Ruskin artist Michael Parker is getting ready for not one, not two, but three big projects – all focused on bringing art to our SouthShore community, including the Apollo Beach Water Tower Renovation Project.
Michael Parker wasn’t born in this area, but he fell in love with it almost immediately. After being invited by one of his art professors from University of South Florida, Bruce Marsh, also a Ruskinite, to work on a Ruskin mural project in 2008 during the first annual Big Draw event. Michael knew he would eventually call this area home.
“I love it here,” Michael says. “I had such a great reception the first time I was here and got connected to so many people. I immediately felt at home,” he says.
Following the 2008 mural project, Michael completed a 2-year teaching engagement in Montana and made a bee-line straight back to Ruskin where he’s lived since.
Since his return in 2010 Michael’s focused on bringing art to our area and recruiting locals to help make it happen.
SouthShore Arts Council
Michael is the current President of the SouthShore Arts Council whose mission is to “to promote and nurture the practice of the arts in southern Hillsborough County.’
Since its formation in 2004, the SouthShore Arts Council has completed many local projects including several landmark murals.
The “Head, Heart and Hands” mural is the 2008 piece completed during the 1st annual Big Draw event to celebrate Ruskin’s 100th anniversary. Michael Parker and Dave Bush of Community Stepping Stones of Tampa Bay brought local teens and adults together to create the mural. Following a series of workshops and educational sessions on the elements needed to bring such a large piece to life participants completed the project over 4 weeks.
The final image draws from Ruskin’s ‘social idealism’ historical roots and sits on the side of the former Clarks Furniture Building.
Michael’s next mural project in 2011, in cooperation with the Ruskin Community Arts Team, was the BLT, or Best Little Town mural, which you likely see when you’re driving south on 41, just south of Shell Point Rd.
The goal of this project was to find one simple image that reflected all the things one thinks about when they think about Ruskin, nostalgic and simple. The overall concept includes a chalkboard base, the initials ‘BLT’ (yes, after the classic and simple bacon, lettuce and tomato’ sandwich) and which also stands for ‘Best Little Town’.
Today, Michael has his sights set on more community projects including the Apollo Beach Water Tower, a unique low-rider bike art projects for kids and an ambitious program to fund artists and their community art projects.
Apollo Beach Water Tower
Let’s start with the project that’s probably on many peoples’ minds – The Apollo Beach Water Tower. If you haven’t heard, it’s getting a facelift.
The new design is complete but… drum roll… cannot be revealed (just yet).
“Hillsborough County has asked us not to show the new design just yet,” Michael says. “They are finalizing permits, funding and logistics and want to be sure everything’s in order before we start showing the new design publicly,” he adds.
Michael Parker was selected by Hillsborough County, official owner of the water tower, to spearhead the renovation project specifically for Michael’s experience in involving the SouthShore community in previous large-scale art projects.
The Apollo Beach Water Tower project was no exception. Starting in May 2017, Michael began hosting a series of planning and design workshops at the SouthShore Library. The entire community was invited to attend and give their input into the new design.
“We had a solid core of community members attend each meeting,” Michael says.
Each workshop had a specific focus. Workshop #1, for example, was a brainstorming session. “I helped participants develop ideas and taught them how to think about concepts visually,” Michael says. “We learned how to turn a verbal concept into a realistic image.”
At this meeting, Michael showed participants images of over 120 water tower projects from around the world to offer inspiration and to help them think through their own design ideas for the Apollo Beach Water Tower.
Another workshop had participants get hands-on. They drew ideas on paper, collaborated and refined each others’ visions.
Michael guided them through the process of deciding various aspects. For example, one consideration of the water tower project is who will see which part of the design at which angle. In other words, what part of the design would face Ruskin, Apollo Beach or Waterset directly?
Several ideas were discussed during the workshops, including turning the AB Water Tower into a giant mood ring. This design never found legs because the coating and paint needed to create the ‘mood’ part of the design’ was only guaranteed to measure ‘mood’ for a few years (the paint actually changes color by the temperature). This project was cut from the potential list.
