More community leaders see a Ruskin renaissance in the making
By MELODY JAMESON
RUSKIN — This community a multi-media arts destination for connoisseurs?
A locale attracting artists in residence of many stripes – painters, sculptors, graphics specialists, textile, glass, wood and paper experts, theatrical performers, musicians, writers, photographers?
A place for budding artists to apprentice or to visit for workshops and tutoring by more established creative personalities.
The reality draws closer every day, say those involved with participating organizations such as the SouthShore Arts Council, the Ruskin Community Development Foundation (RCDF) and the Big Draw directors.
It is, after all, not a totally new notion, they will emphasize. Ruskin long has been the home base of several established artists – internationally acclaimed painter Fred Rothenbush, award-winning graphics artist Mariella Smith, college level art instructors and artists Bruce Marsh and Dolores Coe, for example. Moreover, there are already a number of published fiction and non-fiction writers in the area as well as a gradually developing live theatre presence and professional musicians from classical to country.
Then, there are the community’s environmental credentials – a waterfront settlement bounded by both a freshwater river and a saltwater bay retaining a village-like ambiance rich in historical and archeological lore offering the kind of inspiration complementing many artistic endeavors.
One sign of the expanding arts scene locally is the community’s Big Draw Studio. Initially open only for the annual events in October, the studio now is the setting for new classes throughout January. Another is continuing work by the “Firehouse” committee, composed of RCDF, arts council and Ruskin –SouthShore Chamber of Commerce representatives on the business plan that is projected to underpin conversion of the local fire station to a community arts and cultural center in the heart of Ruskin later this year.
It might be that one forecasts the other, says Mike Parker, a visiting community artist and muralist who led the first Big Draw community mural development in 2008 and who has returned to live and work in Ruskin. It is hoped that the future arts and cultural center currently dubbed simply “The Firehouse” can both incubate budding arts businesses and become a cultural and arts focal point when it is vacated by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue later this year, he notes. Local firefighters and emergency rescue personnel are to move to a new station on College Avenue at 4th Street when it is completed in late spring or early summer.
Meanwhile, in the Big Draw Studio, located on U.S. 41 in the commercial district, classes in drawing with an emphasis on portraits are being conducted every Monday during January between 6 and 8 p.m., by Ariel Baron-Robbins, a University of South Florida Masters graduate. The per-class fee is $30.
On Thursdays through January, from 6 to 8 p.m., Parker, who obtained his undergraduate degree in painting at the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth and a Masters in painting at the USF, is leading a class titled “The Mechanics of Color.” The fee for each class session is $25.
In addition, two eight-hour workshops have been scheduled on successive Saturdays. This Saturday, January 15, the subject is “Perceptions” or using drawing to alter one’s perceptions in order to see the world in another way, Parker points out.
On Saturday, January 22, the day is dedicated to “CoLaborating” which involves creating a work composed of unusual objects such as pieces of bamboo and chicken wire and flashlight batteries, along with other “reusable” items, the artist adds.
The fees for the workshops are $65 and $85, respectively. Registrations are accepted online at www.ruskinbigdraw.com or by contacting Parker at 813-846-2000,
On the last Saturday of the month, January 29, the arts council will be initiating the next community art project and looking for “outside the box” suggestions from the community at large, Parker suggests. “We want people to drop in at about 1 PM and share their ideas for art that demonstrates their sense of this place; their concepts of what it is that we like here.” Anyone wishing to attend can RSVP online using the big draw website or calling Parker.
In previous years, the community art projects were the realistic wall mural depicting Ruskin historical aspects on the south end of the former Clark’s Furniture building behind the plaza and the more avant garde tropical abstract design covering the Evan Mixon dome structure which now hosts the resale outlet benefiting the Mary Martha House shelter for women.
The objective this year, Parker says, is a Ruskin public art piece “as unique as the place.”
Efforts also are underway to maintain the Big Draw Studio in its present location beyond January, notes Nina Tatlock, textiles artist and a member of the Big Draw board of directors. Discussions are ongoing with the building’s owner to keep the studio in place, she says, and the outlook is “favorable.”
As long as the studio is open, local artists can rent space within it to pursue their own work at a nominal fee, with a significant discount given young artists in order to encourage them to exercise their talents, Parker says.
Yet another sign of the fledgling but growing arts scene is the 2011 Big Draw calendar capturing on its pages art in the making and art completed from the three previous Big Draw events. The collectible calendars are available for $10 at several locations, including the Ruskin-SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, the Big Draw Studio and M&M Printing.
All in all, the changing Ruskin arts scene promises a “huge difference in the quality of life” locally, asserts Bruce Marsh, artist, teacher and a member of the “Firehouse committee.” Through the studio and the “firehouse” center, he adds, the “entire region can be served with a whole range of cultural opportunities” that won’t require travel north to Tampa or south to another county.
Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson