- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

RUSKIN, Fla. (AP) - Art meets transportation for a good cause in an after-school program where two dozen kids will create bicycles guaranteed to turn heads.

The vision comes from Ruskin artist Michael Parker, who calls his prototype machine a “rat bike” or “ridiculous but fun bike.” Built with parts from scrapped bikes and whatever else Parker fancied, it’s actually a low-rider tricycle - red, green and rust with a seat shaped like a throne and a steer horn across the handlebars.

Parker aims to teach 24 children who can’t afford to purchase bikes how to create their own custom versions at his Ruskin art studio, adjacent to his house near the Lower Manatee River.

Titled Bend, Grind and Ride: Earn a Bike, the program will provide aspiring young artists with donor bikes to junk for parts, up to $275 to buy whatever else they need to complete their vision, and two months of twice-a-week, two-and-half hour classes to put it all together.

Those interested can sign up at www.southshoreartscouncil.org.

Students must be 12 to 16, live in the South Shore area of southwest Hillsborough County, and demonstrate a willingness to “Go crazy, dream big and then ride it out of here,” Parker said.

“Learn the mechanics and build something that defines who you are.”

Take Parker’s bike, for instance.

The throne seat is shaped like the king in a chess set, an homage to his father, an avid player of the game.

The steer horn was a 16th birthday present from a friend to place on Parker’s first car - a 1968 Cadillac DeVille convertible.

“It’s been a part of my life for a long time,” the 40-year-old artist said.

The program is funded through a $10,000 grant provided by the San Francisco-based Black Rock Arts Foundation, which was created by several of the partners who produce the Burning Man, the annual festival than turns a desert outside Reno, Nevada, into a temporary art community.

For Parker, president of the South Shore Arts Council, the bike program is a way to help poor children land transportation they can be proud of while promoting his love for community art.

Among Parker’s better-known community art projects are the 12,600-square-foot mural along Adamo Drive that depicts the history and culture of Ybor City and a row of walls in downtown Tampa’s Perry Harvey Sr. Park that include images of local civil rights leaders such as Robert Saunders.

Parker is also teaching a class called Community Arts through Hillsborough Community College’s South Shore campus.

The course is held at his art studio 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays but students have access to the space whenever he is there.

Student Tanya Roldan is creating six mosaic paintings of iconic South Shore images. Her depiction of an old Ruskin tomato festival poster took 40 hours to complete, with much of that time spent in Parker’s studio, she said.

Class projects often reflect Parker’s passion for wheels.

Daniel Gasiorek is making a mobile three-hole mini-golf course that will be pulled by Parker’s low-rider tricycle. And Armando Preciado is designing a bike he will control with a life-sized marionette.

“He sets us up so we can pursue our own projects in a freestyle fashion,” Preciado said. “He doesn’t try to dampen our ambition.”

These college projects combined with the after-school bike program make Parker’s studio a hub of activity in an otherwise quiet neighborhood. That’s just how he wants it.

“Imagine what it could be like if we have all 24 bikes riding around here,” Parker said a laugh. “That is what I am talking about. That is the type of neighborhood I’d want to live in.”

___

Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), http://www.tampabay.com.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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