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Silhouettes profiles Owen Robertson

Owen Robertson

This article originally appeared in the March. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Most people are surprised to learn this about Owen Robertson – after all, he’s a college educator, in addition to theater producer, actor, director and playwright – but as a teenager he was “a very poor student.”
He said, “I’m an absolute advocate for students doing well in school. I’m an educator, but I also know all the tricks to get out of it.”
Growing up just outside Washington, D.C., he graduated from high school with a 1.9 GPA, ranking 512 in a class of 516. Though he tested well and scored high on his SAT, with his GPA, he wasn’t accepted into any colleges. The only option Robertson had was to enlist in the U.S. Army. “There was a lack of choices in my life,” he said.
This was the start of his “eclectic background” that eventually led him to pursuing theater life as a full-time occupation later in life.
First, though, he served in the Army. Stationed in Fort Bragg, he was part of the 16th Military Police Brigade. He was sent to Honduras, was part of the Panama invasion and assisted with relief efforts after Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix. He went on to become a criminal investigator for the military, specializing in homicide investigation.
After his time in the military, Robertson enrolled at George Mason University as a criminal justice major. Eventually, he changed this to history. Then, a friend at his university who knew he had done theater in high school badgered him into auditioning for an upcoming show, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “I remember, I was in astronomy class with 300 other students and a friend of mine in the theater program kept bugging me about auditioning and wouldn’t stop until I agreed,” he said. “So I did, and I was cast in a fairly sizable role.” After the show, he changed his major to theater.
But when his son was born, he left the program to focus on providing for his family. He took a job in retail banking and later bank security. Then he took a job with a third-party logistics company that eventually moved him to Tampa in 2003. He went on to start his own company in the same field. “But the timing on that was poor,” he said. “We opened up the doors in 2007, right before the market crashed. So that didn’t last long.”
This was a wake-up call for him. When his company shut down in 2010, he decided to turn his passion for theater into his profession. “I really wanted to follow my heart and my calling and figure out how to be a full-time theater artist,” Robertson said.
He’d been involved with theater since that first college performance in 1992, but never thought he could turn it into his career. “I had figured out how to do the day job business and my nights were spent in theater,” he said.
He began auditioning for more professional theater companies and did his first professional show at Tampa’s Jobsite Theater in a production of Quills.
Since then, he’s been involved with more than 100 shows in various roles – actor, designer and even director around 50 productions. “It’s kind of been my calling card to be able to fit into any aspect of theater,” he said. “The only thing I don’t do is sew. So I’m not a costumer. But I was smart enough to marry one.”
In 2010, Robertson also decided to finish his undergraduate degree at St. Leo’s University. He completed a bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in dramaturgy in 2013. The following year, he was accepted into the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s Master of Fine Arts Writing for Stage and Screen program.
