15 Most Influential People in the Tampa Art Scene (for the last two decades)

Top 15 Most Influential People in the Tampa Art Scene for the last Two Decades.

Introduction: Where are we now, and where are we going?

Art movements are a snapshot of collective human consciousness. With 64,000 years of art history behind us, and micro-pockets of tik-tok artists finding their lane in whatever style they choose… here at Mergeculture we focus on the Urban Contemporary, Graffiti and Post-graffiti movements. Some may say these genres fit into New Contemporary Art, which is largely defined by galleries like ThinkSpace, and a little more loosely, Supercheif gallery, Chicago Trueborn, Upper Playground, 1am in San Francisco, Jonathan Levine, and directly coined by artists like Jasper Wong, and curatorial groups such as the Goldman Global Arts Group (born out of the mind of Tony Goldman – the owner of the Bowery Wall in NYC which Keith Haring and Basquait made famous) and other spaces like Interstate Gallery in Detroit.

The New Contemporary movement as we see it evolved from the DIY space, think Aaron Rose’s gallery Alleged, the IYKYK type places that were as much gallery spaces as flop houses for freight train hoppers, and a movement that was born from the internet archives of Fecal Face and Wooster Collective, and even before all of that, Art Crimes.

We’ll leave telling the entire global story of the evolution of New Contemporary art to Evan Pricco, or maybe we’ll take on that task one day. With extensive and archival knowledge from examining when the first artist to use an aerosol can for art (thanks Ed Seymour), to pushing the boundaries through destruction (thanks Cornbread). Now, in 2023, American Graffiti is about to be a globally institutionally recognized art movement, and on the heals of that is the New Contemporary, or maybe it’s an all-encompassing umbrella-term for where we are currently. The term New Contemporary just makes sense, it provides a compass, however long that might last.

We can only speculate what collective consciousness will define as the next big art movement, and it will probably be influenced by AI… but for now, let’s take a look at who has pushed forward the current movement which we recognize as the most current and relevant, the New Contemporary scene – which in our opinion is a simple way to encompass graffiti, post graffiti, and urban contemporary work, in Tampa.

So Let’s get going…the meat and potatoes…

This is a list of the most influential people in the Tampa Art Scene for the last 20 years, it’s a list from the perspective of Mergeculture Gallery, and with a focus on New-Contemporary, Urban Contemporary, DIY, graffiti and post-graffiti art movements, and specifically on the Tampa side of the Bay. While the list is primarily focused on the emerging genres of art listed above, it also touches on the general up-and-coming scene in Tampa, as well as the academic-contemporary circles – those spaces that don’t necessarily dip their toes in the graffiti world, but hang onto the edges of the academic-conceptual space. The list is not in a particular order, and we probably left someone out, so please don’t send us death threats, or go ahead. And even if you want to repost this article from your perspective with your thoughts (you can copy and paste this: This is bullshit!), we welcome that also.

In all seriousness though, we hope you enjoy this look through memory lane for the last 20 years, and learn something new.

Phil Holt

Phil Holt owns Red Letter One Tattoo Studio, and his been in the Tattoo industry for over three decades. The artist is world-renown in the tattoo industry as well as contemporary art / graffiti / new contemporary movements. Phil became interested in tattooing when he was thirteen years old, and opened his own studio in Tampa Florida in 2003 after traveling the country working at different studios from Chicago to San Francisco.

It is his studio and gallery Red Letter One that makes him one of the most influential artists in the Tampa Art Scene. Back in the early 2000s, Red Letter One, with two locations in Ybor City were staple art spots for the community, with exhibitions opening featuring artists like Adam 5100, Logan Hicks, Shawn Barber, Jeremy Fish, Saber AWR, and many other legendary artists. Phil generally curated locals in his group shows as well, showing the work of Brandon Dunlap, Chris Parks and Red Labor, (a screenprinting, and wheatpaste street art collective active in Tampa until around 2011.) Phils studio and gallery Red Letter One placed the Tampa Art Scene on the map across the country. In the tattooing world, Phil created his own line of world-renown pigments called Old Gold. Phil is a work-horse entrepreneur and has branded, launched and distributed products from many different endeavors through the years in addition to tattooing and running an art gallery.

