Tampa Bay's National Historic Landmark District

A Space Thriving Among the Dead

A Space Thriving Among the Dead

Life is more fun outside the box. If you push the boundaries of that box, then you may end up discovering something about the world or yourself that others may never have the ability to see and comprehend in a million years.

Liz Furlong used to live inside the box.  Furlong rated the corporate world as boring and stagnant. Her divergent way of thinking and ‘let’s just do it’ attitude inspired her to kick down the walls of a monotonous domain and leap into a realm that challenges her heart and mind on a daily basis.  She has always loved animals and has always loved art. The combination of the two along with her spontaneous process has led to the establishment of a space unlike any other.

“People always enter the store and ask me what it’s all about. In response, I tell them that they have to figure that out for themselves. Art is open to interpretation and can tell different stories depending on an individual’s life experiences,” said Furlong.

As you walk down 7th Avenue in Ybor, you will experience a sense of old-world charm. On the other side of every glass window display tells a different story. Each one seems more opposite than the next. At a glance you may see a woman sipping her coffee, a young man being branded with ink, or a tourist purchasing long thick brown cigars. There is one place on 7th Avenue where you’re guaranteed to make eye contact as you walk by…and its one staring contest you will definitely lose. The sparked curiosity rattling your brain will entice you to go inside.

When you turn the knob of the tall black doors of Dysfunctional Grace Art Company, you will continue to be greeted unexpectedly. You’ll shockingly enter into a complex world with an eclectic mix of artistic creations. The space is flourishing with metaphors and deeper connections. Dysfunctional Grace Art Company is located at 1903 East 7th Avenue in Historic Ybor City’s National Landmark District. The gallery is littered with a unique collection of mounted taxidermy, vintage antiques, animal skulls, glimmering jewelry, photographs, crucifixes, and other creative masterpieces that cannot be specifically categorized. Challenging all of your senses, the more you look and think, the more you are sure to find. The displayed art and taxidermy recognizes the beauty associated with death, which inevitably comes after our hearts stop pumping blood through our veins.  A coffin, the symbol of death, sits in the center of the store, while also lying at the heart of the store’s philosophy.

Dysfunctional Grace is a company that has organically grown and expanded since its inception nine years ago. Liz Furlong opened Dysfunctional Grace with her colleague Daniel James, who is also the owner of The Bobby Pin Hair Gallery located at 1801 East 5th Avenue in Ybor City. Originally opening their store in St. Pete, Furlong and James decided they needed to expand to a larger space. Furlong stated that she knew the location on 7th Avenue was perfect from the moment she visited the beautiful brick building.

“We toured the location on a Wednesday afternoon and I couldn’t believe how many people were out and about in the District. The streets were lively and I knew immediately that it was the perfect destination to reveal our work,” said Furlong.

The success of the store along with the growing number of items occupying its shelves, drove the owners to expand their store into the adjacent space.

Both owners have a deeply-rooted respect for animals whether they are dead or alive, which is demonstrated profoundly throughout the space. The specimens they acquire have already passed by means of natural causes, other animals or by accident.

“Even the broken vintage mounts we find are beautiful. When other people can no longer see that beauty, we give those animals a new life. We believe that they should be celebrated beyond their passing,” said Furlong.

The idea of dying scares many people. There is an unknown eeriness and fear associated with its eventuality, which is why people ignore its looming inevitability. Art can be a convoluted way for some to accept and embrace death, while also igniting a fire within us to fully enjoy our lives and the gift of each day.

Furlong commented saying, “It doesn’t matter if you leave here happy, sad, screaming, crying, or mad. We want you to leave here feeling something…anything at all.”

Written by Anthony Kershner