Writing and storytelling are nothing new for him. In fact, much like his love of theater, his writing roots go back to high school. “I’m one of the original Dungeons & Dragons kids,” he said. “I speak to the box set, which sadly speaks to my age. I remember the original box set, playing it on the back of the school bus, hunkered down so nobody could see us. As a game master, storytelling came naturally to me. But structured writing didn’t happen until St. Leo.”
In the fall, he’ll begin a doctorate program in literacy studies at the University of South Florida. An adjunct English instructor for Schiller International University and the Ultimate Medical Academy, so this “kind of ties my life together,” he said.
All of these experiences led to him creating the Lab Theater Project, based at Ybor City’s Silver Meteor Gallery, in 2015. Each season focuses on emerging playwrights. “It’s strictly new work,” Robertson said. “That’s all we do.”
Having written only five plays himself, he considers himself an emerging playwright as well. “That’s probably part of why Lab works so well, because I understand where [these new playwrights are] at and I’m able to speak to them as a playwright,” he said. “As a playwright, you’re very protective of your work, which is absolutely right and they should be. But most emerging playwrights haven’t been through the production process. It’s actually a really difficult path for new playwrights to get their stories told. Most [theater companies] won’t take a risk and give them a chance.”
His relationship with Silver Meteor founder Michael Murphy has been another key to Lab Theater’s success, Robertson said. “Mike Murphy is a giant supporter of the arts. Silver Meteor has been around as a performance venue for 26, 27 years, Jobsite [Theater] started there. Hat Trick [Theatre Productions] started there. I’m just the next company in line.” Eventually, as Lab Theater grows, he hopes to find a long-term home for the company, most likely in Seminole Heights.
The theater’s next production, Bibo and Bertie by Sarah Lawrence, about the final year of Albert Einstein’s life and his relationship with his African gray parrot, Bibo, runs March 1 through March 11. Its 2017-2018 season closes in July with the production of a play by Robertson – So Long Life, which he first wrote while at St. Leo and then completed as his master’s thesis project.
He’s proud that Lab Theater has found a home in the Tampa Bay area’s thriving theater community. “In terms of regional theater, this is one of the most exciting areas to be around in terms of diversity and the work that’s being done,” he said.
In addition to Jobsite and Hat Trick, there are a bevy of other theater companies producing inspiring work, he said – Stageworks Theatre, the Tampa Repertory Theatre, American Stage Theatre Company, freeFall Theatre. “All these companies, they continually strive to improve and to improve the theater scene,” Robertson said. “They find voices and work relevant to our community, relevant to who we are as people in terms of being residents of Tampa. They also find work that just speaks to us as human beings.”
In this mix of talented companies, Lab Theater fills a much-needed niche with its focus on emerging artists. “I really want to find new adult [writers] who want to be involved in theater,” he said.
He hopes his own story and his own meandering road to a theater career inspires other. “One of the biggest things looking at my background and who I am as an artist, it’s a very big deal to me to see people get an opportunity to follow their passion and follow their dream,” he said. “Nothing can stop you if you really want it and if you really want to try, and if you’re willing to try, you can make it happen. I’m proof of that.”

