Kelly Stevens says she spends half of her time trying to explain that Nude Nite is a legitimate art event.
"We are such a repressed culture that the mere mention of the word 'nude' brings a laugh," says Stevens who started Nude Nite 10 years ago in Orlando.
But she doesn't mind if people have fun.
"I love the arts, but I've found that you can't get many people out to an art event unless you make it fun," she adds.
The first Orlando Nude Nite was held in a bar, but the event has grown into what Orlando Sentinel
visual arts writer Terry Hummel calls "the single biggest local art happening of the year."
Stevens says it has become so successful she wanted to bring it to Tampa's Ybor City.
More than 180 works of art featuring nudes will be on display Thursday through Saturday night in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse at 1925 E. Second Ave. in Ybor City. Many will be for sale and priced from $100 to $5,000.
"The goal is to celebrate the human body, educate people about art and to raise awareness about breast cancer," she says. All proceeds from beverage and art sales benefit The Artery Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports breast cancer education.
The exhibits range from the serious to the outrageous. On the serious side is New Jersey sculptor Mary Ellen Sherl's traveling "Mamorial" featuring 13 cast molds of human chests of breast cancer survivors.
Sherl invited breast cancer survivors - women and men - from across the country to cast their chests to "celebrate survival" (www.mamorial.org).
"Women's bodies are fetishized throughout pop culture. "Mamorial" invites women - and men - whose bodies have been ravaged by this disease to reclaim their bodies," the artist says.
On the lighter side, is the "naked sushi" station where chefs prepare and serve sushi on the nude body of a model.
Tampa photographer Richard Strawn, who has a studio in Ybor, says he was skeptical when he first heard about Nude Nite.
"I don't want to be involved with anything pornographic so I went to the Orlando Nude Nite held on Valentine's Day, and I was impressed," he says. "It's a classy event."
Strawn specializes in recreating pinup portraits from the 1940s and 1950s.
"There are not nudes," he says, "These are for women of all sizes and ages who want to dress up like Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable or Bettie Page and have a sexy photograph."
Strawn says he will be demonstrating his pinup style during Nude Nite.
Stevens says artists from the Hyde Park Art Center also will be giving demonstrations of sketching nude models.
In addition to nude paintings, nude sculptures, nude photography, fine art, metal and abstracts, there will be tongue-in-cheek burlesque shows, live models posing for do-it-yourself sketches, actors that create "living sculptures," body painters, and nude art that makes political and social statements on a wide range of issues from climate change to nuclear weapons.
Stevens says guests also can become graffiti artists without the permanent defacement of buildings or fear of arrest at the Urban Light Works exhibit that offers a laser light tool for "painting" words and drawings on a wall.
Hours are 6 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday. Admission is $20 (cash only) and participants must be 21 and older. Tickets are available at the door. All proceeds from beverage and art sales benefit The Artery Inc.