Village of the Arts:
Bradenton’s Hidden Artist Colony
The largest artist community in the state of Florida
is in little ol’ Bradenton. Just steps from downtown
historic Main Street, a little farther south on 12th
Street across Manatee Avenue, is a hidden oasis of
art and music, cafes and restaurants. It is an entire
neighborhood dedicated to the arts and its creators.
In this quirky Village of the Arts, yards are adorned
with colorful sculptures while sidewalk murals
guide you through blocks of shops and galleries
where artist-residents have created Bradenton’s
Arts District. Here, they live a life of which most only
dream. Mixed-use zoning allows residents to operate
businesses out of their homes, and these artists and
makers inhabit nearly 300 properties spanning over
two dozen blocks that are known as “the Village” or
simply the VOTA.
The Village has everything bohemian, nature-loving,
peace-seeking, old-punk, neo-hippy, entrepreneurial
creative-types could ask for. Quaint cottages from
the 1920s and 30s have been renovated into brightly
painted studio spaces and stores to fill almost any
need. Those who live and work in the VOTA are selfreliant
visionaries who have taken years to develop a
community that is purposeful, progressive and part
of the city’s larger plan.
“I knew from the first time that I came to the VOTA
that I had found my niche,” artist Kris Cross said, who
operates a hair-dreading business on 11th Ave West
called Loc Alchemy. She added that the move to
the Village has been nothing short of life-changing
for her. “I found a community of like-minded people
creating art and working on personal growth.”
Today, the VOTA has become a must-see tourist
destination and it has gained national recognition
for being a successful arts community. Art Walks
that take place the first full weekend in each month
regularly fill the sidewalks with art-lovers and lookylou’s.
Open mics, live music and pop-up shopping
events occur weekly.
You can find tacos, a vinyl record shop, a yoga studio.
A country store sells produce from a stand on the
corner as music fills the air. You can get a tattoo, go
gem mining and have your chakras aligned all in
one trip. But most importantly, it is the people who
live and work in the Village making it all happen.
Before the Village became what it is today, a small
group of like-minded individuals came together with
a vision for a new, intentional neighborhood. One
that would provide opportunity and enrichment for
the community. In 1999, the Artist’s Guild of Manatee
County officially founded the Village of the Arts. Since
its inception, the blighted area of dilapidated homes
has transformed into Florida’s largest artist colony.
It is even now supported by the city’s Downtown
Development Authority and performed its very own
sociological impact study on the strategic growth
they call “creative placemaking”.
Douglas Holland owns Jerk Dog Records on 12th
Street West, the area’s premiere vinyl record shop
and frequent host of live local music. He and his
wife, Valarie, who created the Bradentucky Bombers
roller derby team, are some of the first residents to
be involved in forming the VOTA.
“At the time, I don’t even remember if there
was a name for it,” Holland said. “It was just this
economically deprived neighborhood with a lot of
crime that had special zoning.”
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