Silhouettes profiles Fred Edmister

Fred Edmister

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

For Fred Edmister, owner of National Realty Commercial, his passions in life have always been clear – family, faith, community and his real estate business have always been his priorities. Instilled within him from childhood, these values were passed down to him through his family.
On his maternal side, he’s related to “the old Knight family,” he said, who owned numerous properties – residential and commercial – throughout Tampa, including, at one point, the shipyards. “But they lost them when they couldn’t pay taxes on them in the Depression,” Edmister said. “But even then they still had a lot of property.”
His maternal great grandfather relocated to Tampa from Michigan in the late 1800s to work on construction of the Tampa Bay Hotel, a Victorian railroad resort – now on the National Historic Landmark and part of the University of Tampa – that was built by Henry Bradley Plant in the 1880s.
Edmister’s maternal great grandmother also moved to Tampa from Michigan during that time frame. A Seventh Day Adventist, she was compelled to make this move when the prophet gathered his church members and told them “they needed to go spread the word.”
So she boarded a train and headed south. “She landed in Tampa because that’s as far as the railroad went,” Edmister said. She founded the Tampa First Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Marion Street, where a bus depot is located today.
The paternal side of his family, also Seventh Day Adventists and originally from Tennessee, eventually relocated to Tampa, joining the church there.
Because Seventh Day Adventists operate not-for-profit health care centers, much of Edmister’s family has worked in the medical field. “Except me,” he said. “So I took care of all their properties.”
Career wise, he followed in the footsteps of the Knight side of his family and gravitated toward the real estate business.
As a child growing up in Seminole Heights, the family owned a number of rental properties in the area. As soon as he could write, he would grab the receipt book and collect rent from tenants each month. “Then I’d write down all the problems they were having and take the list back to my family,” he said. “Later I learned how to fix all those things.”
After graduating from high school, he attended Hillsborough Community College and St. Petersburg Junior College. It was during this period that he was briefly “sidetracked,” he said. “I did some things that weren’t the best. I was a rascal. I felt bad for my parents.”
But with guidance from his church and his family, he refocused his life on the things that mattered most to him – faith, family and career.
Edmister started his real estate business by purchasing distressed, low-income housing in Ybor City, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights, which he in turn would fix up and then rent. “You get a great return on investment,” he said. “All you have to do is keep them up. If you take care of them, [your tenants] appreciate it and pay their rent.”
He branched out and eventually began purchasing commercial properties along the way. By purchasing these properties, sometimes he inadvertently became the owner of a variety of businesses along the way.
For instance, when he purchased a building on Tampa Street, the company that called it home, Adams City Hatters, came with it. “Joe Adams wouldn’t sell the building to me unless I bought the business too,” he said. “I kept all the employees. I didn’t change a thing.” At that point, the company had called Tampa home for nearly 80 years.
When he eventually sold the building to Tampa Electric, he had an inventory of 80,000 hats to sell. So rather than shutting down the business, he moved it to Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. “I had to put the hats some place,” Edmister said. “That was when Ybor City still had storefronts that were a good size and reasonable.”
Other assorted businesses he owned over the years included Knight Motors, which was located on Florida Avenue; Larry’s Ice Cream, art galleries, even a poultry shop. “I owned all kinds of businesses,” he said.
There was also a point when he purchased many vacant lots in Ybor City, including a block between 5th and 6th Avenues and 15th and 16th Streets. Fernando Noriega Jr., a Tampa administrator and champion of Ybor City, contacted him and asked if he would sell the property. Edmister wasn’t interested.
Not long after that conversation, Mayor Dick Greco reached out to Edmister, telling him that Noriega planned to build Centro Ybor in the area where he owned property. “They wanted my property and [Greco] said I could either sell it to them or they could take it through eminent domain,” he said.
He decided to sell, but knowing the revitalization planned for Ybor City, he purchased other properties surrounding where Centro Ybor would be located, some he used as parking lots on busy Friday and Saturday evenings. “I’d set my alarm for 2 a.m. and go down there to collect parking payments,” he said. Eventually, so much of his business centered on Ybor City that he moved his office there.
These days, he focuses primarily on commercial real estate deals. “I’m a little picky about my projects,” he said.
As Clearwater officials plan a revitalization of its downtown, Edmister has been involved in several large deals surrounding office towers and a parking garage in the area. Last year, he also brokered the sale of Naviera Coffee’s former Seventh Avenue location. Richard Gonzmart and the Columbia Restaurant Group will move into the space, Edmister said, and the coffee company relocated to a 20,000 square foot warehouse on 56th Street.
Edmister has sold many of the low-income housing he once owned in Ybor City to the families he rented them to for “a deal,” he said.
“It made my life easier,” he said. “What it did for me was I still had income [from the properties] for years, but I didn’t have to pay the taxes or do the upkeep on them.”
He also saw this as his way of helping hard-working people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to become homeowners. He enjoys giving back to the community in other ways, as well. He’s a charter member of the Tampa Breakfast Sertoma Club, active at the Tampa First Seventh-Day Adventist Church and gives back to other organizations whenever he can.
“I like helping people,” he said. “As long as they’re working hard and trying, I’ll help them.”

