Pilot art program begins in Gibsonton

By PENNY FLETCHER

Apollo Beach artist Grace McKee begins art classes at the newly renovated schoolhouse next to the Gardenville Recreation Center in Gibsonton. Debbie Robinson, recreation manager for the east side of Hillsborough County said she hopes this is only the beginning of art and music teachers coming to the parks department with ideas for creative programs. Photo provided by Archie McKee.

Apollo Beach artist Grace McKee begins art classes at the newly renovated schoolhouse next to the Gardenville Recreation Center in Gibsonton. Debbie Robinson, recreation manager for the east side of Hillsborough County said she hopes this is only the beginning of art and music teachers coming to the parks department with ideas for creative programs.
Photo provided by Archie McKee.

The days when a recreation center was a place where only athletic sports were played are over. And places strictly dedicated to senior adults to play cards and chat, far away from youngsters, are over as well.

Two things the Hillsborough County Parks Department would like to have more of are art and music, said Debbie Robinson, recreation manager for the east side of the county.

“We’re looking for art and music teachers who would bring their programs and work with students at prices we can afford,” Robinson said.

Apollo Beach artist Grace McKee has started an arts program at the newly renovated 1920s schoolhouse next to the Gardenville Recreation Center in Gibsonton.

McKee, a former schoolteacher and accomplished artist who teaches classes at MiraBay and other venues in Hillsborough County, began teaching a weekly class Feb. 18, that tentatively will run through March.

She accepts a small fee from students and donates a portion of it back to the parks department.

According to Robinson, that is one way partnerships with artists and musicians from the area could work.

“We are looking forward to more people who will do things like this,” Robinson said.

As reported in December in The Observer News, a new partnership between the county’s parks and recreation department and the department of aging services opened up a whole new world for all age groups in South County.

Oh, the after-school youth programs and all the athletic programs are still up and running full speed, but arts and culture are being added since the renovations were completed at the old Gardenville Schoolhouse, and new gymnasiums were built at both the Gardenville and Ruskin Recreation centers.

Eventually intergenerational programs (starting with arts) will be held if parks officials get their way.

That’s because new studies show intergenerational activities help all age groups — young, middle-aged and elderly.

“They learn from each other and share ideas,” said Dave Ramirez, longtime recreation program supervisor for the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. “We’re looking forward to some good intergenerational programs, starting with the arts.”

Ramirez and McKee got together and worked out a program and presented it to the parks department after Robinson expressed a desire for art and music.

Other new events have already come on board, and others are moving up to the starting gate.

As previously reported in December, the $830,000 renovation of the 1920s schoolhouse, adjoining the Gardenville Recreation Center at 6215 Symmes Road in Gibsonton, has allowed for the partnership between the two county departments to flourish.

And in Ruskin, the brand-new 7,000-square-foot gymnasium at the Ruskin Recreation Center, 901 6th St. S.E., will house programs that used to take place in the Ruskin Senior Center.

In both Gibsonton and Ruskin, children, teens, adults and senior adults will all get a chance to participate in groups geared to their own age and also across the generations.

McKee’s first art lesson was “Gyotaku,” or fish rubbing.

Gyotaku is a Japanese form of art, with the words taken from “gyo,”meaning fish, and “taku,” which means rubbing. Dating back to the 1800s, it is a form of “nature printing” that was originally used by fishermen to record their catches and later became an art form of its own. Inks or pigments are applied to the surfaces of nature’s prize including fish, leaves and flowers. This enables the artist to print exact images, including sizes and shapes.

Every Tuesday in February and March from 2:30 to 5 p.m., McKee will present another art form and work hands-on with participants. Watercolor pencil drawings and acrylics will be next. A full schedule will be found at www.gracemckee.com.

“Creativity is uplifting and therapeutic,” McKee said. “Art is a great way to express your creativity.”

Although this program is for adults, Ramirez said this is just the beginning, and he hopes to see intergenerational art classes in many mediums in the future.

“Being around youth helps older people stay young, while the elders can give experience and knowledge to the younger ones,” he added.

Besides being a gathering place for seniors to begin their day with coffee and conversation, often have a hot meal at noon and share in all kinds of activities during the day, the newly renovated schoolhouse and centers have a full schedule of after-school youth activities.

When the seniors get tired of arts, crafts and table talk, there’s always that big new gym at the recreation center next door to the renovated schoolhouse. Here, they play pickleball, but there are plenty of sports from which to choose. Penny Fletcher photo.

When the seniors get tired of arts, crafts and table talk, there’s always that big new gym at the recreation center next door to the renovated schoolhouse. Here, they play pickleball, but there are plenty of sports from which to choose. Penny Fletcher photo.

The new gymnasiums brought several new activities, including pickleball, which is fast becoming a “sport of choice” for seniors. Yoga, Zumba, Walk to be Fit, Sit & Be Fit, and other physically beneficial programs are also being offered.

“The latest is Yogalates,” said Ramirez. “It’s a 50-minute class mixing yoga and Pilates and also some meditation,” he explained. “It’s really catching on.”

There are also activities for older folks who would rather use their hands and minds instead of taxing their bodies, including puzzles, board games and crochet.

The American Sewing Guild and “Crafting for a Cause” groups work on projects to help sick and needy children and frail elderly as well.

“It all starts in parks,” is Ramirez’ favorite phrase.

To check out the location of the park nearest you and see what is available there, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/parks.

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