The exhibition of Tommy Crow’s photographs of Cuba at the Seaside Assembly Hall on February 21 represented more than the display of artistic talent applied to a magical place that is no longer frozen in time. The event also marked the first discussions of an emerging art movement along Scenic Highway 30A, burgeoning from the New Urbanist design movement that first emerged in this area in the 1980s.
With the advent of Seaside as an urban alternative to typical tourism and residential development, there has been an unprecedented flowering of architecture and interior design, and subsequently of art, film, literature and the performing arts in our area since Seaside’s inception in 1981. Crow is among those New Urbanist artists whose work may coalesce into a specific coastal art movement.
After attending the University of Georgia, Crow began his professional career in advertising, becoming a premier American photographer in the field. He arrived on Scenic Highway 30A in 2004, and hosted a series of gatherings mobilizing support for the local arts. He opened Tommy Crow Studios in Rosemary Beach in 2010 and five years later another location in Alys Beach. Crow agreed to participate in this art “happening” to benefit the Seaside Institute arranged by Anne Hunter Galleries.
The Seaside Institute is dedicated to fostering cultural activities within the scenic corridor that spans the area from Watercolor on the west, to Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach to the east, as well as serving as a national platform for education in New Urbanism. Associated with Crow’s show was a discussion led by Andrés Duany on the imminent challenges and prospects of an authentic, non-commercial culture along Scenic Highway 30A.
Duany, a native Cuban and the town planner for Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach, explained that he views our Southern beaches as Caribbean — as opposed to the Gulf Coast. “The Gulf Coast reference exposes a bias for the North American point of view — those who actually inhabit the Caribbean think of your coast as the northern edge of the Caribbean sea,” he said. In Duany’s estimation, Key West, Seaside, New Orleans and Galveston share more with Havana, Cartagena and Aruba than they do with the continental United States.
According to Duany, the architects of Seaside were influenced by Key West and New Orleans; the architects of Rosemary were influenced by the Anglo-Caribbean of Kingston; and then there is the influence of San Juan, Cartagena and Antigua on Alys Beach. “This shows that the art of architecture grasped the Caribbean early and deeply — they have been able to develop rich regional tradition of architecture based on the Caribbean,” said Duany. “Tommy’s artistic instincts were to drench himself in Havana, as similar to that of Richard Sexton, a long-time photographer and resident of Seaside who has published a book interspersing Havana and New Orleans. Crow unconsciously tapped into the roots and the foundation of the New Urbanism.”
Dr. Beverly Walters, chair of The Seaside Institute Board of Governors, welcomed everyone on behalf of the institute and described the institute’s mission to further “the building of community in cities and towns through design, education and the arts.” She noted that the event was consistent with that mission and thanked everyone for coming to support local arts as well as the institute, which benefited from purchases of Crow’s photos. She stressed that she hoped that the many artists who are drawn to these New Urbanist communities would coalesce as thoroughly as the architects have in consciously nurturing a regional art movement.
“It’s a new era with continued enrichment of our beautiful coast, thanks to the further development of the arts,” said Walters, acknowledging the important role of not only The Seaside Institute, but also of Escape to Create and The REP, both founded and based in Seaside.