Silhouettes Profiles Travis Horn

Travis Horn

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 19, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Though Travis Horn is a native Floridian, born and raised in Kissimmee, he fully embraces his “hillbilly roots.”
His family hails from Franklin County, Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia. “The moonshine capital of the world,” he said, made famous in the movie “Lawless.”
Now a Tampa resident whose life centers around Ybor City – he’s director of public relations and business development for S3Media, which calls the neighborhood home – he’s struck by how his family roots “are in one area known for bootlegging and I end up in another place sort of known for that kind of thing as well.”
Though his parents didn’t have many educational opportunities – his father had a sixth-grade education and his mother eventually earned her GED – they were hard workers dedicated to building a good life for their family.
After high school, uncertain of what his future might hold, Horn enlisted in the Army. His decision was influenced by his family’s military history. His father had served in the Navy, and “every generation of my family served in the military going back to the American Revolution,” he said.
He added, “I didn’t really know what I was in for. But I knew when I got off the bus that I was not going to be a lifelong military man.”
Still, he’s proud of his service. “It’s an experience I wouldn’t change for a million bucks,” he said. “It’s something that always stays with you. I wouldn’t want to do it again – there was a lot of sleeping outdoors and not eating good food and being cold and wet – but it’s an experience I’d never want to change.”
Horn enlisted in 1990 and served as an airborne infantryman with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the Persian Gulf War. “I was a grunt,” he said. “I carried a rucksack. I jumped out of a plane and when I hit the ground, I was a regular infantryman.”
After leaving the Army in 1994, he attended Valencia Community College, where he earned his associate in arts degree, before completing his bachelor’s degree in political science with a history minor at the University of Florida.
While working as a library technical assistant at UF after earning his degree, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. He’d always dreamed of being a fighter pilot and considered enlisting in the Air Force. Though he scored well on the entrance exam, he learned that when flight school began, he would, unfortunately, be one month too old.
So instead, he went on to earn a law degree from UF’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law. He wasn’t certain he wanted to practice law, but “I was young and I was interested in politics,” he said. Also, knowing his parents’ personal experiences when they were growing up, he also had “an educational chip on [his] shoulders.”
“I knew where my folks were from and they didn’t have these opportunities,” he said.
While in college, he worked in radio advertising sales. “Even in law school, people said I should be in public relations,” Horn said.
This is exactly what he did. After earning his law degree, he went to work as director of advertising, marketing and public relations for Point 2 Point Communications in Gainesville.
At one point, he did actually work for a law firm – but not in a legal capacity. Instead, he worked briefly as marketing director for the first Austin, Ley, Roe & Patsko, P.A., handling all aspects of marketing planning and implementation for the firm.
In 2006, following a divorce, Horn decided to relocate to Tampa. Initially, he’d been considering a move to Jacksonville, but his cousin lived in Tampa and advocated for him to move there instead. Tampa’s history and culture won him over quickly. “Jacksonville doesn’t have an historic area,” he said. “So I decided Tampa was the place for me. Jacksonville is essentially South Georgia.”
He focused on his consulting firm, which he founded in 2005, and worked with political figures and business leaders throughout the state. He served as CEO of this company through 2012 when he was hired by S3Media.
Located in historic Ybor City, the company works with a range of businesses – from small to large – throughout Tampa Bay and nationally with a focus on new online media. Clients range from the International Diamond Center to iHeartRadio, a deal he helped broker.
The company has grown significantly since he joined the team. There were four employees when he joined and more than a dozen today.
He’s proud of his work with the firm, and was humbled when Tampa Bay Business Journal readers honored him as the top public relations professional in the region last year. “It really meant a lot to me,” he said. “It was something I was honored to receive.”
And while he loves working with the company’s larger clients, he’s glad that it allows him to offer his services to nonprofit organizations either pro bono or at discounted prices. Many of these involve veterans’ causes, which are close to his heart, such as Stay in Step, a nonprofit organization that works with those suffering from spinal cord injuries, and local Special Forces groups. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Horn said. “These groups are doing so much good in the community. So this is our way of lending a hand.”
He’s also involved in the community in other ways. He’s a new member of the Tampa Bay area chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “I’m their lay member,” he said, “which is pretty cool.”
Additionally, he’s a member of the local chapter for the American Advertising Federation, which was recognized for its work in government relations, an area he led for the group.
A member of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, he’s also currently chair of its marketing and public relations committee. He’s also in the line of succession to eventually take over the chamber as board president.
Through the chamber, he’s launched several regular events in Ybor City. One is the monthly Lectura Tuesday series, a monthly panel involving community leaders in a discussion about the area’s history.
The other regular event is the Ybor Heroes Award, which honors those who are doing good work in the community, often military veterans, each month.
For Horn, whether it’s his work with the community or his work with S3Media, he’s happiest helping others share their stories. “I love what I do,” he said. “It’s fun. I love helping business people share their stories, pay the bills and employ people. And I love the stories of Ybor City. It’s such a fun place with so many cool stories, so much history.”

Silhouettes Profiles Dr. Jose Lezama

Dr. Jose Lezama

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2017 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

