Tampa’s art scene hasn’t been the same since Penny Vinik came to town in 2010. After starting her career with a consulting firm, she earned a master’s degree in fine arts from Tufts University, and sharing that passion for culture has been a guiding force in the philanthropy of Vinik and her husband (and Tampa Bay Lightning co-owner), Jeff Vinik.
Penny Vinik is the vice chair of the Tampa Museum of Art’s governing board of trustees, and the Vinik Family Foundation has been responsible for bringing a never-ending series of memorable and unique art installations to Tampa over the past decade. Did your kids zoom through the clear plastic ball pit inside Amalie Arena that was BEACH Tampa? That was Vinik’s first public art project in the city. Or did you see the jaw-dropping LEGO creations at The Art of the Brick? That was her, too. And were you able to snag a ticket to Love is Calling, the vibrant, polka-dotted Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room at the Tampa Museum of Art? A Vinik-funded project as well.
For Vinik, her goal is all about creating access to interesting and exciting art — for everyone.
“We [Jeff and I] consider ourselves incredibly fortunate that we are able to travel to see exhibits like Kusama or other big blockbusters. But we realized that many people in Tampa can’t do that,” Vinik says. “So we really feel like it’s important to bring the arts to them. And when we’re thinking about what we want to bring to the Tampa Bay community, we focus on art that is for everyone of all ages, from the littlest baby to octogenarians. We really want art that will speak to everybody. That’s kind of the litmus test for us, and it just happens that a lot of the art that falls into that category is immersive. It’s a little more active. It’s not quite as static. It kind of organically grew that way. A lot of times, we don’t necessarily go looking for the artist. The artist finds us, or somebody finds the artists and they introduce the artist to us.”
Beyond the art world, Vinik and her husband have touched countless lives through their Lightning Community Hero program, which was just renewed for the third time this summer. Since 2011, the couple has committed $30 million to 450-plus heroes, supporting an incredible variety of organizations. They’ve also given specific donations of $1 million or more to Metropolitan Ministries, the Bryan Glazer JCC and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.
Now, she’s making her first big push into local art with Fairgrounds St. Pete (read more about that on page 70 of this issue), led by Vinik’s frequent collaborator, art consultant Liz Dimmitt. Vinik says the foundation’s next art project will be an installation by the artist Lucy Sparrow, who will be creating a life-size bodega from felt within the Water Street Tampa district during Gasparilla next January.
At her son’s recent wedding, Vinik noticed a general joie de vivre the guests seemed to share — thrilled just to be out and enjoying time together again.
“I think that’s going to be the same for the cultural sphere as well,” once life slowly returns to some sense of normalcy, she says. “People are just desperate for that.”
NORMA GENE LYKES
When it came time for Norma Gene Lykes to become the third-generation caretaker of the F.E. Lykes Foundation, she looked around at how other local charities and nonprofits were helping, and she came to a conclusion.
“We need some fun,” she says.
As such, the F.E. Lykes Foundation is responsible for renovating and beautifying parks across Tampa, with a focus on its underserved neighborhoods. Lykes’s grandmother and mother ran the foundation before her, and watching them taught her the obligations that come with opportunities.
“There’s that hackneyed phrase, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’” Lykes says. “And so you can’t just let an opportunity go by if you’ve been gifted with something, in my opinion.”
The opportunity she saw was in city parks and green spaces. No other foundation was focused on them when she began her work three decades ago, so she took up the mantle. The F.E. Lykes Foundation was responsible for installing both fountains at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the fountain and art piece Reliquary at Anderson Park (popularly referred to as Kate Jackson Park), the red benches under Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park’s “walk of shade,” and the renovation of Giddens Park in Seminole Heights. As art is also a passion of hers, the foundation also restored Fish on Bayshore back in 2004.
Since the start of the pandemic, these parks and other outdoor spaces have taken on a new importance for so many, Lykes says.
“Thank heavens they were there,” she adds. “People were out there constantly. You couldn’t gather in people’s homes, so why not sit around the fountain at Hyde Park? It was useful at a time when other places were not.”
Parks, green spaces, even a shady spot with trees — these are all vital to the human experience, breaking up the monotony of the everyday. Lykes has a particular focus on bringing parks to neighborhoods with populations diverse in age and background that might otherwise lack the funding or advocacy to make it happen, as she did with her first project, Giddens Park in southeast Seminole Heights. Creating space for people to enjoy their lives is a tangible way to instantly improve them, something the foundation aims to do with each of its projects.
