Bob Devin Jones is an artistic force of nature. He and David Ellis opened The Studio@620 in 2004 — the Paleozoic era of downtown St. Pete’s offbeat art scene.
When Jones, a Los Angeles native, playwright, actor and director, cut the ribbon on the spare venue at 620 1st Avenue South, no one knew how beloved the place (and Jones) would become. Now in its 10th season, the Studio@620 is likened to Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y — an equal-opportunity space for culturally diverse and provocative art, music and theater.
Jones is not only an artist. He’s a trendsetter. A St. Petersburg resident since 1997, he’s lived in the city’s Historic Old Southeast neighborhood since long before it came into vogue. He’s on the boards of American Stage Theatre Company, Creative Clay and First Night. He’s the recipient of countless awards and grants, including Bank of America’s 2005 Hero Award.
An urbanite through and through, Jones is not likely to be found kayaking the Hillsborough River. When asked where he goes to commune with nature, the artist shrugs and says, “Some people go hiking and camping. I go to New York City or Philadelphia. I’m like Ariel in The Little Mermaid. I want to be where the people are.” What he listens to in his car: The Spirit FM 90.5 and US 103.5. “Spirit FM is a Christian radio station, but so many of the songs are knock-offs of pop songs. They’re even doing rap now. It makes me laugh. I like the country station, too. Because I’m a storyteller, I’m drawn to these plaintive country ballads. I also like that they encourage you to belt out phrases like ‘Live like you were dying.’ What the hell does that mean?”
Where he goes to talk shop: Kahwa Coffee on 2nd Avenue S. in St. Pete. “Kahwa is the breath of St. Pete. You almost need to be culturally literate to hang out there. I meet a lot of people and get a lot of work done there.”
How he starts (almost) every morning: A breakfast sandwich at Banyan Café. “I crave, or perhaps require a certain amount of routine. Most of the time I’m a very improvisational person, kind of like a long sax solo by Coltrane. To keep everything else in line I live by certain rituals. The egg sandwich at Banyan is one of those.”
The artist on his radar right now: Jesse Thelonious Vance, musician/composer/performer/promoter/noise artist. “He’s a bit of a creative anarchist. He runs The Venture Compound in the Warehouse Arts District. He’s not shy or diminutive about putting himself out there. He’s a good example of how the best art, even the most rarefied Lincoln Center-type art, is messy and unpredictable.”
The art destination that never gets old: The Dalì Museum. “It’s a world class museum with a world class art experience … and by the water within walking distance of so many delicious things to do and places to go.”
The neighborhoods that cater to his urban sensibilities: The Edge and Grand Central Districts. “You get a good vibration of how the city occurs, walking between these two sections. There’s a lot of interesting commerce happening there right now.”
The grass-roots arts movement with the most potential: The Edible Peace Patch Project. “It’s not just saving whales or hugging a tree. The ones who will benefit from the project are the ones putting their hands in the dirt.”
Where he sees the best outdoor art: On the sides of downtown buildings. “There are so many extraordinary murals in this area. There are at least a dozen murals in the three-block radius [surrounding Studio@620].”
Where he sees the most unexpected art: All Children’s Hospital. “They have an extraordinary collection of art. There are paintings, sculptures, glass works and things wrapped around columns. You can see art in the café, the entryway, the hallways and even in the roundabout before you enter the hospital.”
Where he goes to get lost in a book: Inkwood Books in Tampa. “It feels like the kind of bookstore you’d find on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. A good bookstore makes you want to read, linger and want to purchase great books. Inkwood is that kind of store.”
Where he goes for a cup of tea: Hooker Tea Company. “I just started drinking coffee two or three years ago. Tea is big in other communities, but [Shawn Hooker] was the first person to really do it well in St. Pete. His selection is huge and the aroma makes you want to order everything.”
Where he scores the best thrift clothes: McB’S Men's Clothing. “I’ve got a basic uniform I wear every day: white oxford shirt, khaki trousers and nice shoes. I always seem to find something there. I found a great pair of Kenneth Cole. It’s fun to walk around in someone else’s shoes.”
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Where he donates his old paperbacks: The Little Free Library box near The Studio@620. “I’ve taken and given books dozens of times. I put in my signed copy of Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer and took a Sylvia Plath poetry book and Kerouac’s On the Road.”
Where he goes to eat like a king: Winter Park, Fla. “When I participate in programs at Rollins College they’ve put me up at the Park Plaza Hotel. They have the best restaurants there. I’ve eaten at Luma (On Park) for five years. The service is exceptional. The food is even better.”
Where he’d go for a cold one, if he drank beer: Green Bench Brewing Co. “It looks like so much fun! The place is architecturally very smart and there’s a garden outside. I like spatially delicious places. I’d be an architect if I had the skills.”