Community Stepping Stones has been around for nearly 10 years!

Community Stepping Stones (CSS) is providing students with fantastic opportunities to participate in fun and enlightening art projects. Each year, the group gets together and decides on what the next project will be. They work with the Tampa Estuary Program, which allows them to include themes of river-related science into their curriculum. Two years ago, for example, they conducted several river cleanups and made a mural out of all the pieces of trash. It now proudly sits inside the Tampa Bay Forum, in the VIP Suite of all places. I like their style. 

Last year they repeated the recycled plastic approach, building huge creatures which were deemed, “Beautiful Beasties.” The marvelous monsters served as reinterpretations of phytoplankton, which aid in producing the oxygen we breathe, Community Stepping Stones’ Director Sigrid Tidmore explained to me as we stood inside of HCC’s Ybor Arts Gallery. This year’s project, I Am River, was also showcased at the HCC's Ybor Arts Gallery. CSS has done exhibits at the HCC Gallery for 13 years and will continue to partner in the years to come. 

According to Tidmore, the students are actively engaging in making statements about the environment and society in general. "During the 'Beastie' project, for example, the students took samples of river water and looked at different microbes under microscopes, then made out drawings of what they saw. They eventually built plastic models of those drawings using nothing but recyclables," explained Tidmore.

Tidmore is a book illustrator and an artist, running a nonprofit because of her passion to see art spread around the community. She strongly believes that "artists have to think about their canvases being bigger than just a piece of cloth. Artists have to start thinking about the lives they paint on as well.” 

The most recent Community Stepping Stones project, 'I Am River', continues to draw on a river-related conceptual framework. The students began by kayaking down the Hillsborough River and taking photographs of various plants and animal life. The pictures were then photoshopped and projected onto a canvas so the students could trace the designs and create their own original paintings. 

Student Sarah McCartney talked about her favorite photographs of rare birds, alligators, turtles, fish, and dolphins, describing her new found fascination with taking a closer look at her surrounding environment. McCartney explained that the photographs the students snapped seemed to have a powerful effect even after she put the camera down. It caused her to constantly make observations about the shapes and textures of objects. “Everything can be a great picture,” another student said. ”Everything can be art.” 

The students wrote about their experiences on the canoe trip, and these writings were turned into spoken word pieces performed at the end of the gallery showing. 

I left thinking about the end of my conversation with Sigrid Tidmore, when she spoke about the art groups in Tampa, interestingly comparing them to the sporting community. She pointed out her vision of creating an arts scene that feels more like a sports team in terms of intense participation and broad support across all communities around Tampa Bay. Community Stepping Stone feels like a beautiful and powerful step in that direction. 

For more information about Community Stepping Stones, please visit http://communitysteppingstones.org

Written by Andrew Kamen