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Lakeland's Platform Art: Showcasing Local Art

Public art in the Tampa Bay area is not limited to Sarasota, Tampa or St. Petersburg. Heading east to Lakeland, there's an entire organization dedicated to showcasing local artists and bringing art to nontraditional spaces.  Platform Art,  for the last 12 years, has sponsored everything from public monuments to community gardens.

At the Platform Art gallery near downtown Lakeland one recent evening, local poets line up for a turn at the microphone. Megan Hash goes first. She's a sophomore at the Harrison School for the Arts in Lakeland, and reads expressively about hummingbirds.

Platform Art director Cynthia Haffey said the poets are from various local groups, including high school and college students.

"The people who are in the poetry club serve as great advisors and mentors to these  younger poets," Haffey said, "and it's great fun - the camaraderie, the collaboration and the guidance.  It's a super relationship."  

The younger poets read from their smart phone, while the older people, like retired surgeon Wallace Coyner, bring their handwritten pages to the podium. Coyner's poem is a poignant story about one of his former patients.

The poetry reading takes place in Platform Art's donated gallery space, and the walls are covered with paintings for an upcoming exhibition on Hispanic artists.

"The middle gallery here is Jessica Guevara," Haffey points out.  "She's a Winter Haven artist, and she has really brightly colored, cartoonish,  graffiti-like artwork, that's really appealing.  The back gallery has Paola Martinez, and hers is based on Day of the Dead. It's darker in a way,  but interesting and expressive." 

Besides poetry and paintings, Platform Art is commissioning public art projects. Haffey doesn't stick to rigid ideas of art and creativity. Installations include ceramic murals along a downtown overpass, a community garden on a formerly blighted corner, and even sculptural bike racks.

 Haffey calls public art an "experience" - and one that enhances the community.

 "I think art is all around us," she said. "I think we experience it every day, and sometimes you use don't think of it because it's just such an important and big part of our lives."

Platform Arts's fundraiser is coming up in December . With its modest budget, Platform Art has one employee and one annual fundraiser per year, and Haffey said it will involve synchronized swimming, painted body suits and a pastry chef making a dress out of icing.

Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.