Bringing Art Back to Life
Moses House, USF Partner to Revitalize the Arts and Sulphur Springs
By Daylina Miller
TAMPA, Fla. (April 6, 2010) Mann-Wagnon Cultural Park in Sulphur Springs looked like any other family picnic last Saturday. The grill was smoking as hotdogs and hamburgers sizzled under its heavy lid. Kids from knee-high to teenagers ran around and socialized.
To an outsider, they looked like a hodgepodge family of all races and creeds, hugging and smiling and greeting each other as brother and sister. They would see a family - brought together by a man passionate about art, his heritage and creating a positive future for children on a small sliver of property along the Hillsborough River in Sulphur Springs.
They call it Moses House.
Taft Richardson, a renowned bone sculptor, passed away last spring but his legacy lives on through the nonprofit organization that he and his brother, Harold Richardson, helped build in the 1980s. Moses House has a longstanding tradition of blending art, culture and heritage in an environment designed to keep kids off the street and out of trouble. Having lost one property where their art classes were located, the Richardsons kept the program alive at Sulphur Springs Elementary.
Until now. Art lives again at Moses House.
The equipment has not been moved in quite yet and the green floors are still tacky with paint, but Moses House volunteers are quickly approaching the end of the renovations at a new site at Mann-Wagnon Park. By May, they hope to have classes in full-swing again.
USF’s Office of Community Engagement has been a partner in the project, helping organize and support efforts and using the art center as an opportunity for university to students to learn about social issues in this vulnerable Tampa neighborhood. USF hopes to base some service learning courses at Moses House.
“When you do art projects, you can’t just pack up at the end of the class and leave,” said Susan Greenbaum, USF’s Director of the Office of Community Engagement. “This is a great site. The city was going to tear down these buildings.”
Moses House has been rejuvenated by volunteers from both inside the community and as far away as Brooksville. The nonprofit organization has cultivated many community partnerships in addition to USF to aid them in their mission of using the arts to improve the quality of life for children in the neighborhood, which has high rates of poverty and juvenile delinquency.
Moses House supporters see its programming as a way to help children enhance their education, while helping them resist the negative effects of poverty, prejudice and discrimination.
Moses House also has become a means for the neighborhood to look inward and appreciate what makes it unique and strong.
“It’s art,” Greenbaum said about Moses House. “It’s culture. It’s a quest for understanding.”
The relationship between USF and Moses House has developed during the past three years, said Greenbaum, an anthropologist. Several USF students and faculty members have played a role in revitalizing Moses House, including Greenbaum who has worked with public housing residents relocated to Sulphur Springs from other areas of Tampa.
Antoinette Jackson, an assistant USF anthropology professor, has developed cultural heritage projects in Sulphur Springs and nearby Seminole Heights. Moses House’s Executive Director, Lance Arney, is a USF doctoral candidate whose dissertation research is on challenges facing youth in Sulphur Springs. And USF doctoral student Mabel Sabogal created Moses House’s website and now serves as its assistant director.
“My role has been to help reorganize the organization, develop new programming, and to get more volunteers and staff involved,” Arney said.
One of these new programs involved bringing “street music” into the mix so that teenagers in Sulphur Springs can write and produce their own rap songs. A local DJ, Carlos Corcho, known professionally as “DJ Chang Bang” helps to coordinate the program.
Recording equipment will soon be brought into the new building and workshops will be held once a week on-site.
“I feel music is the best vehicle to really bring people together, to open their minds to new things,” Corcho said. “It’s a good thing to do for the community to get the kids off the street.”
Other workshops include the bone sculpture class inspired by Taft’s own bone sculptures, which allows children to use their imagination to create works of art out of animal bones.
“These kids are talented and we are here to develop that,” Harold said. “But the majority of them don’t know what to do about it. We show them how to connect the mind and the hand. This is what we try to instill in the kids. Whatever you can see in your mind, you can make with your hand and make me see that.”
There are still many challenges for the Sulphur Spring community to face. Greenbaum estimates that one in five homes in the neighborhood is in foreclosure. But Moses House is one small step ahead for a community that is a considered a few steps behind in comparison to other neighborhoods in Tampa.
“This is our small effort to support the things we think will produce lasting results,” Greenbaum said. “This is the kind of organization that can make a difference in a place like Sulphur Springs.”
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.