CLEARWATER — The kids in the Lake Belleview community are using their artistic talent to brighten the community and create new relationships among its residents.
More than 50 volunteers, for the most part elementary and middle school students, have been painting colorful dolphins, seahorses, and other sea life on concrete storm drains, writing such mottos as, “Be the Change”; “Only Rain down the Drain”; and “Rivers Drain to the Sea.”
It’s just one part of the community art effort dubbed “Murals on MLK,” the main street through the Lake Belleview neighborhood.
“This project serves as a platform to connect neighbors in the community,” said Maranda Douglas, a Clearwater resident who recently graduated from the University of South Florida with a business degree. “Oftentimes the kids go to the rec center and play basketball or go home and play their games. This gives everyone the opportunity to come outside and color the community, and parents, too, to meet each other for the first time.”
Douglas, executive director of Family & Youth Initiative Community Partnership Inc. (FYI Inc.), founded the nonprofit in 2015 to “provide access to resources that empower families in at-risk and under-served communities.”
She got good news Jan. 16, when the city’s Art & Design Board approved her request for $8,500 for the painting of a large mural on the side of 909 Howard Street. The canvass is a 100-foot-long wall owned by property management company HSW Associates.
The wall mural is part of her continuing program to paint wall murals, storm drains, crosswalks — even an entire intersection — along South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
FYI Inc., located within the Lake Belleview community, has developed a series of what it calls “public art interventions” that enhance residents’ involvement in the neighborhood in which they live, Douglas said.
“It doesn’t matter your artistry level at all, just the commitment to yourself, to be part of something greater than yourself, to be part of your community’s history,” she said. “It’s a chance for the people of the neighborhood to meet each other for the first time.”
Before undertaking the monthslong transformation of the neighborhood through art — which launched in September and wraps up in February — FYI volunteers performed a needs assessment in the form a community questionnaire. It was posted on Facebook for online participants as other volunteers did a little in-person canvassing in the neighborhood. The community’s response to the survey drove the painting projects, Douglas said.
Of the 86 neighbors who responded to the statement, “I feel connected socially to my community,” fewer than half (45.3 percent) said they did not feel connected.
“This was the driving force for the entire project,” Douglas said.
When asked about flooding after rains, 25 percent of the community members said flooding was a concern. That gave way to the painting of storm drain murals. Because a majority of residents also worry about a lack of interconnected sidewalks, FYI volunteers went to work painting crosswalks with colorful expressions of common ground. Finally, the questionnaire revealed that a vast majority of residents in Lake Belleview are interested in arts and crafts.
Chris Hubbard, Clearwater’s cultural affairs coordinator, helps citizens like Douglas and other community groups apply for grants and permission to express their Clearwater neighborhoods. He helped FYI with its funding request through the Arts & Design Board.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to reimagine the community and create a new perspective for multi-generational use,” Hubbard said of the Murals on MLK project.
If there is going to be a centerpiece to the beautification and painting of Lake Belleview community, it might be the painting of the entire intersection of Woodlawn Street and South M.L.K. Jr. Avenue. She hopes the students begin painting it when the kids are on spring break.
“We are going to paint the street, intersection painting, everything inside the four crosswalks,” said Juliahna Green, neighborhood services coordinator for the City of Clearwater. She performs neighborhood outreach on key city initiatives. In this case, she works with Douglas and her volunteers, coordinating city resources when she can.
The design for the intersection is not yet final, but youngsters are still handing in examples for FYI’s review.
“We are still collecting designs from the kids,” Douglas said, “but it will link the beach life and the civic life of the city. A crescent wave mosaic with dolphins has been suggested, but many ideas have been suggested.”
The intersection will be painted when students are out of public school for spring break, Douglas said.
The arts board funds other, unrelated urban art projects, such as the $9,000 grant the council approved for the Clearwater Arts Alliance to paint art on some of the city’s traffic signal boxes.