By Betsy Judge
He had a dream.
“No it was an epiphany, not so much a dream,” said Scott “Mac” Macksam, founder of the Veteran’s Art Center Tampa Bay (VACTB), about the organization and its new facility in St. Petersburg’s Gaslight Square.
The VACTB is Florida’s first art center for military veterans, first responders and their families offering healing therapy, wellness and education through the arts.
To celebrate their new home, they are hosting a grand opening on Mar. 25. It will be a day-long celebration with special musical guests, street per- formers, art exhibits and demonstrations, a kids art zone, food trucks, raffles and Billboard chart- ing artist and Navy veteran B. Taylor, who is the Global Ambassador for Music & Entertainment for the US Military, Veterans, First Responders & their Families, and now the official ambassador for VACTB. The event is in honor of Gold Star Families.
Macksam’s connections have come in handy when it comes to making the center a reality and accomplish its mission. The furniture in the main gallery was donated by an acquaintance associated with Southern Comfort Furniture. Macksam was given his pick of pieces when they closed a facility several years ago. The Palms of Largo offered storage space and held it for two years.
He recalls people asking him, “Mac, why you doing this…why are you collecting all this stuff?” He looks around and says, “This is why?”
Boxes of track lighting were sitting in the center recently. They were donated by Home Depot.
He also recently received a $10,000 gift from AARP which will be a recurring donation. Even his landlord donates part of his rent back to the organization.
The center serves as a gallery where the works of veteran artists, first responders or their family members are displayed and for sale. Artists get 60 percent of any sales of their work and the remainder goes to VACTB. It has studio space where people who have served their countries or their communities and their family members can work for free. It is a place where artists can have shows or book signings, and it is available to rent for businesses and other organizations.
And they are already having an impact. They hosted a photography show by U.S. Army veteran Howard Miller. “He doesn’t like to talk to a lot of people,” says Macksam. “It was really neat to see him sprout out,” he says about his demeanor during the show.
Gulfport photographer Larry Busby, a resident of Town Shores, was a featured artist at a show coordinated by the center. A former naval photographer, he took up the craft again two years ago, and his work is becoming recognized throughout the Tampa Bay area.
“When I’m out there taking pictures, I lose track of time,” says Busby in an interview that ran in The Gabber. “It gets me out of my head and focused on something. The Veterans Art Center has been there for me. It gives veteran artists a chance.”
Off premise the VACTB helps pay for classes and courses for artists at the Morean and Dunedin Arts Centers and they are working to partner with another center on the beach.
They have also partnered with HEAVENDROPt which has a space in the center where they sell apparel and jewelry made from recycled parachutes providing jobs, employment training for people with disabilities and supporting veterans.
He also hopes to form an alliance with WestCare Foundation which provides a wide spectrum of services including outpatient counseling, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment. “They do not have an arts program,” says Macksam. He hopes to change that.
On the educational side they are bringing in two touring exhibits in 2017. The first is an exhibition of images captured by 1st Lieutenant Glenn Hoover during the Vietnam war. The second is a 500 foot art panel by Bataan Death March survivor Antonio Dattrernaro. There will be a scholarship in memory of PFC Jalfred D. Vaquerano who died Dec. 13, 2011 serving in Afghanistan. The scholarship will be announced at a show by his mother artist Yolanda Mercado later this year. They are also starting a grant at St. Petersburg College Midtown Center with Devrone Gibbons, a college trustee.
The center has recording equipment so veterans can tell their stories for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
Also in the works is a trip to Frankfurt Germany on Lufthansa for U.S. veteran artists to meet German counterparts and visit their art institutions and organizations. He also plans to use the courtyard space at Gaslight Square to hold art and craft shows.
And for three years they have been doing out- reach in conjunction with Dollar Tree collecting more than $58,000 worth of toys for needy kids during the holidays.
In the fall of 2015, Macksam said in an inter- view with TIR, “People congratulate me on what we’ve done so far, but I tell them, ‘Don’t congratulate me until we open up the center’.”
Congratulations Mac. For more information go to www.vactb.org.