SUN CITY — When Kayla McDonald finds herself angry or depressed, she turns to art.
“It's my getaway,” she said, taking a break from her work on a mural that will go on display in downtown Ruskin.
Diagnosed as bipolar at a young age, Kayla said she dropped out of school twice before moving to Ruskin.
“I had been bullied,” she said. “Finally, my mom decided enough was enough and we moved to Ruskin and discovered the South County Career Center,” an alternative school for students seeking a second chance at an education.
The mural she and 24 other students are creating will show the community what their school offers and what it means to them.
“I absolutely love it here,” said Kayla, who is in her junior year. “I am well-liked, accepted here and the teachers are phenomenal.”
Having a chance to share that with the community through art is huge, she said.
Artist Michael Parker, who created an enormous mural on several old Quonset huts on State Road 60 in Ybor City, received the Carolyn F. Heller Grant award for a public art project from the Hillsborough County Arts Council. He has been working with the students since September to conceptualize and create three large medallions that will be displayed on the side of a building on 1st Avenue.
The medallions will feature artists' renderings of actual students at the school and imagery representing the seven programs the center offers, from culinary and auto mechanics to Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), certified nursing assistant and others. Words like unity, responsibility and determination will surround each medallion.
Beyond the actual art, the project is about pride in their school and what the students are accomplishing, Parker said. He said he has worked with about a dozen student groups in the past and “this group, by far, is the best I've ever worked with. They are focused and very creative.”
Until this project, student Edgar Albizo's art was all about graffiti, he said. Now, he's learning about colors, scale and how to build a team.
“Without team work, nothing gets done,” he said.
Lizi Contreras, known among her peers as “the girl who draws,” is excited to be part of the mural team. “I think it's great,” she said. “We don't have an actual art program here, so working on this is a great get-away.”
“It give us a chance to show what we think of our lives and career choices and our school,” said Tykwuan Eaddy, whose image is splashed across one of the medallions. “This will help people understand what this school is all about.”
Some have the impression that the school is for juvenile delinquents, Parker said. By working with the students on this art project, he's out to help them show otherwise, he said.
Heller, the Florida artist for whom the grant was named, was influenced by abstract expressionism early in her 60-year career and helped establish Hillsborough County's Public Art Committee, which selects and purchases art for public display.