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Silhouettes Profiles Jennifer Dietz

Jennifer Dietz

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 13, 2017 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jennifer Dietz grew up with one of the world’s most renowned film festivals taking place in her backyard.
The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States and attracts tens of thousands of movie buffs, filmmakers, producers, actors and other film industry workers each year.
Though she earned a degree in political science from the University of Utah with the intention of going on to law school, Dietz took a job with the film festival and fell in love with archiving.
That was the beginning of her career as an archivist, and today she’s the archives and records manager for the City of Tampa. But if it wasn’t for her love of old films, she never would have found her way there.
“When I worked at Sundance, I worked in archives a lot,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and that’s what developed my interest in what I’m doing today.”
Not only did she archive the films themselves, but she worked closely with print materials associated with the films, such as vintage movie posters and other marketing materials.
In 2002, Dietz moved to Tampa to study at the University of South Florida, where she earned her master’s degree in library and information science with a focus on archives.
She was familiar with the region. Her grandparents lived here and, growing up, her family would visit them every year. “I loved it here,” she said. “I loved the area. I loved the climate. I loved the ocean. I always thought I might go to school out here.”
She took a job with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. There was a shortage of children’s librarians at the time, and she was initially hired to plan events for teens and younger children. She started out at the Seminole Heights Library before moving to the Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library.
But in 2009, then a senior librarian, Dietz was given the opportunity to open the library at the Tampa Bay History Center. The library collection there had never been catalogued. “It was a great experience,” she said. “It was so much fun. I learned so much about Tampa while working there. That’s when I really got interested in Tampa history.”
In addition to old manuscripts and letters, she also archived artifacts pertinent to the city’s history. At the time, there was significant construction taking place in downtown Tampa. Construction workers would often “unearth cool, old artifacts,” such as ceramic dolls and beads, and bring them to the history center’s team of archaeologists. After that, they would fall in the hands of Dietz, who would catalogue them.
While working at the history center, she often would find herself delving into the city’s records for additional information on projects. “They have such great archives over here,” she said. “There’s so much government history and wonderful local treasures.”
She got to know the then-archives and records manager, who was retiring. She encouraged Dietz to apply for the job.
It was a somewhat easy transition when Dietz moved from the library system to working for the city’s archives and records department. “Still, it’s a lot different. I was a librarian and cataloguer,” she said. “Things are structured differently.”
A large part of her job is record management, she added. In fact, she was required to earn her records manager certification when she came onto the job.
The archives department, which was established in 1987 as the first municipal archive in the state, today manages more than 30,000 boxes of records and more than 5 million electronic records for the city. She manages a division of 10 employees who are in charge of all these city records and manages them in accordance with the state’s retention schedule. Her department receives and digitizes thousands of records each month.
Dietz considers her work in the city’s archives as “the fun part of [her] job.”
In 2014, she helped to revive Archive Awareness Week, bringing in a number of community partners, including the University of South Florida, the library system and the Tampa Bay History Center, to celebrate with a variety of exhibits and programs throughout the city. The week was originally founded in 1992 by the city’s Archives Advisory Committee, but eventually fell to the wayside after a number of years.
This summer, as part of Archive Awareness Week, the archives department celebrated the release of a treasure trove of historic Tampa photos. Her department digitized two photography collections and made them available to the public on the library system’s website.
One of these newly released archives was a collection of 30,000 photographs from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The Tampa Historical Society donated them to the city in 1994. The second collection includes around 50,000 images from Tampa Photo Supply, which was donated to the city last year by E.J. Salcines.
Dietz said the city is grateful to Salcines, “an invaluable resource,” for his photographs as well as his vast knowledge. “He knows so much about Tampa history,” she said. The city will honor him later this month, first with an unveiling of a statue in his likeness downtown on Oct. 27, and then with a Salcines Day celebration at the West Tampa Library Oct. 28.
These newly digitized photographs span Tampa’s history from about 1960 into the 1990s, Dietz said, and join the expansive Burgert Brothers photography collection, which chronicles Tampa life and architecture from the late 1800s into the early 1960s, on the library website. “The Burgert Brothers were commissioned projects, lots of old buildings,” she said. “Ours are more people and events, the more human side of Tampa history. They’re like two different sides of the same coin, seeing Tampa from different perspectives.”
Her goal is to “improve accessibility” to these photographs and other documents for researchers, authors, historians and the average Tampa resident who wants to learn more about city history. “My goal is to make everything as accessible as possible,” she said. “There are more things added every year. We’re doing our best as curators and keepers so [this information] is available to future generations.”
She recently launched a book binding restoration project. The archives contain all of the old city council minutes dating back to the 1800s. Many of those early books of minutes are handwritten and bound in leather, which is falling apart. Her department has digitized as many of these minutes as it can and is also repairing the books’ binding. “It’s a really great resource for us,” Dietz said. “It really is important that we save these. It’s important to have our history preserved and not buried and lost.”

