“Atlanta must have lots of places like this.” said one of the folks at my lantern hat making workshop at Safety Harbor Art & Music Center, where I had the good fortune to be an artist in residence leading up to their 1st anniversary party and parade, SHAMcGiving. We sat around long tables in the high-ceiling performance space making lantern hats, sipping wine, and telling stories. The open air room is draped with cozy fabrics and colored lights and home to a mind-boggling amount of collective art projects and artifacts. Dozens of hand decorated parade umbrellas hang from the walls, a giant paper mache turkey grins down at us, and mannequins model prize-winning wearable trash art costumes. The rafters shine with hundreds of copper jello molds and cake pans from yard sales. The bathroom ceilings are covered with a crazy dense collection of plastic bottle caps and toys arranged in color patterned swirls. A life-sized pink elephant stands by the front door. All of the exterior walls of the Center are made of beautiful mirrored mosaic panels crafted by the SHAMc collective of friends who worked on them together, every Tuesday night, for two years.
Atlanta does not have a place like this. This place is a singularity. I am smitten.
Safety Harbor Art and Music Center is the love child of artists Kiaralinda and Todd Ramquist and their full-time collaborator, Heather Richardson. SHAMc is born from thirty-years of art-making and collecting plus a decade of house concerts at Kiaralinda and Todd’s home, Whimzey. Whimzey is the star from which has spun this vast creative galaxy. Whimzey is a two-bedroom bungalow on a corner lot covered up with collections of collections of folk art, oddities, and a lot of bowling balls. Kiaralinda and Todd are maximalists. More is more. Howard Finster and Mr. Imagination’s work are snuggled up with Junkanoo headdresses, shelves of Dorothy Kindell strip tease mugs, rafters of vintage metal lunch boxes, a hundred vintage Cootie bugs spinning around on lines hung from the ceiling, and it goes on and on. There are the gardens, the gazebos, the art cars, and guest house, Casa Loco, all lovingly covered inch-to-inch with collections of collections. Behind a door in Whimzey’s living room is a wall of photographs of all the artists Kiaralinda and Todd have visited and the hearse they drove around Europe. On the hearse tour, they asked folks to inscribe the hearse with “Words to live by”. Their words to live by are “Play now, rest later.”
Kiaralinda and Todd are pros at play. Riding in the back of Kiaralinda’s art car, I find a giant furry bunny headdress to wear and a big black cat headdress for the other passenger. Kiaralinda makes sure to take the bunny head on our boat ride. On their pontoon boat, the “Pon-Tiki”, Todd guarantees that we will see at least one dolphin on our sunset happy hour cruise. After describing all the evolving creatures inside the sunset clouds, Todd says, “Look!” and leaps a little plastic dolphin across the pink sky. I want a year to hear all of their stories. Kiaralinda and Todd are the boy and girl next-door who met in junior high school art class. For thirty years, “We have said yes to everything”, says Kiaralinda. In the summer, they travel across the north selling their wire art at festivals and in the winter they come home to Safety Harbor, Florida. In their travels, they have met countless artists and musicians, and invited them home. They have traveled the world and still chose their home town to build their dreamy creative community, which includes Safety Harbor Art & Music Center and the annual Safety Harbor Song Festival. Safety Harbor raised up astoundingly prolific and playful creatives, and managed to keep them.
I am interested in the function of creative community play in the relationship between people and place. How people love a place and how a place becomes beloved are questions I explore in my work as a community parade artist. I believe that celebratory traditions based in creative play foster enduring bonds between people and place. “To work is human, to play is divine” are my words to live by. Our creativity is our divinity. To be witnessed as an expression of love is powerful. To dance our creative divine together down the middle of the street is to party with the gods. Once you get a taste for this, you never want to live with out it.
“Your creative play is a gift to your community!” is a sign I made for my Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade some years ago. This concept is clearly a corner stone of the Safety Harbor Arts & Music Center’s community. These exceptionally colorful and kind folks poured out their love for the Center on it’s first birthday with thoughtful dishes on the potluck table, fabulous intricate polka dot attire, spoken word and poetry written for the occasion, and with parading through the streets drumming and dancing with a giant pink elephant puppet, lanterns, twirling illuminated umbrellas. The SHAMcGiving parade definitively turned the magic trick of turning Main Street into an enchanted and beloved space.
When we lay down joyful shared memories together in a place, it is a blessing on that place and a lasting grace between us. I have no doubt that the SHAMcGiving parade will become a beloved community tradition. I know I want to be there.
ps. I am tickled to have a piece of my work, Enlightened Ellie, the giant pink elephant puppet head, in the SHAMc collection.
Chantelle Rytter is a community parade artist best known for founding the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade with the Krewe of the Grateful Gluttons, of which she is the proud Captain. The BeltLine Lantern Parade draws 70,000 people annually. Chantelle and Krewe have founded several other annual parades based in public participation in the Atlanta area, including the Gnome March World Record Attempt. Chantelle grew up in Baltimore and studied integrative arts and Penn State University. She lived in New Orleans for ten years where she fell under the spell of parade culture and the notion that creative play can be a civic gift. www.chantellerytter.com