'SPACEcraft’ art containers encourage Tampa Bay to get outside and unwind

Read, grow, make and play at St. Pete's Bear Creek and Walter Fuller parks.

click to enlarge Exploring wire sculpture during an activity led by visiting artist Brandy Stark in Lealman Neighborhood Park, March 2021. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
Exploring wire sculpture during an activity led by visiting artist Brandy Stark in Lealman Neighborhood Park, March 2021.

As COVID-19 numbers creep up, we’re looking for more stuff to do outside. Bonus points if it’s relaxing because life is stressful these days.

Enter Spacecraft (stylized “SPACEcraft”)—Mitzi Jo Gordon, Carrie Boucher and Bridget Elmer’s traveling art project. Don’t get too excited by the name though, Spacecraft won’t be flying you to the moon, where there’s no COVID, this fall. The acronym stands for Social Practice Activating Creative Environments.

So get that rocket image out of your head. Instead, imagine two metal shipping containers in a park; one is blue and green with the words “Read” and “Grow” on it, and the other is red and yellow for “Make” and “Play.” As their labels suggest, these are places where folks can gather, make arts and crafts, grow plants, play games, share stories, and make music together. The shipping containers are the creative environments. And ever since Spacecraft’s launch in Oldsmar in July 2020, they’ve been popping up in city and county parks all over Pinellas County.

The bright, colorful containers act as beacons, drawing people in before they even know what they’re walking up to.

click to enlarge SPACEcraft containers at their first-ever home in Oldsmar, Florida. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
SPACEcraft containers at their first-ever home in Oldsmar, Florida.

"They know it's for them," Boucher said in a March 2021 interview for Creative Pinellas. "If it were just a single color and there was nothing on it, people would think it was park storage or something like that. But there's something about two colors and big words on the outside that tells people it's for them…It calls to them."

Spacecraft team member Liv Scully greets newcomers with a brief description of what it’s about: “Welcome to SPACEcraft. We are a traveling art project. Essentially, we took these shipping containers and turned them into outdoor classrooms, or places to do cool things.” She then introduces today’s programming and encourages guests to explore the space.

“I find that people get more excited once they see that all of this is for them,” Scully told CL. “That's what I tell them. I say, 'Here's what we're doing today, but we also have this entire space that's all for you, so anything you see inside, feel free to explore.’”

Pretty much any time you go to visit Spacecraft, there’s something to play with. At the very least, there’s the Lego wall at Make/Play and magnetic poetry at Read/Grow. But when the weather is good, there are fun extras like live music, unique crafting opportunities, and gardening workshops. Some of these extras, like Open Studio and seed planting, come courtesy of Spacecraft team members and others come courtesy of visiting artists. Gordon figures she’s worked with about 25-30 different visiting artists over the past year, and they’re always looking for more.

Haley Smith taught visitors how to make paper using recycled pulp from newspapers and blue jeans in Oldsmar, then how to stitch that paper into handmade journals in Lake Seminole Park. Noelle Stillman led nature photography and plant printing activities in Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. Outspoken Rhino created a chalkboard mural, and Brandy Stark introduced kids to wire sculpting in Lealman Park. And Two Happy Ukers and Giving Tree Music brought ukulele concerts and guided drum circles to several Pinellas County locations.

SPACEcraft added four more visiting artists at their most recent deployment in Gulfport’s Clymer Park—Tampa Bay singer/songwriter Emily Turnage, ceramic artist Calan Ree, and musical artists Jim Morey and Sommer Joy.

click to enlarge Visitors enjoy live music by Emily Turnage, a local performer, at the Make/Play SPACE in Gulfport's Clymer Park, July 2021. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
Visitors enjoy live music by Emily Turnage, a local performer, at the Make/Play SPACE in Gulfport's Clymer Park, July 2021.

