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Collage captures people, places

Tampa's ambitious public art program has added a huge photo collage that mirrors Port Tampa's many facets.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 13, 2002

PORT TAMPA -- Bayshore Boulevard has the Wave, Family of Man and Fish on Bayshore.

Lowry Park Zoo has Sheena and Marine Madonna.

And, soon, the Port Tampa Community Center will have Windows on Port Tampa.

Pieces of public art.

The city of Tampa this week installed a huge photo collage at the entrance of the new $1.4-million community center opening next month on McCoy Street.

The photos show the people and places that make up Port Tampa's past, present and future. One captures a boy fishing off a pier. Another shows a librarian at the Port Tampa Library.

"It makes an impact as you go through the door," said Nikki Tilton, a recreation leader at the center. "Everybody will be able to relate to it."

Plant City photographer Bud Lee spent several days this summer snapping pictures of the South Tampa community. He visited churches, playgrounds, schools and any other place where people congregate in Port Tampa.

"It's a beautiful community," he said. "It was integrated long before integration. The people all get along."

By the end, he logged more than 700 images.

Next came the tough part.

Whittling the collection to 14.

"There were a lot of great photos," said Brad Cooper, a Ybor City gallery owner who helped Lee with the project. "Bud wanted to use them all."

Lee, 61, was selected among a field of artists to design the photographic artwork. Each image fits in the large windows above the community center door, creating a look of stained glass. A photo of a smiling young girl in a blue "Port Tampa" hat leaps out from the center.

"It's a wonderful representation of the community," said Robin Nigh, public art program administrator. "You've got it all in Port Tampa."

The collage marks the latest piece in Tampa's growing collection. The city started the program in 1985 to promote the arts and give area artists more exposure. In the past month, Port Tampa, Forrest Hills and Jackson Heights community centers each received works.

Over the years the city has amassed about 50 pieces, ranging from the Bayshore and zoo sculptures to murals at Sulphur Springs Park and the Tampa Police Department parking garage.

Money for the artwork comes from city construction projects. For every new community center or municipal building, 1 percent of the cost goes toward public art.

"We couldn't do it if Tampa wasn't growing and building," Nigh said.

In the past four years, the collection has nearly doubled, she said. The city adopted a long-term plan in 2000 and is working on a multiyear maintenance plan to keep items clean and sturdy.

It seems every department, from public works to sanitary sewer, wants something to jazz up their buildings and make them unique, Nigh said.

Tampa's program is among about 325 around the country and rates in the top one-third in terms of activity. Hillsborough County also has its own.

Studies have shown that cultural arts programs have more impact on economic development than sports, said Cooper, a painter.

"If a city wants to be a great city, it needs to have great public art," he said.

Nigh estimates the city has invested about $800,000 in art in the past few years. Many pieces have increased in value.

In October, crews will install benches at several TECO Line Street Car stops to celebrate the workers who helped shape Tampa. Ones in Ybor City will look like cigar factory chairs. Benches in the Channel District will have orange crates and inscriptions with famous labor quotes and poetry.

Like all public art, they aim to delight as well as inform.

"It says what the community is all about," Nigh said. "They're visual images of our values."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or

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