Phil is currently tattooing at his studio Red Letter One, which is now located in Hyde Park, and curates and produces an art-centric line of clothing for JiuJitsu practitioners called Off Colony.

Leon “Tes One” Bedore

Tes One was one of the first artists in Tampa to paint large scale murals, but another reason he’s on this list, is the artist has had a consistent style that has evolved for over 25 years. Tes One has been bringing post-graffiti / New Contemporary heat to art galleries in Tampa throughout the 2000s with shows at Covivant Gallery, (which is now Microgroove records in Seminole Heights) and Red Letter One, as well as showing beyond Tampa in galleries like 1AM (1st amendment gallery) in San Francisco. More recently he’s taken his style to the streets with public art projects such as the POE Parking Garage Mural, titled Stay Curious, with the City of Tampa, and his own mural painting company called Up & Over murals. Tes One is on this list because he is one of the most influential artists that has jump-started the mural scene in the Tampa Bay Area.

Also as a champion of art for the entire Bay Area, Tes One conceptualized Shine Mural Festival in St. Petersburg and brought it to fruition.

Tes One is still active in the Tampa Bay Area and Beyond.

Brian Schaefer

What does the owner of a skatepark have to do with the art scene in Tampa? The Skatepark of Tampa is one of the most influential places that has grown the art scene. Tampa is world-famous in the skateboarding world, and art and skateboarding go hand-in-hand, and graffiti, post graffiti and New Contemporary movements would not have evolved without skateboarding, since the build / destroy, and the process of creative destruction is inherit to the evolution of all of these subcultures and art genres.

World-renowned contemporary artists like Neckface, Stephen Palladino, Lucas Beaufort, Shepard Fairey, Jeremy Fish, and also collaborations with pro-skateboarding artists like Kris Markovich and skateboarder, photographer, entrepreneur, artist Lance Mountain have come to Tampa to collaborate with the Tampa Am and Tampa Pro contests each year by painting the pro course, and participating in solo and group exhibitions concentrated in Ybor City and the Skatepark of Tampa. In the mid-2000s, the Skatepark of Tampa operated an art gallery called Transitions Art Gallery, where many local artists got their start showing art in exhibits.

Further, Brian owns The Bricks, another art-centric location in Ybor city that was home to amazing group art shows that helped further grow the local art, which brings us to our next most influential person, Chad Cardoza.

Chad Cardoza

Chad Cardoza ran Kick Start my Art for years, and curated the shows at the Skatepark of Tampa and The Bricks. As a skateboarder, Chad grew up around the Tampa skateboarding scene and bridged the gap between skateboarding and art, introducing local artists to exhibits at the Polk Museum of art in Lakeland (Innoskate), Art after Dark, an event held at the Tampa Museum of Art until around 2012, and helped to set up Mark Gonzales’s warehouse art exhibit at The Boardr in 2016.

The list of local artists who got their start showing at exhibits in Tampa because of Kick Start my Art is very extensive.

Michelle Sawyer

Tampa’s always-coming-through artist is Michelle Sawyer. Michelle participated in nearly every Kick Start event and grew her career out of Transitions Art Gallery and The Bricks.

She began painting detailed murals for around 2010, and painted large scale murals throughout the City of Tampa as a duo with Tony Krol from 2015 until 2020. Michelle also helped to launch Illsol Space, an art space that was operated by her and Krol until it became Mergeculture.

Michelle spent years curating incredible shows for Mergeculture Gallery and kick-starting community outdoor projects like Heights Walls, a mural project started on Franklin Street in 2016 which helped artists get started in painting their first public murals.

Michelle went back to solo work in 2020 and is now making waves in the Tampa scene putting on group exhibits and painting iconic murals.

