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Sunday, 20 July 2008 23:00

Signs of the Future

Written by  Rosalie Shepherd
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Clearwater FL Signs of the Times

Clearwater FL, July 2008 - Signs of the Futrue

A small plaza in downtown Clearwater, across from Classic Cars, where Cleveland Street turns toward Gulf to Bay. On this corner I was uncertain whether to feel safe or not. The transients were living an unfamiliar life to me, some locals did not dress or behave in customary ways, some did not speak my language, some did not look healthy, and others did not look trustworthy.

However, when I joined the Artist Co‑op—one of the tenants of the plaza—I aspired to add to the common welfare of the organization. There was no plaza signage (not even a plaza name) the side of the plaza that faces the traffic was a bland tan color and the traffic mostly traveled around the corner. The plaza was basically invisible. So I decided to simply paint a sign as my donation, that would help give it better visibility and attract commerce. I soon discovered that the city codes of Clearwater (that applied to the plaza) were limited to a freestanding backlit sign or freestanding sign with planter bases. Neither the owner of the plaza nor the shop owners felt able to spend the money that would be necessary to have this done. I then got the idea of painting a mural as my solution. In order comply with the City of the Clearwater redevelopment and beautification plans, it was necessary to have a permit to do anything to the plaza’s exterior. The City needed to approve the subject matter as well as the aesthetics. The mural could not be an advertisement for the plaza or any of its tenants. In spite of the somewhat daunting regulations and codes, the mural idea still worked out as something I could do to help the plaza. To propose a subject the City would find suitable, recent renovations by Clearwater funds and efforts seemed a viable choice. This collage was presented to all interested parties and, as it worked out, “Clearwater in Transition” was given the necessary permits.

The mural combines the old things in town, like the railroad tracks, the angel on the old Royalty Theatre, and the old clock in the middle of downtown. The trolley reflects the golf course, the pier, and the library. Newer things are represented by the bridge and the cranes employed in building resorts, shops and condos on the beach and it was all finished off with people in the foreground enjoying this scene.

The whole experience was very, very rewarding, and I am thrilled with the result. The little plaza where I painted the mural, is on a corner just a block from the Señor Bubbles (Laundromat) El Ranchito de Pepe (market), (3) day labor offices, a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter. So, the local folks provided my continuous and VERY BEST audience ever. Lucy and Bill were amongst some of my favorites. Lucy’s glasses were very crooked, but that was okay, because the left lens was shattered and was held together with scotch tape. So, if her glasses were or were not in place, they would be equally helpful! Her buddy, Bill, just followed her wherever she went, a faithful old friend. More than once a day, they thanked and praised me profusely for beautifying their street; at least Lucy did, Bill always said “Yeah!”

One day at a bus stop bench, someone stole their bags and ran off with them. I felt violated for them. I learned to love all those around me. I had hecklers and helpers, yellers and shy smilers, tiny children that could speak better English than Momma that pointed and said “bootiful”. There were transplants from New Orleans that said I was making it look like home—and could I paint something really cool on their leather jacket or could I make a design for a tattoo... I also had good Samaritans. “The Cookie Factory” gave me cookies to keep me going and water to power wash and prep the wall. The artist next door to them gave me help when I spilled a bucket of paint in the back of my truck. The co-op was always open so I had a place to keep my supplies and a place to wash up. The painted furniture owners gave me base paint to use, the painter next to them lent a ladder, and “Quality Marine” on Island Estates also lent a ladder. Best of all a complete stranger, Robert Winner, brought his own personal scaffold over and helped me paint the “Kilz” on the building as an undercoat. He let me use this scaffold until I had completed the job. The support from people I met during this project was totally unselfish and very heartwarming.


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