Arts & Culture

Hearts in the Arts

todayFebruary 14, 2019 22

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>> Article originally published in St Pete Life Magazine <<

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s only natural for our thoughts to wander into romantic territory. Of course, love and romance mean different things to different people. It could involve commemorating a wedding, first date or first kiss. It could be a celebration of love for family, children, or close friends. Perhaps it could be love on a much grander scale – In the case of our beautiful Sunshine City, it is an ongoing love affair with the arts. We commonly think of the ‘Burg’s arts origins as synonymous with the building of the Museum of Fine Arts in the ’60s, and by the opening of the Dali Museum in the ’80s. But the truth is, St. Pete started its love affair with art well over a century ago when its founders proclaimed it as a city for the arts upon its incorporation in 1903. The new millennium has seen the cultural life of our beautiful ‘Burg explode onto international “best of” lists, and so it would seem, the secret is out. The gig is up….along with the rents. Not only has art bolstered St. Pete as a tourist destination, it has become the home of some of the most talented creatives in the world – artists of all genres who fell in love with St. Pete too. It got me wondering about the love stories in St. Pete’s arts community – couples in which both partners are involved with creating, facilitating, or promoting the arts. Though there are many stories to tell, here are two of my favorites for your romantic souls…

Yann & Susana Weymouth

Yann & Susana Weymouth represent an ideal of love and partnership that we all aspire to. Their story is one of enviable devotion and mutual respect achieved while navigating 2 highly successful careers over 3 decades. Here in St. Petersburg, Yann is the architect responsible for the Hazel Hough Wing expansion at the Museum of Fine Arts. He also designed our very own surreal palace, the Dali Museum, one of St. Pete’s most recognizable landmarks. The Dali’s hallmark emerging glass bubble known as “the enigma” represents a true marriage of engineering and artistic expression. Once seen, you simply never forget it. That seems to be a theme for Yann as, most recently, he was the architect responsible for the stunning James Museum. This 3- story structure appears to us as a sort of naturally chiseled terra cotta monolith jutting out of the earth, perfectly capturing the southwest vibe that houses the extraordinary western art collection of Tom & Mary James. Interesting side note: Yann’s sister, Tina Weymouth was a founding member and long-time bassist for the Talking Heads and subsequently Tom Tom Club. She has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Susana is the executive director of Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts or TBBCA for short. This not for profit organization facilitates partnerships between the business and arts communities. It’s a creative and, as it turns out, essential approach to common sense arts subsidies provided by businesses that wish to be known for their involvement in, and support of, the arts community. TBBCA hosts a number of very successful events such as their monthly “Cultural Encounters”, held at venues throughout the Tampa Bay area, and the very well attended annual “Impact Awards”, to name just two.

Their love story began far from here…..and half a world away from each other. Yann grew up a Navy brat and lived all over the world. He attended Harvard and MIT and by the late 80’s he was living in Paris and working for world-renowned architect I.M. Pei as the chief of design on the Grand Louvre Project, the glass pyramid structure with a subterranean lobby that now marks the entrance to one of the world’s most famous museums. (Yes, he did that too!) Susana, a graduate of Georgetown University, worked as an executive traveling between New York and her home in Beijing. Through business, she became acquainted with Pei’s son Chien Chung (Didi), and he informed her one day that he had “the perfect man for her – a Franco American” working for his father in Paris. It wasn’t long before Didi got to Yann as well, telling him “I have the perfect woman for you. She’s brilliant, Cuban, beautiful.” Of course, the one fly in the ointment was that she lived in China!