Currently Michelle curates exhibits at The Bricks gallery in Ybor City, and produces murals, with the latest being “No Pasarán The AntiFascist Women’s March Mural – almost 90 years ago, the Latina community of Hillsborough County came together to protest the growing fascism movement taking root abroad, in collaboration with author Sarah McNamarah.

Michelle’s influence on the art scene in Tampa is undeniable, and she is still pushing it forward in Ybor.

Tony Krol

Tony Krol got his start participating in art shows in the Tampa Bay area through Transitions gallery at the skatepark of Tampa and Kick Start my Art Exhibits as well, and became enamored in the DIY art scene inspired by Aaron Rose and the Beautiful Losers Movement. In 2005, Tony participated in an exhibit called 2 Bedroom Apartment with his roommate Chris Kelly. The two were moving out of an apartment and promoted an art exhibit in the empty space before the final day of the lease in South Tampa. “2 Bedroom Apartment” showed work by Noah Deledda, Joel Cook, Chris Kelly, Angus Shafer and others.

Krol has been active in the art scene in many ways by producing content, filming other work, and telling stories about other artists work for decades.

Check out some of these videos from Mergeculture’s archives on YouTube

In from 2015 to 2020, Krol worked with Michelle Sawyer painting large scale murals for private and public entities, helped to create Heights Walls, and started Mergeculture Gallery. In 2017 Krol reached out to Jasper Wong of Worldwide Walls to engage a dialogue about bringing a worldwide mural festival to the Tampa Bay Area, and Krol is now the director of Tampa Walls! International Mural Festival.

Mergeculture is a space that is known for bringing local artists together with world-renown traveling artists, and creating a diverse range of exhibitions in the American Graffiti, New Contemporary, and Post Graffiti genres and Krol has worked with artists such as Hoxxoh, Ricky Watts, Queen Andrea, JEKS, and many others.

In 2020 Krol created Bloom on Franklin, a free art and music festival that took place in Downtown Tampa. Krol has curated countless gallery and DIY exhibits in Tampa from photography exhibits such as “Swimming in Waves” a music photography exhibit at lot 1901, to conceptualizing an underground series of art & hip-hop events called Basement Sessions in 2011, and recently launched an art and placemaking firm to help grow artists careers and produce community changing projects called CLRTY Agency that uniquely focuses on data-driven art projects.

Jay Giroux

Jay Giroux worked under Theo Wujick in the early 2000s and beyond, and has had countless collaborative efforts in the bay area that were world-class events. One of the events was Dirty but Sophisticated, an art fashion and style event at CZAR nightclub, which is now Hotel Haya. Jay is one of the frontmen behind Pep Rally, Inc, when they started in 2015 but has since left the company. Dirty But Sophisticated was an event at the height of the DIY scene that highly influenced the modern New Contemporary street art movement. There were huge wheatpaste posters plastered all over the city months before the annual Dirty But Sophisticated shows like the circus was coming to town.

Jay Giroux was one of the first artists to break into the mural scene and collaborative art projects blending art, interior design and architecture. In 2014 in South Tampa, the first Pep Rally, Inc outdoor mural went up at a place called “Hyde House” (RIP) and the rest is history.

Jay was a major influence in bringing The Beautiful Losers exhibit to USF CAM in 2006, an exhibit in Tampa that brought the work of KAWS, Ed Templeton, Shepard Fairey, Barry Mcgee, Margaret Kilgallen, Harmony Korine, Steve Powers, and countless other Urban Contemporary artists who shaped the current New Contemporary movement.

Jay also is still empowering the Tampa art scene by employing many artists through his studio Greater Public Studio, helping artists in the Tampa bay area grow their careers and skills.

Joel Cook

Joel Cook provided an anchor platform in the mid 2000s that held together art and music culture called REAX Music Magazine. The creative space of Reax was a collaborative effort by artists to produce a well-designed resource for Tampa Art in a high class monthly publication. The REAX office was full of artists, and they covered almost every aspect of the DIY and urban contemporary art scene. Reax Space on 19th Street in Ybor served as a hub for artists, hosting art exhibitions and events until around late 2009.

