Collaborations bring mural project to Pinellas Safe Harbor

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Residents of Pinellas Safe Harbor, along with Pinellas County artist Pam Miles, are applying the first brushstrokes on a project to brighten shelter living spaces while providing hope for the future. 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.

The project is a unique collaboration between the city of St. Petersburg’s Arts and International Relations and Veterans, Social and Homeless Services departments; the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office; Miles and Safe Harbor residents. Established in January 2011, Pinellas Safe Harbor serves as a general homeless shelter, a jail diversion program, and a Department of Corrections re-entry portal.  The goal of these programs is to provide a safe environment so individuals may re-connect with appropriate social services and progress towards independence.

Using beiges, blues, greens and pinks from a palette chosen by Pinellas County artist Pam Miles and Feng Shui master Diane Gallin, each of the four murals feature serene, yet meaningful, images designed to give a sense of place and help motivate residents back to normalcy. “Residents chose a beach scene for one of the murals, complete with sand, turtles, horseshoe and fiddler crabs, which symbolize their journey from insecurity toward socialization and stability,” said Miles. Inside Safe Harbor’s front entrance, hand-painted quotes from authors and famous figures selected by the group provide further reflection while hallway leaf designs complete the project.

Project steps are designed to point residents toward success while teaching them how to communicate, build social skills and work toward a common goal. Under Miles’ direction, the group, including a resident who counts paint brushes among his personal possessions, will paint an undercoat and initial image layers before Miles applies the finishing touches.

Pinellas County artist Pam Miles was selected for the project based on her experiences teaching art students of various ages and abilities in Bay Area schools and galleries. Since 1989, Miles has taught art for the Morean Art Center, Creative Clay, and St. Petersburg College. Miles has also served in arts administration at Largo’s Gallery 600 and as assistant director/manager of the University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum. She most recently exhibited in a two-person show, Spirits, Spines & Spirals in The Mahaffey gallery.

More than a year in the making, the idea for the mural project was born during conversations between the city of St. Petersburg’s Social Services Manager, Rhonda Abbott and Arts and International Relations Manager Elizabeth Brincklow. Once the project location, master artist, and initial funding was secured and a group of volunteer artists identified, Brincklow was thrilled with the residents’ enthusiasm for the project. “At first, the group was astounded that anyone cared what they thought, then once involved, they were thoroughly engaged in the planning process. They can’t wait to begin painting the images and quotes.”

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Sean McGillen, who oversees the Safe Harbor facility along with Program Supervisor Ramona Jubar Schaefer, also noticed the positive impact on residents. “Once they began sharing ideas and making decisions, they realized those same skills could be used in making positive life choices. Hopefully, what they’ve learned during this project will help them successfully transition from Safe Harbor to life on the outside,” McGillen stated.

Miles and her group of apprentice artists will be working on the mural project for at least two months.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.