Condo site gets artsy touch
By SASHA TALCOTT
CLEARWATER -- A rotting banana peel sits on tufts of dry grass below one of the largest community art projects in Clearwater's history.
A 130-foot crane looms over the construction site on Clearwater Beach, hovering above a drilling rig and a white cement truck that spins slowly while workers in white hard hats stand in small groups in the dirt.
It is the last place one would expect to find art. That, organizers say, is the point.
Tampa Bay's Outdoor Arts Foundation unveiled a 14-mural, $15,000 project Wednesday, an effort to brighten up the debris, trash bins, fencing and machinery on a condominium construction site on Clearwater Beach.
Financed entirely by JMC Communities, the developer of a 200-unit condominium on Mandalay Avenue, the murals display beach scenes with sea turtles, palm trees and marine life.
"This is a great step in the right direction to dress up a construction site," said Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst. "There's no public money involved. That's a nice point about it, too."
The murals vary in size along the 315-foot chain-link fence surrounding the construction site, but they average about 5 feet high and 50 feet long. They were painted by four local artists: Michelle Mardis of Tarpon Springs, Silas Beach of Clearwater, Sandra Williams of St. Petersburg and Randall Brewer of Dunedin.
Mardis saw her murals unveiled on Wednesday. In one scene, a green alligator dances with a bald man in orange swim trunks. Turquoise waves roll along the bottom as beachgoers frolic under the blazing orange sun and light blue sky. "I tried to make it really lively and fun," Mardis said. "It's kind of like a coloring book. Everyone identifies with that."
Outdoor Arts Foundation, a six-month-old Tampa Bay organization known for painting splashy murals on Dumpsters, fire hydrants and office buildings, works to secure private funding for community art projects.
Executive director Jay Goulde said foundation members first sat down with JMC Communities in October. By December, the two groups had lined up the four artists, drawn sketches and gotten approval from the city.
"In cities like New York and Chicago, where you see art in your community, it makes people feel good," Goulde said. "Here, you don't see that. It sounds crazy, but I have this vision of having colorful art all over the place. It's only positive for the community."
The artists painted small versions of the murals; then the federation enlarged the images and put them on vinyl mesh canvas. Goulde said he got the idea from the murals of athletes that hung on Salt Lake City buildings during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The Outdoor Arts Federation plans to either auction off or exhibit the originals, Goulde said.
Mike Cheezem, president of JMC Communities, said most of the murals likely will come down at the end of the two years of construction. A few will be removed after one year.
In an interview Wednesday, Goulde drew a distinction between community art and public art. Although public art -- like the ill-fated $2.1-million fountain in the middle of the Clearwater Beach roundabout -- is financed with tax dollars, private donors pay for community art, Goulde said.
"There's often a backlash with public art from the community: 'How can you spend $150,000 on art when we have potholes in our roads and our classrooms are too small?' Community art is really about providing art for the community without taxing the community."
On Saturday, the Outdoor Arts Foundation will unveil five painted fire hydrants in Crest Lake Dog Park in Clearwater. The group is working on a 30-by-50-foot mural at Mease Countryside Hospital and a mural for downtown Clearwater.
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