Ree, Morey and Joy often work at the same time, with Ree leading a pinch pot or mandala-making activity while Morey and Joy create a freeform musical experience with vibrating bowls and a trumpet. “It’s meant to be a meditative experience in the environment,” says Gordon. “It was really wonderful to see how people responded to their work in Gulfport in different ways. Some people would sit and work on mandala art while the music was playing in the background. Some people were laying down on the blankets and just staring up at the trees and letting the experience wash over them. We had some of our younger visitors coming and wanting to collaborate. They would grab a rain stick or a percussion instrument and kind of play along. I definitely recommend coming out to visit them."

When they don’t have a visiting artist for a particular session, Spacecraft team members host an open studio.

"The open studio put on by SPACEcraft's lead facilitators is always a big hit,” Scully told CL. “We usually pull out any materials that we have—papers, collage, glitter, googly eyes, Model Magic—all the fun stuff that either adults don't have or kids aren't always allowed to play with. They always love that free range to create with anything they see.”

This creative exploration—for both visiting artists and guests—is what Spacecraft is all about. It’s also one of the things visiting artist Calan Ree likes most about the traveling art project.

“The last time I was there I found a handful of paper bags and drew collage materials out,” Ree told CL. “We ended up with about five or six kids really getting into it and making super elaborate paper bag puppets—they were amazing. I think I want to do that again."

As with all groundbreaking art projects, Spacecraft isn’t always easy to describe. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and it’s always evolving. Words don’t really cut it here. The best way to understand is to visit yourself. 

"If you're looking for a place to be creative, just come and check it out,” says Scully. “That's the best advice I have for anyone. Come be a part of it. You'll understand it when you're there, just how special it is."

This week, the Make/Play container heads to Bear Creek Park after a successful run in Gulfport’s Clymer Park thanks to partnerships with the Gulfport Arts Center and the City of Gulfport. On the same day, Read/Grove moves from Lealman Neighborhood Park to Walter Fuller Park.

We don’t have the full schedule yet, but here are highlights to look forward to in the first two weeks Spacecraft is in St. Petersburg’s Bear Creek Park (60th St. N & 1st Ave. N) and Walter Fuller Park (7901 30th Ave. N). All programing happens from 5 p.m.-7 p.m—see a full list below.

click to enlarge Family groups playing on the SPACEcraft Lego wall at Highlander Park in Dunedin, May 2021 - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
Family groups playing on the SPACEcraft Lego wall at Highlander Park in Dunedin, May 2021

  • Saturday, Aug. 21 Jim Morey and Sommer Joy bring their sound bath experience to Bear Creek Park.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 25 Florist Kali Rabaut of Sunrise Florals conducts a seed planting workshop in Walter Fuller Park. “Everybody will get to make their own seed-starting block made out of peat and compost,” Gordon told CL. “And then we’ll have different Florida hardy or Florida native seeds that can be planted and taken home.”
  • Thursday, Aug. 26 Brittany Taft brings her community circle painting to Bear Creek Park. “Everybody who comes to that session gets to contribute to a large mural on paper that is comprised of dot and circle shapes,” says Gordon. “So each person is encouraged to add their dots and their circles to be part of the larger pattern.”
  • Friday, Aug. 27 Sunya Masizame provides a relaxing instrumental response to the natural environment in Walter Fuller Park using looping and flute sounds.
  • Saturday, Aug. 28 Calan Ree joins Jim Morey and Sommer Joy in Bear Creek Park.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 1 Brittany Taft leads a book-making activity at the Read/Grow space in Walter Fuller Park.
  • Thursday, Sept. 2 Giving Tree Music leads a guided drum circle in Bear Creek Park.
  • Friday, Sept. 3 Sunya Masizame returns to Walter Fuller Park.
  • Saturday, Sept. 4 Calan Ree, Jim Morey and Sommer Joy return to Bear Creek Park.

Follow SPACEcraft on Instagram or Facebook (@explorespacecraft) for weather cancellations, schedule updates, and to find out what Pinellas County parks they’re headed to next.

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About The Author

Jennifer Ring

Jen began her storytelling journey in 2017, writing and taking photographs for Creative Loafing Tampa. Since then, she’s told the story of art in Tampa Bay through more than 200 art reviews, artist profiles, and art features. She believes that everyone can and should make art, whether they’re good at it or not...
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