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Artists win grant to create Safety Harbor cultural center

SAFETY HARBOR — It looks like this town will be getting a new arts and music center, courtesy of Pepsi and an anonymous benefactor.

A couple of artists who have been spearheading the project, Todd Ramquist and his wife Kiaralinda, have learned that they won a $50,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project, a philanthropic program that funds community projects.

To top it all off, a patron of theirs, who wishes to remain unnamed, sweetened the pot with a pledge of an additional $55,000 for the future cultural hub.

"They (the donor) said they weren't going to be outdone by Pepsi," said Kiaralinda, 50, who goes by her first name only. "We're just thrilled. It's so exciting, but it's been a nerve-wracking month as well. We're glad it's over and that we won."

The money will be used to expand and revamp the aqua-colored home they own at 706 Second St. N in Safety Harbor's downtown. They bought it 10 years ago and until recently had been renting it out.

Architect Grant Genova is overseeing the makeover of the 1921 structure known as the Rigsby House. It's going to be called the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center.

Plans, already approved by city commissioners, call for a second story and a pavilion devoted to exhibitions and performances. The structure will more than double in size to 2,329 square feet.

Ramquist, 51, said they'll break ground sometime this fall. He expects the center to be open within a year, perhaps sooner.

The privately funded, nonprofit venture is intended to be a cultural meeting place, a venue for local artists and a dynamic piece of art itself. Kiaralinda calls it "an organic community resource center for the arts," to feature happenings, concerts, installations, exhibitions and workshops.

This was the third time the couple entered the soft drink giant's online contest, which doles out dozens of grants at the $50,000, $25,000, $10,000 and $5,000 levels for those community projects that bring in the most votes.

The first time around, the couple's efforts were stalled by a computer glitch; the second time, they just didn't have the votes. By the time they went into the August challenge, they had gained enough support to garner over a quarter-million votes, finishing ninth place in the top 10 at the $50,000 level.

The couple said they don't have any "highfalutin' budget" planned but say that the new center will be built using as many recycled items as possible and with sweat equity from artists and the community.

"We'll have the best design for the least amount of money," Ramquist said.

Artists win grant to create Safety Harbor cultural center 09/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 7:01pm]
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