Co-Founder, CASS Contemporary
Hometown: Lakeland, Florida
Alma mater: University of Tampa
Alongside her husband and gallery co-founder, Jake, Cassie Greatens disrupted Tampa’s art scene with the opening of CASS Contemporary in 2013. “It is different artwork than what you see in Tampa,” Greatens says. “[At first] people said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’ and now six years later, it’s worked.” Today, CASS has a flagship gallery on South MacDill Avenue and a space at the Epicurean Hotel. The team has commissioned some of the city’s most Instagrammable murals, like “Thank You Tampa Bay” by BASK at Hyde Park Village and the new “Peace and Love” wall by Adam Fu at Sparkman Wharf. Greatens’s vision for the future development of Tampa’s art is to both support local artists and bring in national and international talent to diversify the city’s offerings. “We want to have a diverse collection here in Tampa, whether it’s different art galleries or different murals around the city,” Greatens says. “I think that the art scene all over the country, with social media, is forever changing. Jake and I just want to be on top of that and be constantly changing and not necessarily following the rules — sometimes breaking them. Taking that leap [is] what will continue to keep us going and keep us motivated.” Greatens — a mom of four — says her main focus is nurturing the interests and talents of the next generation, whether that be by hosting workshops for students with visiting artists or in an entirely different field, like sports. Outside of work, Greatens is the director of a local youth softball organization. “I’m all about raising well-rounded kids,” she says.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into art, and then eventually how you opened CASS.
I really attribute it to my husband and the fact that he’s an artist. We traveled over in Europe for three weeks, and when we were over there, he said, we need to open something edgy and different than what people are used to in Florida. A different type of art. He came and found this space, and he brought me to it. I was like, absolutely not. [But] he was a visionary. ‘It’s going to be awesome! It’s white walls, it’s concrete.’
I was like, OK, we can do this. I run the business aspect, and he does all of the curating and the art, and that’s why it works. Our strengths are each others’ weaknesses. We did the space, and we started contacting people for our first show. It was interesting to see it grow because we were aiming high our first show. We wanted [a certain] level of people right out of the gate. A lot of people were like, no, no, you’re new. Now it’s so funny because all of those people we reached out to, we eventually worked with them, and they contact us and say, ‘Any projects? Anything going on?’ It’s kind of fun to see.
I remember opening night, a lot of people said, do you think this is going to work here? Because it is different artwork than what you see in Tampa. You see more of this style in St. Pete. For South Tampa, it is different. Everyone’s like, I don’t think this is going to work, and now six years later, it’s worked. It’s grown, and we kind of have our own model.
Why are you so passionate about sharing art with the Tampa community?
I’ve always been into the arts. My grandmother was huge into the arts — not just visual art, but performance and the theatre and music and film. My kids, it was shoved down their throats when they were little, but now they all love it, when we travel, [going to] museums, film, theatre. I just think it’s something that’s been taken out of schools in a lot of places. There’s not a lot of emphasis. Coming as a mother with four kids and seeing that kids need outlets, just like my husband needed art when he was younger, I used to sing and act when I was younger. I just feel like the community needs a space to be able to come on those openings and see stuff that maybe they would never see, or maybe they would never seek out, and we put it in front of them. I think it broadens their horizons. I’m all about opening up people’s minds.
What is your vision for the art scene in Tampa over the next five to 10 years?
I think that all the people who are here in Tampa and St. Pete, the people who had these visions, we’re all working together. We’re all having meetings together, and I love that. It should be us building on top of each others’ ideas and helping create a scene. My [goal] is always to support the local artists, but my feeling also is always bringing in national and international big artists to Tampa to create the scene to have our local artists look up to those people and also create a scene for them, so when they do show here, it’s of a certain level and caliber of people. We want to have a diverse collection here in Tampa, whether it’s different art galleries, different murals around the city. We want to make sure we don’t get stuck where it’s the same people. We want to have that variety. That variety is what creates an art scene. I think that the art scene in general all over the country, with social media, is forever changing. Moving forward, Jake and I just want to be on top of that and constantly be changing and not necessarily following the rules — sometimes breaking them. Taking that leap [is] what will continue to keep us going and to keep us motivated. You have to be motivated in this industry, and you have to be inspired.
What nonprofits/charitable organizations are you involved with?
CASS works with the Tampa Museum of Art a lot. I absolutely adore what Michael [Tomor, the museum’s executive director] has done over there. He’s really trying to put us on a map. We have such an amazing collection here in the Tampa Museum of Art, so CASS always wants to work with them and piggyback off each other and do stuff for the local artists here and also bring in national artists to expand what we’ve done. I like being involved with them.
Totally unrelated to art, I’m the director of a youth softball organization. My husband’s the coach, and I’m the director. Any free time that we have on the couch, we’re discussing softball, we’re discussing [the gallery]. I’m a firm believer in youth sports for children. Again, I’m all about raising well-rounded kids, and I feel that my kids are all like that. They want to go sit in a theatre and watch a play, and they can go get dirty on a softball or baseball field. My main thing is giving back to the younger generation. Whether it’s providing them with space to come here — we’ve had field trips here. When our artists come in, we go to the local schools and do workshops. [We prioritize] providing a safe space because, being a kid now, it’s so difficult. I see it with all of the social media and pressure of being a certain way. I feel like being a female director of a softball team and working with a male coach is a really good dynamic to provide for young girls to come and feel safe and feel like they can be themselves. They’re not there to impress anyone. They’re just there having fun and building strong self-esteem.