“You’ve got an open space, [and] suddenly, you’ve got jugglers [over here], you’ve got Muay Thai going on over here, basketball pick-up games over here,” she says. “People bring their own interests to a park, and it’s a space for them to enjoy what they do. It’s great that people are playing until they turn the lights out. That makes me energized when I see it.”
Or, in some cases, hear it.
“With the fountains downtown… If I’m ever stopped at that light on Ashley [Drive] and close my eyes and I hear children, that’s a moment.”
DRS. KIRAN AND PALLAVI PATEL
For Dr. Kiran Patel, the difference between charity and philanthropy comes down to the old parable about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish.
“Philanthropy is where you teach him to fish,” he says. “What I like to do is philanthropy that’s gonna change lives permanently, and that is why my focus has been on things like education. Once you give that to somebody, you have empowered them to be successful.”
In the case of Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel, or Dr. K. and Dr. P., as they’re affectionately called by the people close to them, they have empowered many somebodies. Medical education is of particular importance to them, as they are both physicians (Kiran, a cardiologist, and Pallavi, a pediatrician). Locally, the couple committed $200 million (a $50 million gift and $150 million real estate investment) to expand Nova Southeastern University’s Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Care Sciences. With this kind of legacy gift, Dr. Pallavi Patel says they hope to make medical education more accessible for students looking to enter all types of health careers.
“We feel that medical education is not accessible to many people and also not affordable to many people,” she says. “Also, it’s a major decision for somebody to dedicate 10 years of their life to be a physician. So, there are a lot of challenges around that. And [since] we are physicians, and we have knowledge of different medical universities and how they work, [we have] been very motivated to create a better university, a better way of making medical education available and at a much larger scale.”
Between NSU and the couple’s medical school in India, 600 physicians around the world graduate from a Patel-supported institution each year. Add in the graduates of nearly 30 programs within NSU’s Health Care Sciences college, and that results in tens of thousands of lives impacted each year.
“[With] that gift, the output of that and the impact of that is priceless,” Dr. Kiran Patel says. “Somebody may [focus on the dollar amount of the gift]. But that’s not as important as what it is going to do and achieve. So I believe that it’s a miniscule amount in dollars and cents, if you look at it, when you see what it will do to the world.”
Theater-goers may also know the Patel name from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where the Patels made a long-standing commitment to their youth conservatory, a passion project of Dr. Pallavi Patel’s.
“Art, or the accomplishment in art or creating something beautiful, gives a great personal satisfaction,” she says. “When we made a commitment to the conservatory, I said that this is one way where you’re keeping the youth occupied, you are giving them a chance to explore their own talent, and you’re keeping them out of depression or a feeling [of boredom]. [Art] is an essential part of every human being’s life, and we are glad that we are able to help in that field.”
The Patels’ philanthropy extends far beyond the borders of Tampa or even the United States. In the home village of Dr. Kiran Patel’s father, in the Indian state of Gujarat, the couple supports and is deeply involved in running a school and community hospital. When they first opened the hospital, babies born in the area with a low birth weight faced a 20% mortality rate. Now, it’s down to zero. They’ve also seen kids educated at the local school go off to higher education and return to the village to serve as doctors, improving their community’s health and inspiring other local children to take similar paths.
“When you get them at a grassroots level, you change their entire life,” Dr. Pallavi Patel says. “That’s really something that we feel. So it’s almost like we are getting our own endorphins from [giving back]. We are blessed.”
And the couple is already prepping the generations to come. They recently sat down with their grandchildren and gave each of them a check to use for the philanthropic cause of their choice. That’s not to say they’re done with their own goals. Dr. Kiran Patel’s list of potential projects is ever-growing.
“As long as God gives me strength and energy, I’m going to use my remaining years to impact as many lives as I can,” he says. “My goal is to transform lives for the better and leave the earth a little better place than I found it.”
Reading down a list of charitable organizations Chuck Sykes is or has been significantly involved with, a few thoughts arise. One, does he sleep? And two, he is clearly passionate about helping the people of Tampa Bay live a good — and vibrant life.
Sykes grew up in South Carolina, and he says spending time on his grandfather’s farm, watching him deliver vegetables to neighbors in need or use his carpentry skills to do home repairs for others, imparted lessons about doing for others in him that were never spoken. So by the time he became the CEO of Sykes Enterprises, it just felt “natural to say “yes” to charities” and nonprofits whenever he could.
“I found myself gravitating to issues that I felt were foundational to life, such as education and health, or foundational to making our community a great place to live, such as arts and culture,” he explains.
He’s on the board of directors of the American Heart Association of Tampa Bay and has chaired the biggest economic organizations in the region, including the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Tampa Chamber. But as important as those are to him, so is making Tampa a cultural powerhouse.
