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Safety Harbor Art and Music Center to open after five years of planning

 
After years of work, the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, the brainchild of Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda, will open this weekend.
After years of work, the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, the brainchild of Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda, will open this weekend.
Published Nov. 23, 2016

SAFETY HARBOR

For the creators of the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, this weekend is a big one.

Todd Ramquist and his partner, Kiaralinda, will finally see their longtime dream come to fruition as a three-day celebration marks the nonprofit center's official opening.

"It's been a long time coming," Kiaralinda said. "But now that the doors are open, the sky is the limit."

They hope the space they've designed at 706 Second St. N will serve as an artistic hub for the Tampa Bay area, a mission that became possible when in 2011 they won $50,000 through a Pepsi community project grant program. Soon after, an anonymous donor offered another $55,000, and the rest of the funding has come from city grants, donations and fundraisers, like the annual music festival they put on, Safety Harbor SongFest.

The renovated 1921 structure is striking to say the least. But that's the way they wanted it.

It sits on a corner lot, covered in 100 pounds of mirror mosaic and colorful re-purposed material, all of which has been added by a group of more than 300 volunteers. A giant, bubble gum-pink elephant sculpture named "Flower Power Ellie" sits in front of the building as the mascot for the center, called SHAMC (pronounced SHAM-see) for short.

"People stop to see the elephant and are engaged by the building," Ramquist said. "It draws people because it is a good-feeling space."

He and Kiaralinda, who became best friends in seventh grade art class at Safety Harbor Middle School and have been creating art together for more than 30 years, say their inspiration for the space came from their many travels around the country and world. The idea to cover the building in the showstopping pieces of mirror material, for example, came from an art museum in Boston that has a similar design.

"It's a place to unite the artistic community, to give people a space to create in," Ramquist said. "It is easier for people to be creative in a creative space, and that is what we want this to be."

The original piece of the building, closer to Seventh Avenue N, will be called the ARTery and serve as a space for artists to display and sell their work. The other side of the building, a more open warehouse-type space, will be called the ODDitorium. That is where performances and artwork will take place.

Every piece of the property is colorful, much of it covered in found-object art pieces and recycled or repurposed material. The bathroom ceiling, for example, is tiled in bottle caps and container lids.

Kiaralinda says she and Ramquist plan to use the space to host music workshops, performances, improv groups and art classes for people of all ages and skill sets. A toddler art class and even a wedding ceremony have already been held there.

"We always say that 'can't' isn't a word around here, because everyone can," she said. "If not, they can come here to learn."

Heather Richardson, a friend of the couple who has played a big part in the creation of the center, says her favorite part of the years-long project has been seeing how many people came out to have a hand in making it happen.

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"Every bit of this building holds little pieces of work from a lot of people, and that is what community is," she said. "It's not about one person or another — it's taken a village."

Richardson said she hopes to see people to pop in to read a book, write a poem or play a gig. A place where things are constantly happening, she said.

On the outside of the center, words like "laugh" and "sing" and "live" and "play" are colorfully splashed into the mirrored design.

"Those are the things that are important to us," Kiaralinda said. "They are what we want people to be inspired to do here."

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.