ve been together 22 years and married last year, but he was told anything COVID-related wouldn’t be covered by insurance if he remained here.”
Shevlin credits the Art Challenge with keeping him busy and inspired him to go outside his artistic comfort zone.
So, is Gulfport an arts community or community of art? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
“Living and working in Gulfport is a dream come true,” says Dalgetty. “Community is good for the soul.”
Check out the Art Challenge on Facebook.