St. Pete To London: Pollyzooming The Olympics

As kids piled into the Morean Arts Center, the Friday afternoon art session with Paula Allen and Jacqueline Deschamps of Pollyzoom promised to be as lively and energy-infused as the two before. The goal remained the same: Build a street art-inspired work celebrating London culture and the Summer Olympics.

For some Morean students, camp this summer has included a unique opportunity to create small Olympic-theme and London-inspired pieces using homemade stencils, a variety of art materials and pure imagination. Following the art classes, the mother-daughter duo leading the creative experience and a local street artist carefully select and piece together the art segments into one 6-foot by 4-foot, multilayered, fabric-and-paper mural and transport it more than 4,400 miles to London, England. From the heart of downtown St. Pete's artistic community to Spitalfields Estate Market, just blocks away from London's popular street art district, the mural will be on display during the 2012 Summer Olympics starting August 2 and soon have millions of people seeing it.

Taking Art To The Streets

Paula "Pollyzoom" Allen, a renowned Tampa Bay artist responsible for more than 500 public art pieces, is half of the duo behind Pollyzoom, and the inspiration for both its name and philosophy. Pollyzoom started in 1989 as a creative outlet through which Allen would showcase jewelry and other wearable art she designed, as well as her paintings, illustrations and handmade puppets. Today, the company led by Allen's daughter Jacqueline Deschamps is also known for its role in initiating and leading public art experiences through creative workshops for kids and families and live art community events that often blend painting, music, theater and fashion, and capture the same whimsy and carefree spirit of Allen’s artistic style.

"My art and the work that I've done with kids have always worked side by side," Allen says. "That's what we're doing now, offering kids stuff that they can't get anywhere else, giving kids the chance to really make larger exhibits and have them tour internationally and do things that they don't get to do every day."

Space To Create

The Street Art Olympic Mural project started as a conversation about Pollyzoom's international projects, which include works on display in both Australia and Japan. "We were looking for something cool to do this summer," says Deschamps, who had previously lived in London. "We thought this was a really great opportunity to do something involving the Olympics, London and the culture of it."

At the time, Allen had reached out to the Morean Arts Center where she had served as an instructor years earlier and expressed an interest in giving back. The Center's current exhibition, "Leave a Message: Street Art in Florida," inspired the two to suggest creating a new street-art inspired piece.

Allen invited local street artist Christian Thomas to join them as they led arts sessions for summer art camp students over three Friday afternoons at Morean Arts Center. Two groups of students participated each session (90 kids total) in creating authentic street art through lessons that involved everything from drawing, painting and music to movement, visual arts and an inventive hybrid of art and fitness called an "Art-stacle" course. Pollyzoom chronicled the mural's creative progress over the summer at a blog called Pollyzooming the Olympics, so students and the community could follow along.

"Graffiti art has such a long and rich history, and Pollyzoom was really able to tie in with that history," says Jonathan Anderson, Curator of Education for Morean Arts Center.

Where Art Thou Next?

Deschamps is excited that the finished mural will get its own "opening ceremony" to showcase the art collaboration before it travels to London. The Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., will host a special viewing open to the public on Thursday, July 26, from 3:00-5:30 p.m. in the Risser Gallery. After the Olympics, the mural may continue to tour before returning home.

Pollyzoom's next creative experience pairs up art with India, an opportunity to shed light on another culture and part of the world for the local students still to be chosen to participate. For Allen, projects like these continue to inspire her with the lessons her students impart in return.

"I think kids are underestimated. Kids are amazing, and a lot of them work on levels far beyond how we think," she says. "Part of what we do is give kids the opportunity to fully stretch out and really surprise their parents and themselves about what they can do."

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer living in the 'burbs of Tampa with her husband and her assistant, a 14-year-old dachshund-Chihuahua. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Chris Kuhn.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer, editor and blogger who resides in the northern ‘burbs of Tampa with her husband and a rambunctious Shih Tzu. She is a frequent contributor to area print and online publications and previously served as editor for a local women’s publication. A graduate of Florida State University, Chris has been published nationally and written two books, her most recent, an anthology celebrating public art as a central focal point for storytelling across various Florida communities, including Tampa. When she is not writing, Chris loves checking out art, movies and museums, and discovering new Thai restaurants.