20:40 PM

TPA debuts new public art work 'Greetings from Tampa Bay'

Tampa International Airport’s public art is meant to create a sense of place for passersby, providing a first-look at what Tampa Bay has to offer or sending them away with one last memory of their visit to the region.

And that’s exactly what artist Sheryl Oring has accomplished in her piece “Greetings from Tampa Bay,” which debuted on Monday morning. The work, located on the Main Terminal Transfer Level near the walkway to the Long Term Garage, features 171 Polaroid images from the region along with 123 stories gathered directly from those who call this area home.

The 48-foot display creates an unfiltered and intimate depiction of the Tampa Bay region. The stories can be fun, surprising, heartwarming, and above all, honest.

We recently sat down with Oring, an internationally renowned artist and Professor and Chair of the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University in Detroit, for a few minutes to learn a little more about this work, what it means to her and the role it plays in the travel journey for passengers at Tampa International Airport.

Hi Sheryl – thank you for taking time to talk with us about this exciting new work. Tell us about the inspiration for “Greetings from Tampa Bay”?

“Greetings from Tampa Bay” plays off the idea of trying to tell the story of this place. I have developed a framework of working, doing public performances with a typewriter, where I go out to a location with a question. I ask people who are just passing by to answer that question.

In this case, I asked people to share stories of Tampa Bay. I went all over the region with a team of typists. We were all dressed up in early 1960s attire, we had manual typewriters and just invited people to come and talk to us. I set up in Ybor City, in St. Petersburg, all around Tampa and people shared their stories about the region, about their history – about their experiences. Sometimes they were really poignant – little family histories or things about why they came to Tampa.

Those stories helped inspire photographs.

To go along with the aesthetics of the typewriter and the whole project, I used Polaroid film – it’s a type of special film that has a round image. I just liked the aesthetic of that and how it kind of looked like you were looking through binoculars.

How did you decide what images you selected for this piece?

I made all these Polaroid images around the region, inspired by the stories that people told me – what they thought was important about it. All of this was scanned in and printed out on aluminum. So this is a more permanent way of showing photographs and printed papers.

Your art is very much based in the collective experiences of others. Why do you like making your art through the eyes of other people?

Well, the idea with this one, is to paint a picture of a region and to show that portrait in the airport. I’m not from here. It was research, essentially. It was a way to understand the place.

How many trips did I take here? More than a dozen. I was here so many times just trying to understand the place. The travel was really an integral part of the work, in the sense of trying to understand the region.

Through this project, you’ve visited numerous times, interviewed dozens of people and visited locations across the region. What’s your impression of the region – and do you have any stories that really struck you from this piece?

There were a lot of happy stories – a lot of love stories. That was a little bit of a surprise. I remember at the Tampa Museum a lot of people telling about how they met their partner and fell in love in Tampa. Actually, one that I remember that really struck me is this lesbian couple that came up to me at the Tampa Museum of Art. They moved here from Pennsylvania. They never felt comfortable being out in any other place they lived, and they had come to Tampa to retire. They felt very comfortable being out with each other here. It just kind of gave me goosebumps. They lived their whole lives in the closet and then came here and felt comfortable just being themselves. I heard a lot of stories like that. People felt like they could be themselves here. That was really striking.

It feels like an accepting place – and a fun place. Definitely fun. There are also a lot of stories of people coming from different parts of the country and leaving their lives behind and starting over. They are embracing a certain joy of living here.

This location in the Main Terminal is especially prominent and will be seen by thousands of passersby each year. For a lot of people, it’ll be the first or last impression of the region. What’s it like to have your work located in this spot?

Well, it’s very touching. I’m really super pleased with the location. It does feel like this could be a welcome, in a way. A welcome to this place.

What’s the importance of having public art – especially in places where you wouldn’t expect it.

Sometimes travel can be stressful, especially now with COVID. I think that something like this can make people slow down for a minute, reflect on their trip. There are so many sweet stories and images captured in this work. For example, there’s a little place called Paradise Grill on St. Pete Beach all the way down at the end. They have this really sweet tradition where they ring the bell at sunset. I love that so much, and every time I come here I try to get out there at least once.

My hope is that some of these pictures and stories will awake those memories and that type of feeling in others. It’s meant to extend that moment of joy.

This is a joyful piece. It’s really happy.