Everyone’s like, what do you do? I’m like, well, I do these two things that are totally opposite. I don’t want to be stuck and categorized as one [thing]. I like having that diversity in our house. For the kids, those girls come here all the time, and it’s just nice to expose them to everything.
Fill in the blank. When I’m not in the office, you can find me…
Traveling. We’re big travelers. We’re usually gone for the summer with my kids. I love my kids traveling. I’m either on an airplane or in a car going somewhere. Or I’m sitting at home cooking. I love to cook. I love having people over. I love to entertain. I’m constantly having people over at our house with their kids running around. Or you can find me on a date night with friends sipping on a good cocktail.
Who is your mentor, and why?
I don’t know that I have one mentor because I do so many different things. I have people who put me in positions to be a better person and push me. My father is a business person. I watched him grow a business and be loyal and honest. I those characteristics from him to make sure I keep those values in CASS and whatever companies I open. I model those after what I saw my father do. Then I see my brother. He always was a genius and so smart and so level-headed. He went to Harvard Law and is a dean at Vanderbilt University. I see him and think, I always want to strive to have his work ethic. I try to implement that into my everyday life. Then I see my mother. I’m a full-time mom. Four kids is a full-time job for me. They’re all different ages, ranging from 6 to 16. My mom has always said, don’t judge. Accept. Be there. Be open. Talk. All of her advice and how she raised us — and raised all the kids in my town — I’ve taken those, and that’s how I try to be a mom. From business, from being a mother, probably my family are my mentors.
Do you have a motto or philosophy you live by?
Recently I lost my grandmother, who I was extremely close with. It’s kind of opened my eyes to [the idea] that we’re not here forever. I tell my kids this all the time. Do what you can while you’re here, and make sure it matters, and make sure it’s true to yourself. That’s what I’ve been saying ever since I lost my grandmother. Make sure you do something while you’re here. Don’t be a bystander.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and from whom did you receive it?
I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever received is similar to that, from my grandmother, her looking at me and calling me kiddo and saying, ‘You’ve always marched to the beat of your own drum, kiddo. You just keep doing what you do and don’t look back and always move forward. Just keep going.’
What do you love most about Tampa?
My favorite thing about Tampa is that I grew up very close to Tampa but not here, and then I lived all over the country before we came back here. When I was little I would come over here. I remember Hyde Park when Jacobson’s was there in the ‘80s and what it looked like. Then I moved away and moved to LA and Dallas and Boston and San Diego and came back. Tampa was not what I remembered. It seemed like it had stopped growing at that point. In the 14 years that I’ve been here, it’s crazy how I’ve seen it grow. And I’ve seen it grow in a smart way. Instead of growing all in one year, we grew slowly, which attracts young people to come and want to live here. We have everything the big cities have. You might have to seek it out more and try to find it, but we have it. We’re not oversaturated here.
I think my favorite thing about Tampa is places like CASS are important. Places like Bern’s are important because it’s something that’s been here forever and it’s something people still value. We open up Ichicoro Ramen and it matters. People like it. People value everything that’s going up here, whether it’s a restaurant, whether it’s Armature Works, Sparkman Wharf, what they’re doing in Hyde Park. All of these little areas, people value because we’re not oversaturated. We travel a lot, and we go to San Diego and LA a lot over the summers. I love those places, too, but there’s so much there that you can get lost. Here, we do have so much, but it’s just more appreciated. When our artists come to town, they tell us that.
That’s one thing that always resonates with me when the artists leave. They tell me, I feel like my work is almost more valued here than it is in a bigger city. Even though more people might see it in a bigger city, here, the value of it is so much greater to us because you don’t drive around and see this every other [block]. People are excited that Meat Market opened. People are excited about Olivia opening up. People are excited about CASS’s next event and our next move. I think that there’s true value in feeling like a community. It creates a true sense of community and creates, to me, what I tell my kids, a sense of, hey, we’re doing something. People know art. CASS has contributed to that. I don’t know if that value would be there if you’re in such a big city where there’s a gallery every other place.
What is the last book you read or your favorite book?
I tend to read murder mysteries. I read all of Shari Lapena’s books [recently]. I like to escape. I like crime and mystery. I love comedy and love to laugh, but when I’m watching TV or reading, I like to escape. I like to pretend I’m an FBI agent [laughs]. In my second life, when I come back, I’ll be an FBI agent.
What is your dream vacation?
I’ve been all over, from Africa to Europe to Asia. The one place I haven’t been is Italy, which is so weird. I’ve been to South Africa and Thailand and Cambodia and Paris and London and Germany, but I’ve never been to Italy. My dream vacation is to, one summer, when my oldest daughter is in college, before she gets into the real world, I want my family to go to Italy for the summer before she graduates and do the whole summer all over and rent houses and kind of live there, as opposed to just traveling. I’m going to do it. That’s what we usually do over the summer.
I just took my other dream vacation this past summer. We did 33 states, 12,000 miles, in my car with my whole family. We left May 24 and got back August 16 and drove all over the country. It was the most amazing experience. We did not have any arguments in the car. We ate where we were supposed to eat. We pulled off, we slept in all different types of environments. When we were crossing over the Florida line, our whole family started crying because we didn’t want to come back. It was something so fun that we knew we would never be able to do again with my oldest getting older. But while she’s in college, I want to go to Italy and take all my kids and my husband.