One of Dr. Jose Lezama’s greatest inspirations throughout his career has been his late paternal grandmother, Martha Lezama.
Though she wasn’t in the medical field – she was a teacher of elementary-aged students at the Academy of the Holy Names – she still had a significant impact on the chief of medical service at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.
Though he didn’t attend the Academy, he vividly recalls visiting her classroom. “I loved watching her teach,” he said. “I never saw anybody love her job as much as she did. She had so much energy about her and enthusiasm. She loved what she did.”
This enthusiasm inspired her grandson, who for a while thought he might want to be a teacher himself. But as a student at Tampa’s Jesuit High School, he fell in love with science and pursued a career in medicine.
It’s because of his grandmother’s early influence that Lezama carved a niche for himself in his chosen field that allows him to meld medicine with teaching. In addition to his work at the VA, he’s also a professor of medicine and vice chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine. “I was very lucky to create this niche in my medical career,” he said. “I enjoy teaching and nurturing medical students, attendings and fellows. One of the most important things I teach them is how to be humanistic and members of the community wherever they practice.”
At USF, he’s come across students who actually had his grandmother as a teacher during their elementary school years. “They tell me I have an eerily similar teaching style to her,” he stated. “That’s an honor to me.”
After graduating from Jesuit, Lezama went on to the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he took a pre-med track within the university’s honors program and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and cell science.
At that point, he knew he wanted to have a career in medicine, but he wasn’t thinking about what his specialty might be. Instead, he was focused on “a mentality of survival,” he said. During his first pre-med meeting, UF professors told the students to look around the room “because probably only three or four of [them] will be accepted into the medical school.”
UF’s College of Medicine only had 85 seats. But Lezama was confident about his work ethic and abilities. “I looked around the room and wondered who the other three [that get in] will be, because I’m going to be one of them,” he said. “It was good to be a little naïve and very confident. How’s that combination?”
He added, “So I just wanted to get [into medical school] and figured I’d choose [my specialty] then.”
Lezama was accepted into UF’s College of Medicine, and his mentors there guided him toward internal medicine. The specialty clicked for him, as he preferred working with children to adults. “I really connected with the adult population and geriatric patients,” he explained. “So I went into internal medicine.”
In 1997, he was accepted into the University of South Florida’s residency program, which was the number-one school on his list. “Luckily, they thought highly of me and I came back home,” he said.
It was always his goal to return to Tampa as a doctor and serve the community through his vocation.
“And here I am, 20 years later, in a leadership position,” he said.
In 2000, coming out of his residency, he took a job as hospital physician at the VA, where he also assisted in the internal medicine clinic and ambulatory care.
It was a quick transition, he added. “On June 30, I was a resident, and July 1, I was an attending,” Lezama said. “Twelve hours. I was running out of the gate, the way I do everything. Like a rocket out of the gate.”
He also took on a role at USF as an attending physician, instructor and faculty mentor. In this role, he assisted the medical school with curriculum development and certification.
He rose through the ranks at both USF and the VA hospital.
At USF, he first served as the Department of Internal Medicine’s assistant program director, then associate program director, and, finally, in 2012, vice chair. That same year he also was promoted to professor of medicine.
At the VA, he was named chief of medicine in 2006 at age 34. “I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, chiefs of medicine the VA has ever had,” Lezama pointed out.
In fact, he recalls going to his first training session in Washington, D.C. and those running the event thought he was in the wrong place. “They kept trying to convince me I was at the wrong meeting,” he said. “It took a few phone calls to verify I was who I was. Here I am, 12 years later, and I’m still one of the youngest. At 46, I’m still a very young chief of medicine.”
During his time at James A. Haley, he’s proud that his internal medicine residents have passed their board certification examinations 100 percent several times – including the last two years in a row – and many departments continue to rank highly compared to other VA hospitals throughout the country.
Under his watch, the hospital has also founded a renowned electrocardiology program. He also spearheaded a primary-care medicine track, a joint project between USF and the VA, to give medical students experience in primary care. To many students, primary care “is not as exciting as hospital care or specialties,” Lezama said. “But we want internal medicine residents to realize [primary care] is where it all starts. It’s the foundation of everything.”
Since Hurricane Katrina, he’s also been part of a team of local doctors and hospitals that assists with disaster relief and emergency services.
One of the most memorable relief efforts came in 2010, when Operation: Haiti Relief launched following a devastating earthquake hitting Port-au-Prince. For six weeks, Haitian nationals came into the United States through Tampa International Airport and local doctors and medical facilities were on hand to treat them. “I was proud to see a number of local physicians and hospitals get involved with this humanitarian effort,” Lezama said. “It was the first time disaster relief was organized for an international event.”
He also often gives back to institutions that have played a part in getting him to where he is today. “I always ask Tampa Jesuit if there’s anything I can do for them,” he remarked. “I’m a mentor with the UF Honors Program and speak [at events], and [work with] the USF College of Medicine. I’m very loyal. I like to give back to those programs that helped me over the years.”
Even with all he’s done through his career, Lezama said his greatest accomplishment was winning the Lutz Little League championship, his now-11-year-old son’s team. He coached alongside another local physician, Jose De La Torre, in what he said is “a very competitive league.” The team ended its season 19-1.
“This just shows what I try to teach my residents and students,” he said, “the importance of the balance between work and life.”
Lezama and his wife, Amy Abreu Lezama, a pharmacist at the VA, live in Lutz with their three children, who are 14, 11 and 6.
“My wife and three kids always come first,” he said. “Any decision I make about my career is based on how it will impact my family. I like my students to see that you can do all this [in your career] but still keep your ties to your family, your community and your faith.”

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.”