Revitalized Bradenton

Village Voices & Eclectic Art Emporium is in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, a reclaimed neighborhood. (Vanessa Rodgers/Bradenton Area Cvb)

Revitalized Bradenton Brims with Artistic Flair

By Beth D’Addono of the Boston Globe

BRADENTON, Fla. – Turn onto 12th Street West, and it’s clear that this isn’t your average neighborhood. Instead of the usual bungalows, there is a riot of lime green picket fencing, a mural that pairs Frida Kahlo with an emaciated Christ figure, and a giant cow statue painted blue. And that’s just within two blocks.

Welcome to Village of the Arts, a funky collection of more than 35 galleries, studios, cafes, and shops stretching between 9th Street and 16th Street West, and 9th and 14th Street West in what was once a rough section just south of downtown Bradenton, 50 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Formerly a place known for crack houses and prostitutes, Village of the Arts started as a grass-roots attempt to reclaim the neighborhood by a few brave artists in search of cheap real estate and a community. A decade later, what began as a social experiment has become a reason for locals and visitors to spend time away from Bradenton’s sandy beaches.

Bonni Brown was one of the first to stake a claim. The former New York clinical social worker opened a bakery cafe in September 1999. “We bought this place from a man arrested for shooting at crackheads. Got a great deal.’’ Today, the 100-year-old building houses Bonni Bakes, a friendly spot to have fresh mango lassi, a curried chicken salad sandwich, and a slice of red velvet cake. “We still get locals who’ve lived here all their lives and say, ‘When did all this happen?’ We’ve finally got some signs up, which will help a lot.’’

Brenda Smoak is the newest kid on the block. She opened Alchemy, a fair trade consignment shop representing 145 artists, in early October, leaving her gallery in Silver Springs, Md., behind. “I moved here because of this place – it felt like a community,’’ Smoak said.

What to see

Farmer’s Market Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Old Main Street, the market features local produce, joined by artists selling everything from jewelry to antiques on the third Saturday of the month. Live music. 941-544-8077

South Florida Museum This gem of a museum covers local history, offers a state of the art digital planetarium, and is home to Snooty, the world’s oldest known manatee (he turned 61 last summer). 201 10th St. West, 941-746-4131, http://www.southfloridamuseum.org

ArtCenter Manatee This vibrant haven for artists for more than 75 years attracts impressive exhibits and fosters local (and visiting) talent in workshops and classes in pottery to jewelry making and watercolor. Nice gift shop. 209 9th St. West, 941-746-2862, http://www.artcentermanatee.org

Where to shop

Village of the Arts http://www.villageofthearts.com (Note: Many galleries are open only a few days a week, so call before you visit.)

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