WUSF website reinforces connections with Tampa arts community

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Cliff Roles

An online streaming platform launched by WUSF in Tampa, Fla., aims to connect regional performing arts and cultural organizations with audiences during and after the coronavirus pandemic. 

Arts Axis Florida, which went live Nov. 17, provides on-demand access to performances and other content produced and created by 40 regional organizations including orchestras, ballet troupes, theatre companies and museums.

Building the site has enabled WUSF and its classical music station WSMR to strengthen relationships with the regional arts community, said GM JoAnn Urofsky. 

“Now, with Arts Axis, the arts are definitely more prominent in what we’re doing,” Urofsky said. “And I think that’s a good thing.” 

The station plans to eventually create a podcast tied to content on the site. 

“It’s still a work in progress,” Urofsky said. “But we’re really proud of what we’ve launched.”

After the coronavirus pandemic forced cancellations of live performances, WUSF featured concerts by the Sarasota Orchestra and Florida Orchestra Masterworks on its website. The community responded so positively that staff began reaching out to other partners. 

“We knew that keeping people connected through the arts would be important,” Urofsky said. 

Chamber music ensemble NEWSRQ is one of the 40 WUSF community partners presenting its work on Arts Axis Florida. (Photo: WUSF Public Media)

Organizations participating in Arts Axis include newer and smaller community organizations, such as Your Real Stories Inc., a theater company that creates original performances based on interviews, and ensembleNEWSRQ, a chamber music group focused on contemporary classical music. WUSF is adding new content to the website every week.

“We have organizations literally calling in or contacting us every single day,” Urofsky said. 

Arts Axis features six categories of content: classical music, jazz, performance theater, dance, opera and cultural destinations such as Imagine Museum and Museum of Fine Arts — St. Petersburg. Since the museums don’t stage performances, their Arts Axis pages provide short descriptions of their cultural offerings and links to their own websites. 

Jamal Sarikoki sings a solo during Key Chorale’s 2019 performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.” (Photo: Peter Acker Photography)

Key Chorale, a symphonic chorus and longtime partner of WUSF, was one of the first to begin providing content on Arts Axis. Its page features audio of a 2019 performance of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” eight episodes of a singalong series, a collaboration with chamber music group Sybarite5 and three episodes of the digital video series Morning Coffee and Maestros, featuring Artistic Director Joseph Caulkins and Associate Conductor Jamal Sarikoki.

“One of the few positives of this pandemic is that it’s forced a lot of arts organizations to think about digital ways to connect with our audience,” Caulkins said. 

The site has helped Key Chorale connect with its supporters, he said. 

“If you look at the demographics of our concertgoers, our patrons, our donors, it’s really the same as WUSF [and] WSMR,” Caulkins said. “The great thing about the partnership is we’re really able to really communicate with our base demographic in a way that’s really vibrant.”

After WUSF staff started building the site, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay came on board as a funder, Urofsky said. She is working to raise money to hire a staffer to manage the website and work with arts organizations full-time. 

Once the pandemic is over, Urofsky envisions Arts Axis as a platform to help strengthen the station’s arts coverage and resources for local educators.  

“I don’t think we would have started this if we thought it was a short-term project,” Urofsky said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

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