“Ask any leader of any organization what is most important to the success of their company, and they will tell you it’s their people and their culture,” Sykes says. “I believe it’s the same thing for a community. But communities aren’t run by CEOs. So how do communities create an identity and build connections among their citizens to form a culture and a sense of belonging? I believe this is achieved through the power of arts, music and sports.”
To that end, Sykes is on the advisory board of the Gasparilla Music Foundation and was part of the steering committee working to bring the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City. He also took on the unique challenge of co-chairing the capital campaign for the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as it raises funds for its new master plan.
“Once completed, this project will become a center point for our community that will support many future generations with the power of the performing arts to entertain, educate and inspire,” Sykes says. “These projects don’t come along very often, so I wanted to be a part of it.”
Sykes explains that while he would rather give the money than ask for it, he takes on this much-needed task. “Timing is key,” he says. “Many times, people want to support [the cause you’re championing], but the timing of your ask is not good. So the most important thing is to just get going and keep going. Be respectful and grateful that the person has granted you time to listen to you.”
Especially when it comes to capital campaigns to establish a new organization or expand the capabilities of an existing one, you’ll see the tangible benefits of your contribution, he adds.
“All of these organizations are run by incredible people, and it’s very rewarding to see what their leadership can achieve when they are supported.”
DARCIE GLAZER KASSEWITZ
While most people are focused on what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are doing on the football field, team co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz is focused on what the organization is doing off of it.
One of the NFL’s few women owners, Kassewitz leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and its growing number of causes, focusing primarily on uplifting children, social justice and empowering women. Over the past decade, that’s resulted in more than $25 million from the Glazer family and the Bucs to going local charities.
“I believe, fundamentally, that we’re all similar and that we want to be our most authentic selves and the best version of ourselves if possible,” she says. “So I do my best to help bring that out in people, and that can happen in many forms.”
Though the Bucs had been present in Tampa Bay-area schools for years, in 2018 Kassewitz spearheaded the Jr. Bucs School Program, rolling their efforts into one initiative that both expands physical education curriculum and incentivizes reading to increase literacy rates. Across the region, nearly 200,000 students take part in the program. Specifically in East Tampa, Kassewitz and the team launched the Buccaneers Leadership Academy to bring mentorship from players and staff members to middle school students in one of the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“Our social justice program started with the players, and now our entire organization is involved,” Kassewitz says. “We’re impacting the children, but I’d say the impact on our organization is just as inspiring.”
With Kassewitz in the front office, gender parity among the organziation’s vice presidents, and both Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust on the coaching staff, the Buccaneers are a league leader in female representation within an NFL team. In the community, the Bucs created an academic scholarship for female high school football players pursuing a career in sports (the first NFL team to do so) and established the first all-girls flag football league in the city of Tampa. They also launched the Women’s Summit for Careers in Football, a first-of-its-kind NFL club initiative to enhance career development opportunities in football. Kassewitz calls gender equality “part of the fabric of [their] organization.”
“[Empowering women is] absolutely fundamental at this point to our culture, and it’s top of mind every single day,” Kassewitz says. “We were at a women’s event that we were hosting, and a mother came up to me. She’s telling me that her daughter really wanted to be an NFL coach, and she’s rolling her eyes like, ‘That’s never going to happen.’ This is at the time when we first got our two female coaches, and I said to her, ‘you know, we have female coaches.’ The look on her face was like, [wow]. It changed the mother’s thinking, and all of a sudden, you could see that she believed in her daughter.”
It’s this next generation who perhaps benefits the most from the work of Kassewitz, her family and the Bucs — from exploring Downtown Tampa’s Glazer Children Museum (which opened in 2010 with the support of a $5 million donation from the Glazer family) or receiving a pair of glasses through the Glazer Vision Foundation, which provides free eye screenings and eyeglasses to children in need across the Tampa Bay area. Kassewitz says she’s eager to continue building the Bucs’ social justice initiative, which launched in 2018 and is already seeing impacts.
“The players and I went to a juvenile detention center, and at the end of the day there was a question and answer period. One of the girls [there] asked what she would need to do to get a job with the Bucs, and all the kids laughed at her,” Kassewitz recalls. “She sunk back in her chair. It was terrible. But I told her in front of everybody that her question was incredibly intelligent, and that it took confidence for her to ask that question and that we look for confident people at the Buccaneers. Then all the other kids at the detention center kind of looked at her differently after that. And she was glowing. She had a boost of confidence.
“And that is everything.”