He sports a ponytail that’s “the length of a full-grown baby.” She streaks her hair with purple and greets friends with a warm hug. And you can’t have a conversation about art in Safety Harbor without their names coming up.
You could say that supercouple Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda are the godparents of the city’s arts scene. They have hosted bands and movie stars (including actors Jeff Daniels, Alan Cumming and Annie Potts), provided their Casa Loco guest home for a movie set, and founded the city’s biggest-ever music festival, Songfest.
Safety Harbor residents for an even three decades, Todd and Kiaralinda have created a fun and funky-amazing Bohemian empire headquartered at Whimzeyland, their internationally renowned folk-art home. In their living room, all manner of toys and tchotckes can be found. Toy Cooties dangle from a ceiling lined with vintage lunchboxes. Outside, mosaics, sculpture, bowling balls and more attract visitors the world over.
Living the dream, the couple sells art for a living and travels during the summer (this year trips to Japan and Cuba are planned). While in Safety Harbor, they’re hard at work on the opening of their major arts venue, the Safety Harbor Arts and Music Center.
The new center, with wall-to-wall mirrored mosaics, cake molds, art panels to be created by volunteers, plus other Whimzical touches (Kiaralinda decorated the bathroom ceiling with plastic bottle caps), is scheduled to open this fall, and its first major event will be a writers’ conference presented by local author and friend Laura Kepner.
For now, events are being held at the neighboring SideShow. Adventurous arts camps will take place, such as an outdoor grafitti/mural class for 7-to-12-year-olds.
Nicknamed SHAMc, the center at 706 2nd St. N. has been a long time coming — a work in progress for the past few years. The property encompasses a two-story performance hall with a movable platform stage and open-air exterior. A guest house sits on one side, and on the other, the nearly 100-year-old Rigsby House will feature classes and workshops.
Why has it taken so long for SHAMc to open? Building permits for handicap ramps and other structural improvements have gobbed up the works. Todd says they make improvements whenever the funds are available and that the festivals have earned a marginal profit, but much of it goes to paying the artists who come to town.
The 2015 Songfest was a notable success this year. Eminent Americana music mag No Depression praised it for offering “a healthy dose of warm Florida sunshine, visual artists working in media that ranged from canvas, human bodies, and even PT Cruisers, and it also brought out some of the best singer-songwriters and musicians in the world.” The fundraising process for the fest has been an education in negotiation, Kiaralinda says. The couple had to pay the police department $6,000. Local restaurants, however, exchanged free meals for musicians in exchange for sponsorships. Expect more top-tier headliners and convenient food trucks (Taco Bus and Who’s Your Dumplin’? are scheduled to return) at the 2016 Songfest, which is tentatively scheduled for April 2-3 at Waterfront Park.
Meanwhile, the supercouple is creating a support system for Safety Harbor peers who, in growing numbers, are walking away from their 9-to-5 jobs to create for a living.
“Right now we know three people who are quitting their jobs to do what they love,” Kiaralinda says.
Both refuse to take full credit for their accomplishments. “We’re the strength of our volunteers,” Kiaralinda says of the residents who come out and help paint, create mosaics and work the Songfest.
During this year’s fest, the duo, who have only one paid employee, asked the volunteers and supporters to come up to the stage and clap and sing.
Says Kiaralinda, “The majority of the crowd came up to the stage — it was amazing.”