Another project considered having people write down what they love about SouthShore. These quotes would have then been written in small type on the water tower and a viewfinder, similar to what you’d find on the top of the Empire State Building, would be used to ‘read the quotes’. While nostalgic, this idea also didn’t find support for obvious reasons. Where would the view finder be? Where would one quote located vs. another? Would you have to pay to use the viewfinder? Etc…
The final project, as I mentioned, cannot be revealed, but is the end result of a collaboration of many community members. In early summer 2017 Michael presented three possible designs to a committee, which included at least one resident from each Southshore community (Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, Sun City Center and Wimauma) as well as representatives from the Hillsborough County Public Art Committee.
In the end the winning design won hands down, according to Michael.
Stay tuned…. the final process is in the hands of Hillsborough County. “I’m looking forward to getting started,” Michael says. “The county’s been incredibly supportive.”
Calling Community Artists
Michael Parker and the SouthShore Arts Council have also put out a ‘call to artists’ for a project called ‘SouthShore Community Arts’, which is not just one project. They’re hoping to commission several works.
“Our mission is to bring artists and funding together,” says Michael of the SouthShore Art Council’s mission, “as well as boost the creative profile of our neighborhoods.”
The SouthShore Community Arts project, funded by The Black Rock Foundation (of Burning Man Arts fame), the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, is focused on bringing innovative design to our community. “I’d love to see murals, mosaics, lights, and inspired installations that we can wrap around other elements in the community, so we can make the projects publicly visible,” Michael says. “We also want to start connecting each of the SouthShore communities’ identities.”
The project also hopes to attract artists who may have ideas, but limited experience in execution. “The opportunity is here,” Michael says. “We have funding and resources to help artists. We just need to artists to submit their ideas and proposals.”
The SouthShore Arts Council is seeking to commission public art for the South Hillsborough County Community. The SAC is requesting a letter of interest and qualifications from local and regional artists who have an interest in creating work in the public realm that is interactive, collaborative, or involves community engagement. There are no set guidelines to the nature of the work or end result. The SAC would prefer to allow the artist or artists to respond to the community or site in their concept development.
Artists do need to reside within 50 miles of Apollo Beach and have some prior experience or interest in working with the community.
For FULL proposal guidelines and details please refer to the SouthShore Arts Council website. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis.
Bend, Grind and Ride: Earn A Bike
Community members are invited to nominate kids, now, for this incredibly cool project.
The Bend, Grind and Ride program is another project funded by The Black Rock Foundation, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, South Shore Chamber of Commerce as well as individual donors.
The project, which includes a series of 3 classes, will provide 18 kids between the ages of 12-16 in the South Hillsborough County area who don’t have the means to obtain a bicycle, with an after-school program that allows them to experience hands-on learning aimed at custom bike building.
This program will expand their mind and skills while developing an appreciation for art and the creative process. Selected youth get to come together as a team to create bikes unique to their identities. They will attend an eight-week course designed to teach the basics of customizing and building “low-rider” art bikes. They will design, fabricate, order parts, build the bike and will be able to keep the finished bike at the end of the course. The class meets twice a week for two and a half hours.
Students will be taught and assisted by two teachers and one studio assistant. The program takes place at Michael Parker’s expansive art studio in Ruskin. All bike parts will be supplied.
Once the bikes are completed Michael Parker, the SouthShore Arts Council and students will host a parade to showcase their low-rider bike art creations. The SSAC is also seeking local businesses who want to showcase the completed art bikes for a period of time, so the students can have their art seen by more people.
1st Class Begins End of November. The goal is to accept 18 students over three classes.
Nominations Being Accepted Now. Contact Michael Parker at 813-846-2000 or email him at email@example.com
More Art Projects
Michael Parker’s and the SouthShore Arts Council’s work doesn’t end here. In recent years they’ve collaborated with the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce to expand the Manatee Arts Festival, supplying judges for this ‘judged’ art event and more than doubling the number of artists.
Also, if you missed the film South County, which made its debut in 2013, it’s a documentary Directed by Shawn Cheatham and Produced by Michael Parker. “This unique film is an experimental video documentary that endeavors to capture the essence of the Ruskin South Shore community by investigating the lives of its diverse and eclectic inhabitants. ” Check it out here.