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Local art students draw in crowd with marketing robot

James Beck came up with a creative idea to get customers to come to the Creative Clay art market every first Friday of the month. He named it Cray Bot.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It only took James Beck a little over a week to create Creative Clay’s very first mascot.

“I used cardboard, buttons, a lot of duct tape,” he said, standing on the sidewalk near speeding cars. “If he gets their attention, they might come by some day.”

The mascot, affectionately named Cray Bot, did work.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Amanda Drewes from Pinellas County Schools.

Beck has spent three years at Creative Clay, an art gallery in St. Petersburg offering adults with special needs a place to express their artistic side. Beck has earned a reputation as a hard worker there and outside-the-box thinker.

“I’m not a dancer,” said Beck, looking over at his friend, Cory, in the robot suit. “Look at him go.”

The robot idea was a good one. It drew all sorts of attention during the Nov. 6 art market set up behind the Creative Clay building off First Avenue South under the I-275 overpass. The first Friday of every month will offer the students at Creative Clay a chance to sell their artwork from now until April 2021. The market is the result of a collaboration between Creative Clay and Pinellas County Schools called Transition.

“It's job training through the arts. So far, all is well,” said Kim Dorhman, CEO of Creative Clay.

There are only eight students at this point, but you’d never know that by looking at the art set up under the temporary tent behind the Creative Clay gallery. The customers browsed hundreds of items from drawings and paintings and sculptures.

The handmade Christmas cards drew a lot of attention. Those will be hot items, says Dohrman, at the next outdoor market on Dec. 4. The plan is to host the student’s work behind the gallery every first Friday of the month until April.

“If we can’t go out and market ourselves, we’ll just bring people here," said Drewes. “We're trying to teach them, you know, especially when you’re trying to sell and market yourself you don’t want to pressure people because then you scare them away. They run the tent by themselves. They make the sales. They wrap the artwork.”

The first Friday art market in October drew only about 20 people. November’s market drew that number of visitors in less than an hour. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cray Bot kept dancing throughout the morning as cars whizzed by. A few people stopped and posed for photos to the surprise of nobody at Creative Clay.

“Who wouldn’t want to take a really cool picture with our Cray Bot and put it on their Instagram page?” joked Drewes.

Creative Clay, like many other businesses and non-profits, has had to adapt daily operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will host a Creative Giving Virtual Holiday Shoppe and Silent Auction Nov. 23-30:

“Holiday shopping kicks off online with a virtual silent auction of art created by Creative Clay member artists and products such as coffee gift packages, holiday cards and ornaments.

Shoppers can 'buy now' or bid against others for Creative Clay art that has been hand-selected by local 'Art Oracles,' including Christopher Still, Steven Kenny, Rasta, Chad Mize, Dee Perconti and more. These artists share why a particular piece is a favorite of theirs and why it’s meaningful to them.”

"We thought the idea of partnering up with people who were well known for their involvement in St. Petersburg's art scene would be a great way to help Creative Clay stay active in the minds of our community,” said Development Coordinator Shane Hoffman.

All proceeds benefit Creative Clay's programs that create equality through art.

Creative Clay’s vision is to make the arts accessible to all. Its mission is to help people with disabilities achieve full and inclusive lives through access to the arts by providing expressive, educational, and vocational experiences.

Creative Clay’s core program is its Community Arts Program, which serves 50-60 adult artists with neuro-differences each week. Through the implementation of additional offerings, such as the inclusive Art Around the World summer camp, Summer Studio for older teens and young adults, Artlink employment program, Creative Care Arts in Wellness outreach program, and its Pinellas County Schools’ partnership Transition program, individuals of all ages and abilities are mentored, taught and empowered to become working artists who actively create, market and sell their work.

Learn more about Creative Clay, its vision of equality through art, and its programs at www.creativeclay.org. Like Creative Clay on Facebook; follow on Instagram @creativeclaystpete; follow on Twitter @creativeclay and on LinkedIn.

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