There’s a picture of a plain white wall on the smart board in Stacy Little’s classroom. “Would anyone ever talk about this wall?” Little asks a room full of second grade students at Forest Lakes Elementary School. “Noooo,” the kids say in unison.
These second grade students are just a small subset of those who worked together to create a new mural at Forest Lakes Elementary School in Oldsmar this school year. “They all touched it. Every single kid,” says Heather Richardson, the local artist who worked with Forest Lakes students and staff on the mosaic mural. While working on the piece, Little says she got to work with faculty members she’d never met before. “It’s been a really nice way to bring people together,” she says.
When I visited the school, the 15-foot-long mural sat on table tops in the back of Little’s classroom. The mural reflects an extraordinary effort on the part of Stacy Little and Heather Richardson. Including the kids’ efforts, the mural probably took “about 120 hours” to complete, Richardson tells us.
Each kid made a ceramic tile for the mural-sized mosaic with Little’s help. Richardson tells me they used cookie cutters to create tiles in the shape of seahorses, hearts, seashells, sea turtles, and starfish. Mixed with these are oval-shaped tiles with students’ and teachers’ names pressed into them. For these, Little had Forest Lakes students and staff press alphabet noodles into wet clay. When you fire the pieces, the noodles burn up and you are left with their impression. (One of those oval-shaped tiles was made by my mother, who teaches reading part-time at Forest Lakes.)
With all the tiles in place, the mural depicts a group of dolphins — the school’s mascot — with “Forest Lakes” spelled out in white tiles below.
The Forest Lakes mural is one of many school art projects funded by the Pinellas County Schools Referendum. In July 2018, we saw Ya La’ford working with Fairmount Park Elementary School students in south St. Pete, completing a mural in the school’s courtyard funded in part by the Referendum.
This year, local artist Heather Richardson worked with art teachers to bring mosaic murals to five local elementary schools in north Pinellas. The art teachers typically contact her directly through the Safety Harbor Music and Art Center’s ARTreach program, Richardson tells me. It started with Clearwater’s Leila Davis Elementary School in 2016, then Palm Harbor’s Ozona Elementary and Curtis Fundamental in Dunedin.
“I feel like we’ve been doing ARTreach our whole lives,” says SHAMc cofounder and board member Kiaralinda, “It just never got named anything.”
Last November, Kiaralinda and fellow cofounder Todd Ramquist started calling their community art projects “ARTreach.”
Since starting ARTreach, Kiaralinda and Ramquist are already seeing positive results. “It turns the city more vibrant,” says Ramquist, “We just finished a mural that was 150 foot long that 15 different artists painted ("Take a Walk on the Wild Side"). And now, every time I drive past it, there are people walking down an area that would never have any foot traffic whatsoever. That’s always good.”