Arts & Music
Mural celebrates diversity, history of Ybor City
When artist Mike Parker set to work on “American Journey,” an enormous mural capturing the history and culture of Ybor City, he started by getting to know people who live and work there.
“They took me into their homes. They took me in their offices,” Parker said today at the dedication of his sprawling art project. “Any time I showed up, they made time for me.”
That experience helped give Parker, a Boston native who moved to Ruskin 12 years ago, a crash course in Tampa’s most colorful, quirky and historic neighborhood.
“This community has embraced everyone since its inception,” Parker said.
He encapsulated that diversity in a mural that covers the corrugated steel wall of a warehouse facing Adamo Drive between 17th and 19th streets at Ybor’s southeast corner.
Parker’s project is the first of two murals that will turn weather-beaten warehouses into works of art. The second mural will go up on a building between 21st and 22nd streets across Adamo from the Ikea store.
Parker’s previous work includes a mural at the city’s Rowlett Park in North Tampa.
The 12,000-square-foot Ybor City mural is dominated by the faces of two women – one black, one Cuban – inspired by a photo of Ybor’s cigar factories Parker discovered doing research in the National Archives.
Also among the faces are Ybor City natives Frank Adamo and Tony Pizzo along with the neighborhood’s namesake – Don Vicente Martinez-Ybor, who brought his cigar business to Tampa from Key West a century ago.
“Underneath all the imagery, there are many different stories,” Parker said.
The mural was financed by a combination of public money and private donations. The Ybor City Development Corp., the group that commissioned the project, has created a website – www.yborartproject.com – to tell the story of the mural and the community.
“We wanted to create an artwork that will stand out in Florida and maybe nationally,” Scott said.
The website describes the different images Parker blended together to create the single work of art. That mix includes an immigrant family, a ship waiting in the nearby Ybor Channel and “El Reloj,” the clock that reported the time in Ybor.
City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin grew up in Ybor City. She compared the mural to a portal carrying people into Ybor’s past.
“I think they did a very good job of depicting the soul of Ybor,” she said.
The mural’s location along a busy road and its sprawling size makes it hard to take in all at once, Scott said. Seeing the mural up close is like sitting in the front row of the movie theater, he said.
He’d like to build a viewing area across Adamo Drive under the elevated expanse of the Leroy Selmon Expressway. That would give people enough separation from the mural to take in the full scope of it, he said.
The platform could be part of an extension of the bike path planned for the shadow of the expressway, he said.
The extension is like to run on the north side of Adamo, the same side as the warehouse mural, said expressway spokeswoman Susan Chrzan. But Scott’s idea for a viewing area, she said, isn’t out of the question.