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Art Transforms Lives At Safe Harbor, Clearwater







A petite, 19-year-old redhead, Chrissy Pettineo, focuses intently on the enormous split-leaf philodendron leaf she is painting on the wall in front of her. A good five-feet long, the dark green leaf crawls jungle-like across the wall, which also sports a brand new coat of soft yellow paint.
 
"Doing the art is very therapeutic. It's calming and makes you feel you're accomplishing something, says Pettineo, who is participating in an innovative idea -- using art to help create a sense of place and peace for people who are working to turn their lives around.
 
Pettineo is one of several hundred men and women at Pinellas Safe Harbor, a combination homeless shelter, jail diversion program and Department of Corrections re-entry portal. A novel idea in itself, the Clearwater-based center opened in 2011 to house men and women ages 18 and up and to provide them with the social service support they need to make it back to independence.
 
Pettineo attended Clearwater High School and completed a year at St. Petersburg College before "a combination of things'' landed her at Pinellas Safe Harbor. With the progress she's made, she looks forward to leaving the shelter in the near future and returning to school to get a degree in crime scene technology.

Doing the artwork boosts her spirits and her confidence.

"Painting helps you get away from your day-to-day worries,'' says Pettineo. "I used to be big into art and always enjoyed being creative.''

Experiencing Life Through Art
 
Elizabeth Brincklow, manager of arts and international relations for the City of St. Petersburg, says the mural project is believed to be among the first in the country that encourages shelter residents to share life experiences through art as they get back on their feet.
 
When the city's social services department first suggested the mural project Brincklow says she thought about it for a while. She didn't want to simply hire an artist to come in and get the job done. Instead, she saw an opportunity to create something more meaningful -- something that might offer the residents an opportunity for healing.
 
She turned to Pam Miles, a master artist and teacher at several art centers and schools for students with learning disabilities. At her first visit to the shelter, Miles says she felt overwhelmed and claustrophobic. The long hallways had no windows. Everything was concrete. Nothing was organic. Something had to change.
 
Miles asked Diane Gallin of Wind and Water Feng Shui Consulting for advice on color and placement of the art.

"When you change the environment, you can change people's lives,'' says Gallin. "The shelter had a sterile and severe environment. There was tremendous potential here to make an impact.''

Knowing Better, Doing Better
 
In collaboration with the City of St. Petersburg and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and with input from the residents, Miles and Gallin began the planning process.
 
Now the philodendron leaves that Pettineo is helping paint are just the start. Sea grapes, elephant ears and macho ferns -- all Florida native plants, will soon be added to the walls. Florida flowers in shades of pink will decorate the women's pod. 

But the art for the three sleeping areas for men, which are organized around an increasing level of independence, may be the most inspirational.
 
Crawling creatures like turtles and horseshoe crabs, which represent the first step in transformation will enliven the walls in pod #1, says Miles. Grouper, red drum, snook and other local fish will be highlighted in pod #2. And egrets, pelicans, herons and ibis, which symbolize flight, will be painted in pod #3, the last step before leaving the shelter for a better life.
 
For anyone who still isn't clear, the main entrance to the shelter, which will be painted teal blue, will have a quote from poet Maya Angelou: "When you know better, you do better.''
 
Funding for projects like this one comes from her budget, says Brincklow. An anonymous donor provided the paint, but she is still looking for additional funding to help supplement the master artist's time.

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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