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Sulphur Springs could become an 'avenue of the arts'

Lakeema Matthew helps her sister, Janecia, spray paint a leaf onto a bench created by the arts/ecology organization, Community Stepping Stones, in Sulphur Springs this past summer.

Times files (2009)

Lakeema Matthew helps her sister, Janecia, spray paint a leaf onto a bench created by the arts/ecology organization, Community Stepping Stones, in Sulphur Springs this past summer.

SULPHUR SPRINGS — It's an unassuming street, only about 10 blocks long and lined with frame houses and nondescript duplexes.

It might seem an unlikely candidate to become an avenue of the arts. But thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the work of a neighborhood arts organization, that's exactly the moniker River Cove Street could some day earn.

The organization behind the idea is Community Stepping Stones, a 5-year-old nonprofit that offers arts programs and activities, mostly aimed at young people in the neighborhood. The group recently received the $10,000 NEA grant to further develop the arts in Sulphur Springs.

"We're starting with the concept of turning River Cove into an 'avenue of the arts' ," said Ed Ross, Community Stepping Stones founder and artistic director. "Ten thousand dollars isn't enough to do that, but a grant from the NEA is like a stamp of approval on a national level."

In other words, he said, the NEA grant could make it easier for Community Stepping Stones to get more grants for the project from other organizations.

It's too early to tell exactly what the first step in the River Cove project will be, Ross said. Probably, it will start with murals on the sides of the buildings at Mann-Wagnon Memorial Park, at the west end of River Cove Street. Community Stepping Stones, another arts organization and a Sulphur Springs museum have recently been given permission to move into the buildings in the park, which used to house the county parks and recreation offices.

Young people from Community Stepping Stones have some experience with murals. A few years back they created the scenes of neighborhood life on the racquetball courts at Rowlett Park.

"When they did those murals, it showed them that they were important, that they were significant parts of this community," Ross said.

The youngsters from Community Stepping Stones will decide exactly what the new murals will depict, Ross said. He's hoping it will be a tribute to the area's history and cultural heritage.

Ross said he thinks the NEA awarded the grant to Community Stepping Stones because it focuses simultaneously on creating art, providing arts education, nurturing young people and enhancing its community. All four will converge in the new mural project, he said.

Actually, Community Stepping Stones had already started creating public art on River Cove before the NEA grant. In River Cove Park, on the river at the east end of River Cove Street, University of South Florida graduate art student Victoria Skelly works with Community Stepping Stones to create art that will beautify the park and also slow erosion and provide natural ways to filter pollutants out of the water that feeds into the river. She has already created a painted canopy over a small spring in the park. Much of the remaining installation will consist of landscaping, Ross said.

The mural on the west end and the park on the east will be bookends for the avenue of the arts, Ross said. In between, at least until Community Stepping Stones can secure more grant money for future avenue of the arts projects, art will be provided by Seeds in the Springs.

Seeds in the Springs started as a Community Stepping Stones program but has become a separate nonprofit. Volunteers from Seeds in the Springs plant vegetables or ornamental gardens in neighborhood yards, in exchange for a resident's promise to keep the street and public areas in front of his or her house clean. They've already completed gardens in at least two homes on River Cove.

Marty Clear can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Sulphur Springs could become an 'avenue of the arts' 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 3:30am]

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