The Magical World of Creative Arts Unlimited
The real magic happens right here in St. Petersburg – and the spark that ignites it emanates from long-time Old Northeast resident Roger Barganier, owner of Creative Arts Unlimited. Barganier conjures his magic from clients’ ideas that come to fruition through far-reaching concepts of design, building, and installation.
“We are more a service than a product,” says Barganier. The jaw-dropping results of Creative Arts Unlimited “services” enthrall those who experience them in the museums, healthcare facilities, corporate headquarters, hospitality venues, education settings, libraries, theme parks, nature centers, and retail environs where they’re featured.
Barganier and his team stay on the cutting edge of, as he says, “what is possible.” Not only are there dazzling feats of modern engineering and/or historical authenticity in Creative Arts Unlimited projects, but also technical marvels in automation, holographics, and emerging interactive technologies.
A professional staff of 25 gifted artists, technicians, and craftsmen labor in a 34,000-square-foot warehouse in Pinellas Park to bring Barganier’s visions to life. The inconspicuous metal building that once housed mattresses was selected for its high, 25-foot ceilings to accommodate the mammoth projects that would emerge from it since 1997.
When Barganier began Creative Arts Unlimited 30 years ago, he drummed up business at trade shows, but now, he says, “It’s word of mouth. There aren’t that many of us who do this.” The abundance and quality of his company’s projects are renowned worldwide, and the business comes to him.
“Our niche evolved over time with the talent we acquired,” says Barganier. From reconstructing the R.M.S. Titanic grand staircase for the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to designing and building a museum space for the recently remodeled J.C. Newman Cigar Factory in Ybor City, Barganier’s projects cast a spell on all who encounter them. Further adventures included Creative Arts Unlimited’s remarkable stint at the helm of the History Channel’s show Museum Men. Creative Arts was the star of the 10-episode series that brought things lost to history – like Apollo 13 and Lincoln’s hearse – to life once again.
There was a time when he branched out beyond America’s borders. “When the [Berlin] Wall came down [in 1989], projects opened up overseas,” says Barganier. After taking on a number of projects in Europe, including some at Euro Disney, he tried doing projects in the Middle East. “It’s harder to get things done over there,” says Barganier, who prefers work in the U.S., particularly in Florida.
What’s his favorite project? “My next project is always my favorite,” Barganier says. The thrill is when “I discover a technique or technology and find an application from that,” he says. “I do it for my entertainment.”
Barganier focuses in on the uniqueness of each project. “Every client is different. [We] never do the same thing twice.” When pressed further, he admitted that the Treasure Seekers: Pirates, Conquistadors and Shipwrecks exhibit Creative Arts did for the Tampa History Museum is special. “Everything we do is in it,” Barganier says. That includes conceptualizing, building, and installing a full-size pirate ship as well as incorporating holographic and interactive elements in conjunction with artifacts.
Barganier did not get to where he is by way of Hogwarts, though. He was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama and went to the Ringling School of Design in Sarasota, where he met the woman who was to become his wife. Carolyn, a native of Clearwater who was also an art student at the school, married him at the now-demolished Belleview Biltmore Hotel in 1986.
Starting in retail for Gayfers Department Store in Mobile, Barganier then moved on to work for Maas Brothers as an ad designer. Barganier’s design abilities flourished, and he began to branch out beyond retail. Ultimately, one thing led to another and, voilà! Creative Arts Unlimited was born in the 1990s.
Barganier and his wife have called the Old Northeast home since 1989. Carolyn initially convinced him to move to the neighborhood. “The Old Northeast reminded me of Mobile with that Old South flavor,” says Barganier, who particularly liked the Spanish moss hanging from the old oak trees. The couple has two grown children, Erich, 31, and Kirsten, 28.
Currently, Barganier is working on a project at the Corporate Visitors Center for Dollar General in Nashville, Tennessee and at a nature center in Naples, Florida. He says he sees the future as “very fluid,” that what happens next in his multidimensional wizarding world depends on new technology, following the money, what companies are doing, and the growth of the hospitality industry.
“We’re here and we are doing what’s unusual, strange, and interesting,” he says. “We’re doing all these national projects right here in little St. Petersburg.”