20’x 35’, Acrylic on Stucco, 2010, Sulphur Springs Theater, Tampa, FL, 12 youth participants from Community Stepping Stones youth art program.
Spring Hill and Sulphur Springs have a very unique history. To create an image that was representative of the spirit and place seemed fairly straightforward at first. With the Youth Art Program of Community Stepping Stones, we began this project by finding residents who have spent their whole lives in the area and have seen generations come and go. We interviewed these residents informally and recorded their accounts of very specific things that happened in the neighborhood of spring hill. The spring that was used for recreational swimming by whites only and the runoff pond from an ice-making factory that was used for swimming for blacks, was a very clear account of the segregation within the area. We investigated many of these things and found that we were perhaps interviewing in a way that was revealing some sore spots within history. What we really wanted to know was how families were coexisting and what strengths the neighborhood used to survive. So the questions changed.
Education was a binder for the minority population in this neighborhood. Parents made it mandatory for children to be educated. Even beyond school, and equally as important, was the education that happened when community members would teach the younger population essential survival skills. Cooking, working on vehicles and taking care of your family members became a part of the education system within the threads of family and friends. This is what we found embodied the spirit of the time and place and that it was also something that is far removed today in the very same place.
We realized that there were almost no images of spring hill from a historical vantage point, and digging for images of this area proved to be somewhat fruitless. How would we begin to build an image from the accounts that we had heard? Was it possible to break down the stories that we gathered from the residents to single words that represented the spirit of life then, to be passed on to the residents of today? We felt it was not only possible but also appropriate. What we had were powerful stories that were able to give us one-word descriptions of the morals inherent in everyday life then, and hopefully now and the future. They felt like (these things) were what they had to give in order for their families to survive. We feel that this imagery that arose through stories and lessons were far more important than the landmarks and historical timeline of the neighborhood.
Taking our own photographs that illustrated some of the stories we heard then weaving them into the words that we had chosen proved to make a striking and very rich visual experience. This particular location for the painting was not going to hold a traditional image anyway. The image is specifically designed for this site and is meant to become a part of and compliment the place and landscape. Subtle color shifts and the optical shift from text to image were carefully considered.
The end result is a contemporary representation of all the positive things that the elders of this neighborhood would like to pass on to future generations. What an exciting concept: that the youth of today are passing on their elders’ positive lessons, through public art, to the future in hopes that spirit will survive.