Neither was especially interested at that time. Yann had been previously married to the daughter of publisher Katherine Graham, portrayed by Meryl Streep in the movie “The Post”. The marriage ended in the ’70s and he was not particularly interested in a serious relationship. Susana was content with her career and had no plans to move. But, as fate would have it, Yann and Susana found themselves in New York at the same time with a 48-hour overlap….Chaperoned by their mutual friend, Didi, they went to a Mark Rothko exhibit at MOMA and the die was cast. “As soon as he began speaking about Rothko,” Susana smiles, “the imagery and magic of his words made me see the work in a way I never had before. He was brilliant, insightful, captivating. I knew right there and then.” Yann’s experience was similar. “ I knew the first second,” he says. “Our real love story began over art.” They talked late into the night and by 4am, Didi knew his services were no longer required. Yann proposed 2 months later, and Susana moved to Paris. I asked how they came to be here in St. Pete and Yann said, “After moving to London and then back to the USA, we came here in 2001 when I was commissioned to design the Hough wing and the Dali. But we found an amazing community full of talented artists and beautiful surroundings. Susana adds, “How could we NOT want to live here!”
Even as they speak of it now, each beam over the memory. All their recollections are peppered with compliments, made in earnest, and sincere admiration for each other even after 30 years. “He’s the most incredible person I have ever met,” Susana says. “And that’s saying something.” “Susana is brilliant, accomplished, and she’s been my muse for 30 years,” replies Yann. It is very clear that they are as much in love now as they were then…..perhaps more so.

Eugenie Bondurant and Paul Wilborn

Paul and Eugenie are one of the best known and, I think I can say this without contradiction, best-loved couples in St. Pete. Paul, a Tampa native, was a news journalist for the Associated Press and screenwriter in a former life, but he now presides over all things stage-worthy as the executive director of the Palladium Theater. He is also a prolific musician, regularly performing his American Songbook, a series of cabaret-style concerts with his striking better half. These days, Paul confines his writing primarily to theater blogging and hilarious scripts for Radio Theatre Project, a very popular monthly series of staged old-timey radio style readings at the Studio @620. He and Eugenie are regular and highly popular participants.

Eugenie, long and lean with undeniable star presence, is the ‘Burg’s resident movie star. Featured as “Tigris” in one of the Hunger Games franchise films, Eugenie has also had a busy career on the stage and TV. She has a million stories, but I love the one about how she found herself in a leather bustier in a Wayne’s World skit on Saturday Night Live with Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, and Madonna! Eugenie is a Screen Actor’s Guild member and shares her love of acting as an instructor for Andi Matheny Acting Studios and the Patel Conservatory. Worth mentioning is the fact that, talent aside, she is one of the kindest, loveliest people I have met in my 28 years in this community.

Paul and Eugenie’s love story begins across the country in Los Angeles. Paul was covering the Winona Ryder shoplifting scandal for AP and had just sold a screenplay. As a result, he was invited to a book release party at the Napa Valley Bar & Grille in Westwood where many movie premieres take place. Eugenie was promoting a small indie film she was starring in, “Donald & Dot Clock get Murdered in Their Home”. No, I’m not kidding. She just happened to be invited to the same party, and though she was hesitant to attend yet another “industry” party, the producer told her they would make contact with a well-known PR representative who might help promote the movie pro bono.

Paul recounts, “from across the room, I see this tall, beautiful woman enter the party.” Eugenie interjects, “It was like the song, Some Enchanted Evening.” Paul walked across the room to introduce himself and recalls Eugenie’s first words to him were, “I’m Eugenie Bondurant and I’m moving to New Orleans.” As it turns out, she was planning to return to her hometown in the next month. Eugenie had had enough of LA and wasn’t looking for any emotional entanglements. Paul, very familiar with NOLA and unwilling to be discouraged, saw his opportunity and engaged Eugenie in conversation about the Crescent City she loved. He ended up getting her card….something very unusual for a well brought up southern girl.

After a few dates – drinks, a movie, dinner, Paul knew Eugenie was something special…..but what about the impending move? It was too soon to make any real commitments, so Paul brilliantly suggested Eugenie give him “just 3 months.” Eugenie did not move home…. She recalls, “when someone sees you at your worst and helps you paint your duplex with underwear on his head, you know you’ve got a keeper.”

When Paul’s friend Pam Iorio became Mayor of Tampa, he had an opportunity to be part of the administration. Now HE was the one leaving and needed a place to stay after giving up his apartment. Once again, calling upon her southern upbringing, Eugenie made it clear that she would not live with Paul unless they were engaged. And so it was. The pair moved to Tampa together and married in 2004. They love performing together and never seem to tire of each other’s company after 14 years. Paul smiles, looks at his wife and says, “If anything, we look for opportunities to spend even more time together.”

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Written by: #HeliumRadio

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