The Safety Harbor home of artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda is hard to miss.
Some know the brightly painted and tiled cottage surrounded by yard sculptures as Whimzeyland. Others affectionately refer to it as “the bowling ball house” because of the rows of decorated bowling balls that adorn the home’s yard. For many, it’s a local landmark, and listed on numerous “roadside attraction” websites.
The couple also used their home to bring the arts to their community in other ways, hosting house concerts and local artists. As this grew, Kiaralinda realized they’d eventually need a bigger venue. “When you have 170 people in your gazebo and in your front yard listening to music, it’s kind of time to move it somewhere else,” she says.
Now, after five years of planning, raising funds and construction, their new venue, the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center (SHAM)
, has opened in the city’s downtown, at 706 Second St. N. The artistic hub for northern Pinellas County opened its doors over Thanksgiving weekend with a three-day celebration, SHAMsgiving. They followed this up with a 12 Days of Christmas holiday event.
“It’s pretty much a dream come true,” Kiaralinda says. The new venue is a larger-scale version of their home. “There’s art everywhere.”
SHAMc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, became a possibility for the couple when they won a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant in 2011. Since the initial Pepsi grant, the project has been funded by a mix of donations, fundraisers and grants from the city. The plan was to create a center dedicated to all facets of the arts -- visual arts, music, literature, performing arts -- which is exactly what the venue is, Kiaralinda says. “We’re filling the calendar faster than we ever imagined we would, ever since we opened the doors,” she adds.
Laura Kepner, founder of the Safety Harbor Writers & Poets
, which now hosts its monthly open mics at SHAMc, says the local arts scene wouldn’t be what it is without Kiaralinda
“They support me with the open mic,” she says. “The really cool thing about [them] is if you want to do something with your art, whatever your art is, they’re probably going to cheer you on and say, how can we work together?”
The SHAM project transformed the Rigsby House, “a woodsy building” on the property when they purchased it, Kiaralinda says. “The old house was saved and resurrected. We did what we could to keep that alive.”
The original home is now called the ARTery, a space for workshops and to showcase local artwork. They also built a new two-story building called the ODDitorium, where the larger performances and events will take place.
Now, the folks behind SHAMc are planning their annual Safety Harbor SongFest
, which is set for April 1 at Waterfront Park. The two-day music festival, which will feature artists including Magic Giant, Rising Appalachia, Charlie Mars and Joe Craven this year, will serve as a fundraiser for the new arts center.
Kiaralinda says SHAMc has a deep volunteer base of about 300 or so. “It’s been a really, really good ride, and we’ve had a lot of support,” she says, despite delays in funding and construction.
Though she and Ramquist have long been a staple of the Safety Harbor arts scene, she’s amazed by the response she’s received since SHAMc opened. “It’s crazy how many people walk through here and want to do things,” she says.