On a comfortable late Saturday afternoon in October, Lake Vista Park near the southern tip of St. Petersburg is bustling with activity. There are people walking the trails, playing pick-up basketball, grilling out and, in one oak tree -shaded corner of the park, playing freeform music on crystal singing bowls outside of a bright red and orange shipping container with “Make” and “Play” painted on the side in vivid pink and yellow lettering.
This colorful addition to the park’s landscape is the centerpiece and calling card of SPACEcraft, a traveling public art project made from repurposed 40-foot shipping containers that has moved around Pinellas County parks since August 2020.
Two separate containers with their own theme and activities set up at different parks simultaneously. As the mural on the side of this shipping container says, the theme at this Lake Vista Park site is Make/Play and that includes creating art, playing music and games, and more.
Across St. Petersburg, in a shaded patch of grass at Northwest Park, the Read/Grow site offers a different theme and experience that includes reading, storytelling, horticulture, yoga, and more.
From Dec. 4 through Jan. 8, 2022, SPACEcraft's Make/Play and Read/Grow mobile units will be at John Taylor Park and at Eagle Lake Park, both in Largo.
“We are always in the parks, in an open-air space, under the trees, in a shady breezy place. says Mitzi Gordon, who conceived the idea for SPACEcraft with fellow local artists Carrie Boucher and Bridget Elmer. “And everything is very hands-on and experiential. We try to keep every part of the space interactive, engaging and fun.”
To create that interactive experience and keep it fresh, SPACEcraft taps the local arts community.
“We work with different artists in the area to bring their talents and skills to the space so it is not just my team coming up with the activity ideas,” Gordon says. “We’re collaborating with all of these other creative people in Pinellas County, asking what they think the public might enjoy, and we together conceive of different programs.”
On this October Saturday at Lake Vista Park, figurative ceramics artist Calan Ree sits at a folding table making ceramic pumpkins with children. A few feet away, musicians Jim Morey and Sommer Joy play meditative sounds on crystal singing bowls, trumpet, gongs and other instruments. After a few moments, a little girl is drawn by the music ringing through the trees and comes over to try her hand at the crystal singing bowls. Morey, a trumpet player in local jazz bands, says the music reflects the outdoor environment around them and adds a relaxing element to SPACEcraft.
“I think it sets it apart and makes it unique,” he says. “It adds an element to the experience for the people there.”
Rugs, bright padded play mats and foam tumbling blocks are spread out on the grass for children. Inside the container, a table stocked with markers, scissors and other supplies is there for aspiring artists. Floral murals adorn the floor and wall of the once blank and bare shipping container. Artwork created at this location decorates the space, fastened by clothespins to ropes that stretch across the room. While children and families are the majority of the visitors, Gordon says it’s a creative outlet for adults as well.
“We are designed to offer something for any age because creativity knows no bounds,” she says.
A socially engaged art project
SPACEcraft’s roots stretch back to 2018 when Creative Pinellas, the nonprofit local arts agency for Pinellas County, put out a call for socially engaged traveling public arts projects. Gordon, Boucher and Elmer, who have collaborated on the NOMAD Art Bus, a traveling art project Boucher launched in 2013, submitted their plan to use repurposed shipping containers as a place for the community to gather and create together. Gordon says they wanted to find a new, beneficial use for shipping containers that are often single-use, carrying cargo once before they sit gathering dust until someone can find another use.
“We wanted to take this object that is normally a symbol of consumption and flip it to hopefully become a symbol of creation instead,” she says.
The project is funded by a portion of the funding Pinellas County received from the BP Oil settlement and set aside for public art. SPACEcraft was initially scheduled to start in March 2020 but the Covid pandemic pushed it back to August 2020. Currently, the project is funded through May 2022.
“We’re up for some other grants and looking for ways to continue the project past that,” Gordon says. Hopefully we will be able to continue traveling. It has been a really amazing experience.
A loyal following
Standing just outside the green and blue Read/Grow container at St. Pete’s Northwest Park, SPACEcraft facilitator Emily Stone greets a couple of school children who brought home a small potted pineapple plant during their last visit.
“WE have families that have followed us from deployment to deployment at this point, which is really cool, because we go all over the county,” Stone says.
To keep the experience new for repeat visitors, activities change frequently. Here at the Read/Grow site, children and other visitors can find a book to read or take home or cut a clipping from the herbs and plants in the rows of green earth boxes to bring to their home garden. In addition to reading books and maps, storytelling and growing plants, there’s also a focus on personal growth through activities such as yoga and meditation
Where to visit SPACEcraft next
From Dec. 4 through Jan. 8, 2022, the Make/Play and Read/Grow SPACEcraft will be at John Taylor Park at 1100 8th Ave. SW in Largo and at Eagle Lake Park at 1800 Keene Road in Largo.
Both sites feature free all-ages creative activities led by local artists, writers, gardeners, and educators. No sign-up is required. Come as you are for this fun, outdoor experience.
Twice weekly -- on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. at John Taylor Park and on Thursdays and Saturdays from 4 to 6 pm. at Eagle Lake Park -- SPACEcraft presents participant-driven programming such as a free book exchange, writing projects, paper making, seed planting, book making, and more. You can also find activities to explore outdoors during all daylight hours. The Read/Grow space features giant magnetic poetry and a public plant share wall.
Several future stops are planned around Pinellas County include Clearwater, Dunedin, and Palm Harbor.
For more information about SPACEcraft and up-to-date schedule information, please follow this link: SPACEcraft or follow @exploreSPACEcraft on Instagram and Facebook.