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Show Goes on at Hillsborough County Cultural Centers

Carrollwood and Firehouse centers persevere through pandemic, look forward to more in-person events, classes, exhibits

A pair of cultural oases at opposite ends of Hillsborough County have remained community assets throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

It hasn't been easy. Lots of scheduling and technical adjustments were needed to accommodate virtual and smaller in-person gatherings at the Carrollwood and Firehouse cultural centers. Many of these measures remain in place. But with vaccinations now widely available and some precautionary mandates lifted, the centers' leaders are hopeful the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

The main buildings on both campuses are owned by Hillsborough County. The centers are run by nonprofit groups and funded by fees, grants, and donations. A third complex, the University Area Community Complex, has programs ranging from visual arts and music to sports activities and workforce training. It is run by the nonprofit University Area Community Development Corp. The County's Parks & Recreation staff operates the fitness center and provides some programming at the gym.

Most cultural center members and guests understand the wisdom of precautions such as live-streaming events and classes, and reducing audience capacities at events. Still, they're ready for change. "The response to streaming has tapered off a bit," says Paul Berg, executive director of Carrollwood Cultural Center. "I think people are tired of watching things at home and just want to go back out."

Strawberries
Children sculpt Mother's Day gifts out of clay at Firehouse Cultural Center.

Attendance at classes and events is increasing at Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin as people feel safer after they receive vaccinations, says Marketing and Operations Coordinator Beth Ann Stein.

Summer camp for children and young teens will take place at the Carrollwood and Firehouse centers, with COVID-19 safety measures in place.

Before the pandemic the centers were abuzz with activity. There still is lots happening, but with restrictions. Protocols during the COVID-19 crisis include face coverings, social distancing, temperature checks, hand-sanitizing, and limited audiences.

Continuing to serve South County residents throughout the pandemic has been both stressful and fulfilling, says Chris Bredbenner, executive director of Firehouse Cultural Center. The staff and members learned to be flexible. "The buzz word became pivot, and we certainly did that," he says. Smaller classes were held in large spaces, some music and comedy performances were postponed, and the former fire station temporarily served as a hub for drive-through food distribution.

Top photo: Some cast members of Behind Closed Doors, written and directed by local playwright Marc Sanders, pose on stage wearing face coverings at Carrollwood Cultural Center. Photo by April Green-Collins.

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