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Safety Harbor reflected in exterior of art and music center (w/video)

Residents and local and national artists have been helping design the exterior of the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center by using recycled glass and tile to create mosaics on 240 3- by 5-foot panels.
Published Feb. 21, 2014

SAFETY HARBOR — The sun will never set over Safety Harbor now that the mosaic paneling is going up on the outside of the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center.

Last week, a glass and tile mosaic sunrise and sunset were affixed atop the east-facing and west-facing facades of the 30-foot-tall, prefab metal building just off Main Street across from the fire station.

The rest of the building's exterior will be covered by mosaic panels created by members of the community as well as artists both local and from around the country.

The Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, or SHAMc, is the brainchild of local artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda. Inspiration for the center came from the small private concerts they frequently host at their Safety Harbor home, a fantasyland of multicolored walls and lawn art they call "Whimzey."

The couple said the concerts became so popular, they would field calls from people they didn't know asking to attend the private shows at Whimzey, so the artists decided to make a performance space for the community.

All the glass and tile used for the mosaics is recycled and donated, and Ramquist picks it up by the truckload from vendors all over Pinellas County who would otherwise throw it away.

"We're keeping it out of the trash," Ramquist said.

Once the material makes it back to Whimzey, Jan Stiffler gets to work cutting the glass into shapes.

Stiffler has been cutting glass since she was a child. "My dad would give us things to play with when we were younger and I would get a pile of glass and a glass cutter," she said.

She cuts it into different shapes and separates the pieces into buckets. Then, residents from around the community come to Whimzey and glue pieces in whatever abstract patterns they like onto siding panels. Volunteer grouters finish off the mosaics.

"The building is made of reflective glass and the community can see themselves in the building," said SHAMc volunteer Janet Lee Stinson, both literally, through the reflection, and figuratively, as the community designed the building.

Sometimes artist-friends of the couple create panels with a theme, like one that features a mermaid.

The space will be an open "art park" for the public and artists to come whenever they would like to perform, practice and think. It will also be reservable for larger functions.

"Being in a creative space, it's easier to be creative than in a sterile place like a community center," Ramquist said.

And a creative space it is. The cubic structure stands on a concrete slab and is designed for multipurpose use. The steel beams shaping the walls and roof remain exposed, allowing for easy hanging of art. Beth Brier of the Dance & Circus Arts of Tampa Bay said she wants to suspend swings and circus equipment from the rafters.

SHAMc has raised about $200,000, Ramquist said. The first $100,000 came in the form of a $50,000 grant it won last year from the Pepsi Refresh Project and from an anonymous donor who matched the grant. Ramquist said the remaining $100,000 came from small donations, mostly of $5 and $10.

Donors can also paint a plank of the wooden construction fence surrounding the site — $10 per plank or three for $25. The fence itself is a colorful work of art with each picket a different picture.

The center is behind the Rigsby House on the corner of Seventh Avenue N and Second Street N. Kiaralinda and Ramquist said they bought the house 15 years ago with the intention of transforming it into an art studio.

Their plan, eventually, is to extensively renovate the interior of the Rigsby House to create a gallery with movable walls. The house has direct access to the new structure, so, when completed, SHAMc will boast both gallery and performance space.

The mosaic-clad building is scheduled to be completed by April, in time for the Safety Harbor Singer and Songwriter Festival, although Ramquist said the project won't ever end.

"It'll never be done, it'll be organic," he said.

Josh Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155. On Twitter @JSolomonTIMES.

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