Joel worked with designers and artists such as Noah Deledda, Chris Kelly, Brandon Dunlap, Jay Giroux, and collaborated with musicians to produce screen print runs of for local musicians such as The Beauville’s and Auto Automatic!!! (active bands at that time). Many successful artists got their start working with Joel on one project or another.

Reax was a staple in shaping the Urban Contemporary scene in Tampa, that’s why Joel is on this list.

Joel is now a partner and chief creative officer of Tension Division, a design agency based in Tampa that produces videos, PR and campaigns for your favorite bands.

Tyler Sirota

Tyler is the front man behind TT Art Collective, a group that has gained notoriety in the last few years by giving artists a platform to be exposed to new collectors, and environments.

As a pop-up artist promotion collective, Tyler curates and produces mostly non-gallery events in open spaces and in collaboration with existing businesses, giving artists a way to shine in front of new and evolving audiences.

TT Art collective has been featured at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, and in many small businesses throughout the bay area and on the local news.

Tyler is on this list because he’s introduced a new lane for artists to get involved in the scene, and has provided a platform to help grow budding artists careers, creating a network of support and constant growth. From the perspective of influencing New Contemporary, post graff, or urban contemporary works directly, this inclusion is an outlier, but given the web of connected influence in the Tampa Bay Area – Tyler’s influence is definitely relevant to the scene as a whole, and the most active “fringe” exhibit curator today.

Fringe Creatives

However, there could have also been a tie for this spot in the top 15 with Fringe creatives curators, Teri Navajo, and M’ria Swire – the group doesn’t seem quite as active as the TT Art Collective, but also has longevity – so this was a tough decision for the 15 most influential. It could be debatable, but then… what isn’t? Change our mind, or let’s just say maybe there’s a tie.

Greg Bryon

Greg is one of the frontmen of Pep Rally Studios, a creative studio that produces branding, murals and all types of other creative projects. Pep Rally has employed many artists in the Tampa Bay Area.

Greg is also an award-winning photographer and Entrepreneur, as well as a prominent figure for up and coming art-repreneurs in the Tampa Area. Greg pushes boundaries in business, partnerships, and provides a steady platform for growth in the Tampa area, as well as collaborates on content with many local Tampa based artists to help them grow their career, such as Bask and Noah Deledda.

If you’ve seen a piece of really amazing content that a well known artist has put out in Tampa, chances are Greg or his team shot it, or provided creative direction.

Pep Rally continues to produce amazing murals in the Bay Area and provide opportunities to artists in the Tampa network to help them advance their careers.

Cassie Greatens

It is impossible to create a list of of the most influential people in the Tampa Art Scene for the last 20 years from a New Contemporary Perspective and not include Cassie and Jake Greatens. The owners of Cass Contemporary have placed Tampa on map in the New Contemporary scene heavily since 2017.

Cass Contemporary opened in 2014, and held it’s first Street Contemporary / Urban Contemporary exhibit with OUTSIDERS in September of that year. This exhibit featured world-renown street artists on canvas and opened up a door for the Tampa Art Scene to experience this type of work. Since then, Cass Contemporary has commissioned many large scale murals throughout the city, creating an ongoing gallery of endless inspiration for tourists and locals alike.

Cassie and Jake Greatens are responsible for curating pieces by world-renown New Contemporary artists such as: Tristan Eaton, Faith 47, Pichavio, and others.

Eric Hornsby

Eric Hornsby or “Artist Esh” is a muralist and artist based in the Tampa area and has created opportunities for many local and traveling visual artists in the graffiti, and urban contemporary movements.

Off the heals of Tampa’s “Heights Walls” project started by Mergeculture – Eric Hornsby expanded street and graffiti art in the Tampa area with “Fresh Fest,” a painting jam festival that took place mainly in Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor, and started in 2017.

