SPACEcraft – an interactive traveling art project that exists between two 40-foot cargo shipping containers – lands in Gulfport’s Clymer Park this month.
The shipping containers are loaded with art and interactive activities, and function as public workshop spaces for a rotating queue of creators and teachers.
“I think a lot of people don’t consider themselves artists in the traditional sense,” said Mitzi Gordon, one of the three women who dreamed up SPACEcraft. “But creativity is part of human nature.”
Both containers, themed “Make and Play” and “Read and Grow,” travel independently through cities in Pinellas in a county-funded project brought to life by Creative Pinellas and in partnership with the Gulfport Arts Center.
Clymer Park will host Make and Play, the creation-based and performance centered theme, from June until August. The public has the chance to attend free sessions on Thursdays and Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m.
Gordon, along with artists Carrie Boucher and Bridget Elmer, pitched the concept to Creative Pinellas in 2019, and after a green light from the county, the project was set to begin in Oldsmar, March of 2020.
Following a rocky start amidst a COVID-19 affected timeline, the containers didn’t touch down in Oldsmar until August.
“Sometimes things just don’t get off the launch pad when you want them to,” Gordon said. “It’s just so incredible to me that we’ve gotten here.”
In a nod to the consumerism of art, the mural-filled, colorful cargo containers once transported goods all over the world.
Environmentally and metaphorically, the containers are a practical choice for the free public art program.
“There’s a surplus of these objects shipped here because it’s cheaper to keep them than send them back, and people are ultimately going to pick the cheaper option,” Gordon said. “Now there’s just this stockpile of steel boxes that I think a lot of people are trying to creatively reuse.”
The relatively cheap cost and transportable shape allows for constant travel throughout the county.
The spaces feature an ever-changing series of painting workshops, musical performances, writing classes, yoga and everything in between.
One day, visitors may participate in tarot card reading sessions, the next, they could learn the art of creating costumes.
“We’re trying to break away from just one definition of art,” Gordon said.
The faces on SPACEcraft’s front line include permanent and traveling artists, teachers, creators, musicians and storytellers who present their specific programs to visitors of all ages.
Visiting artist Britney Taft, a painter and elementary art education teacher at St. Petersburg’s Northwest Elementary School, creates community circle mural scenes with SPACEcraft visitors.
“Circle painting translates to all ages,” Taft said. “Everyone adds to the design and the idea is that we all add our own roles to the world and we all bring something different to the table.”
Her murals travel with the Make and Play container, seeing a new park every few months.
Permanent facilitators like Emily Stone, a fiber artist, revels in creating small, paper books with students on a regular basis.
“Who doesn’t love a little paper object that says, ‘I love you’?’’ Stone said.
If you’re visiting the Make and Play exhibit on one of the two operating days, chances are you’ll create one with Stone.
“I was not exposed to things like this at a young age because I’m from a small town in Southern Louisiana. As a queer woman and an artist, St. Pete quickly became home,” Stone said. “I didn’t even know I was an artist until I was 22 and was working in a gallery, and I never looked back.”
Stone’s journey has pushed her to forge a connection with the kids who visit the sites.
At one location, she recalls a 13-year-old boy who started out in a paper-creating program with disdain, but left inspired.
“He was clearly in a very teenage state of mind, but this person did not want to put down what he was doing by the end of it,” Stone recalls. “I think about that kid and if I could have been exposed to art that young how it could have changed my whole trajectory.”
Art Town, USA
Gordon, Boucher and Elmer connected through Boucher’s 2013 creative project, Nomad Art Bus, a continuing volunteer-run program that brings pop-up artistic workshops to juvenile detention centers, foster homes, halfway houses and other places where access to creative resources can be lacking.
SPACEcraft’s approach differs from the Nomad Art Bus, but the premise of bringing artistic expression to unlikely spaces is the same.
According to Gordon, SPACEcraft’s journey to Gulfport marks a shift from other sites.
“Moving into Gulfport is significant and exciting,” Gordon said. “We’re excited to land in a community that is so supportive of the arts.”
While future landing spots are still to be announced, the shift in SPACEcraft’s flight plan could bring the project to areas that are more central to St. Petersburg.
“When we’d go to these more rural areas it really made me aware that public art should be spread everywhere,” Taft said. “With the art foundation Gulfport already has, this is going to be a really wonderful thing in a wonderful community.”
SPACEcraft is on the lookout for Gulfport creatives with a knack for teaching. Email email@example.com.