Silhouettes Profiles Robin Nigh

Robin Nigh

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 13, 2017 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As manager of the City of Tampa’s art programs, Robin Nigh has made a name for herself as a leader in the contemporary public art field. She’s been nationally recognized in the field for various programs she’s implemented, including the city’s Photographer Laureate Program and Lights On Tampa. Most recently, she was elected to the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network, which is the only national organization for public art.
A Florida native, Nigh’s father worked for Gulf Oil, so the family moved around the state. One constant in her early years was her love of art. “I was always interested in how things looked and why they looked the way they did,” she said.
By the time she reached high school, her family settled in Lake Worth. She decided to study art history after graduating, and headed to the University of Florida in Gainesville. She was accepted into Penn State University’s art history master’s program after earning her bachelor’s degree.
While there, she won a scholarship to study abroad at Britain’s Oxford University. This was a life-changing experience for the art history student. “That’s where things started to hit me,” she said. “Before, I could never decide what to study because it was all so interesting. But I discovered how cool it was to work with living artists.”
She began thinking more about “how things in the public realm take meaning” and “the integrity … of what people make in their own spaces.”
Nigh added, “It was formative for me and deeply meaningful. There were all these aha moments.”
This changed her entire course. Since Penn State didn’t focus much on contemporary art, she transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and enrolled in the master’s program in art theory and criticism at the school.
She married while studying in Chicago. But after she earned her degree, she and her husband relocated to Florida to raise a family.
They landed in Tallahassee, where Nigh completed postgraduate studies at Florida State University and served as project administrator of FSU’s Art in State Buildings Program from 1994 to 1998.
The program, which was mandated by a Florida statute in the 1970s, acquires artwork for display at new public facilities throughout the state. A percentage of funds is set aside to purchase the artwork, Nigh said. She was charged with facilitating bringing artwork to FSU’s campus.
She enjoyed working under FSU president Sandy D’Alemberte, who was a proponent of the program. “He really understood the value of the arts and brought me up to the president’s office so he could be more engaged and understand the role of the program,” she said.
This role at FSU “was a precursor” to her work with the City of Tampa, she said. In 1999, Nigh was hired by the city as administrator of the Public Art Program.
She learned about the job opening because she happened to be in the right place at the right time, she said. “Talk about meant to be.”
She was delivering something to the dean of her department at FSU when someone handed her the job announcement for Tampa’s Public Art Program. Intrigued, she applied. Her husband, a real estate developer, was also looking for a new job at the time. “We both received job offers [in Tampa] on the same day,” she said.
When Nigh arrived in Tampa, the Public Art Program had just moved into the old Tampa Museum of Art. “As closely as we work hand-in-hand with the Tampa Museum, this position doesn’t really belong there,” she said. “It really needs to be immersed in local government in order to coordinate these programs.”
As the museum made moves to establish itself as an independent museum and embarked on plans to build a new facility, the city established the Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs. So Nigh and the Public Art Program moved out of the museum.
The program involves local artists with various public projects throughout the city. The goal is to do more than merely enhance city-owned spaces, though, stated Nigh, who is now manager of art programs. Its purpose is really to celebrate Tampa’s character and culture. “In many ways, it’s a storytelling role,” she said. “Our role is to listen, to engage and to hopefully make people feel something about some of the [public] spaces they’re in.”
She considers herself “a facilitator or a translator,” bridging the gap between the city and the artists. “Artists have unique needs and requirements, how artists work and function is very different [from city government]. Our role is to facilitate and coordinate and translate all these kinds of things that aren’t necessarily, by their nature, constructed for the government process.”
Two projects she spearheaded – the Photographer Laureate Program and Lights On Tampa – were recognized by Americans for the Arts. In fact, the group named Lights On Tampa one of the 50 most influential art programs in the last 50 years.
Lights On Tampa is a public-private partnership between the city and the Public Art Alliance that focuses on innovative and interactive public art experiences. Since its launch in 2006, the light installation returned in 2009 for Super Bowl XLIII, 2011 at the new Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 2012 for the Republican National Convention and 2015 for Gasparilla Arts Month. “These temporary installations were experimental and cutting edge,” Nigh said. “It was exciting to see some of the wow factor in our public spaces.”
The Photographer Laureate Program has also been recognized as one of the first in the field, she said. Inspired by the Burgert Bros. Photographic Collection, which recorded the growth of the Tampa Bay area from the late 1800s to the early 1960s, this program commissions photographers to preserve Tampa’s contemporary history from their perspective. “Nobody was documenting that kind of history, and that was the intent of it,” Nigh explained.
Both projects remain relevant and important to the city’s Public Art Program, she said. They’re being updated and tweaked to meet the city’s current needs and adapt to new technology.
But the department is always working on a number of projects with various artists, she said. Recently, as part of another public-private partnership, the city has released a coloring book called “Color Me West Tampa.” Its counterpart, “Color Me Tampa,” was released years ago under then-Mayor Pam Iorio’s watch. Nigh and her team worked closely with the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council, the Tampa Bay History Center and the city’s archives department.
An ongoing project is the public art being created for the renovation of the 23-acre Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. “We have some artists doing mosaics and I really think it’s very thoughtful and contextual, things that will work very well with the park and work well with West Tampa,” she said.
Nigh stresses that the projects her team works on “aren’t cookie-cutter kinds of things that you just stick on a plaza.” They work with artists in a variety of mediums and determine unique ways to provide public access to these pieces of art.
The city has even commissioned artists to create animations about a variety of topics, from environmental issues to the Hillsborough River. Though they’re not found in a public space, they can be viewed online and on city television.
The artwork created through the programs her department oversees helps Tampa carve out its own unique identity, especially as neighboring St. Petersburg makes a mark on the international art community with the colorful murals that adorn many privately and publicly owned buildings. “What St. Pete is doing is great, but we don’t need to copy them,” Nigh said. “It’s a very different type of downtown. If we did what they did, it wouldn’t be successful here. At the same time, they don’t have the kind of public art that we have in our spaces.”
Instead, the art that nigh and her team brings to the city’s public spaces meshes well with Tampa’s character and history, she explained. The goal is to improve “quality of life for residents” by tailoring the artwork commissioned to meet not only their needs, but the aesthetics of specific spaces.
She added, “It’s hard to measure why people like being in particular spaces. So I think looking at those reasons and understanding who we’re out there working for is just really critical.”

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