Inviting artists from Tampa to participate in an event that was unlike any other that Tampa had seen. Shine on St. Pete had been established across the bay, and smaller projects were starting to pop up such as Heights Walls, and graffiti crew productions were still few and far between all of these initiatives on the Tampa side. “Fresh Fest” kick-started the outdoor art scene in Tampa by creating a diverse set of pieces that gave a sample of what was possible. Eric has a reputation in Tampa for helping other artists and pointing them in the right direction.

Tracy Midulla

If this list was ordered in importance or longevity, Tracy would be number one. The curator and operator of Tempus Projects has been curating art exhibitions and growing the careers of artists since the early 2000s. She is a bridge between academic art and self-taught artists in the local Tampa world of conceptual art. Tracy also is a bridge between the non-profit arts world in Tampa and the community, providing a platform for artists to not only show work, but to learn how to write grants, be involved in the nonprofit community.

Tracy is also a bridge between developers and the arts community, sponsoring and heading the Art Space Tampa project, and managing studio and gallery space at the Ybor City Kress building, or Kress Art Collective.

Neil Gobioff

Neil Gobioff, with his wife Gianna run the Gobioff Foundation, a non-profit foundation that helps to fund art projects throughout the Tampa Area with grants and partnerships.

Throughout the years, Neil and Gianna have helped a countless number of artists advance their careers through creative placemaking grants, and microgrants. The Gobioff Foundation was crucial to helping kick start the first Tampa Walls! series of murals in 2022 and has helped grow the New Contemporary and Urban Contemporary movements in countless peripheral ways.

Chris Kelly

A workhorse in the Tampa scene in the mid 2000s up until 2016, Chris Kelly operated Workspace, a gallery located in Seminole Heights that showcased an array of different artists.

Chris Kelly worked to develop a storefront art program at Urban Outfitters in Ybor City where many artists from the Tampa Bay Area got their first taste of their art being on display to the public. Artist such as Palehorse, Jay Giroux and Anthony Zollo, as well as Matt Squires showed their work in this space, and hosted many DIY art exhibitions inside the store from 2006-2010.

Chris worked behind the scenes to make connections in the Tampa Art Scene for years until he moved to Cape Cod, and he now runs Alias Gallery in Cape Cod, MA.

Honorable Mentions:

Ali Norman – Ali ran Labyrinth Studios in Seminole Heights, it was a collaborative print studio that also was attached to an event called Heightened Senses after the Covid 19 pandemic shut-downs. These events revived the energy of our community, and although they were a small part of the last 2 decades, in perspective, so are a lot of individuals on the list.

Kathy Durdin – Kathy runs Tampa Regional Artists, and produces the Doodad Competition. Shes’ been active in the arts community since 2003. Recently Kathy has collaborated with Mergeculture and Tampa Walls! Through Tampa Regional Artists for the Mural School program, which teaches artists how to paint murals through the legacy of Matt Callahan.


JP and Vanessa Parra – Like Pep Rally, JP and Vanessa employ many artists in Tampa for commercial mural projects and help to grow their careers. It was a tough choice between Greg Bryon, Josh Pearson, Jay Giroux… Looking at all of the artists who’ve provided opportunities for others, there are so many.

We could add Ari Chi and Brodie to the list – they ran Art Raffles for years, another event that gave artists countless opportunities in the bay area.

The point of this article is to show that there is an incredible network of artists and art institutions in Tampa and that they are all connected to one another to help grow the scene into what it is. Each action we do, as artists or in our lives affects someone, and sets of a chain reaction of events. We appreciate every single person that has contributed to the arts community in Tampa through the years, and has made it what it is. The Arts in Tampa are going to have their best years ahead.

This list was pretty tough to narrow down, and I debated on writing myself into it, but I do feel I’ve been a relevant figure in the Tampa Bay Art Scene in the last 20 years, so ultimately this article is written from my perspective, and I encourage others to write similar articles, so we can all learn a little more from each other, and new information about the dots that become connected to create the fabric of this beautiful world we live in.

Peace, Love, And Creativity! – Tony Krol

Tampa is an ARTS CITY. Hillsborough County is an Arts COUNTY. Say it out loud to yourself and others, looking forward to the years to come in this vibrant scene.