Thursday, January 15, 2015

Artist's Touch: When art is life, ‘we are the plan’

Heather Parker
PANAMA CITY — Heather Parker relaxed on a couch Friday in the community gallery she founded last year, nursing an aching knee, and musing on the accomplishments of the year and the life that brought her to this place and time.

Floriopolis, which is referred to as an “arts and culture metropolis” in historic St. Andrews, opened Jan. 18, 2014, at 1125 Beck Ave. Heather and some of the 100-plus artists who have work in the gallery, as well as students, friends and family, will celebrate the anniversary 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday with free art projects for everyone, live music and a wine toast at 4 p.m.

Heather said the past year has been a learning experience. Some plans remain unfulfilled, but many projects reached fruition and paid off in spectacular ways.

“We know what we’re doing now,” she said. “The mission is very solid, the role we’re playing in the community is solid. It didn’t take as long to fine-tune as I thought. ... What has been great is, people cry when they come in — there’s so much self expression. I’m personally still coming to terms with that.”

The gallery’s new exhibit, “Glow,” will be in place through March. Then Floriopolis will host an ongoing project through September called “The Space Between Words,” which will include a short story contest. The winning 2,000-word story will be tattooed on 2,000 people — each receiving one word from the tale.

October through December, the exhibit will be “Life on the Water,” with an eye toward work the public will want for Christmas gift shopping.

“We had great traffic and super sales for the holidays,” Heather said.

'Charlotte,' by Heather Parker
Heather’s favorite medium is acrylic painting on wood. It has required her to learn about absorption rates, how paint will spread or bleed. The wood grain always becomes part of the work, as she finds hidden shapes in the swirls of dark and light.

“I’ve barely painted anything this year, though,” she said. “That’s why I started painting little blocks of wood, something to do first thing in the morning before I’m even really awake yet.”

She “always loved art,” Heather said, but she wasn’t much of a student in her youth, graduating high school only because an administrator liked her. She moved out to live with other students when she was in 10th grade, and paid her portion of rent by selling artwork door to door.

“I only went to art classes and on test days,” she said.

Later, she worked at the education department of a children’s museum in Virginia. But when her work and her daughter Megan’s kindergarten schedules couldn’t be reconciled, Heather quit and began homeschooling. Selling art to make up for the loss of income led to a position at the Suffolk Museum of Art.

“You can use art to teach almost anything,” Heather said.

The family moved to Bay County from Virginia in 2000.

“We had been doing trade shows a couple of years,” Heather said. “We were tired, we ran out of gas, and our trailer was damaged as we crossed the bridge. ... We sold the trailer and stayed.”

Heather has worked for the Junior Museum of Bay County, the YMCA, and the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida. Then she and a fellow artist, Xan Miller, opened the CityArts Cooperative downtown. Heather is still involved there via her connection to the Chautauqua Learn & Serve School, where she is the artist in residence.

“My time at the Coop helped me figure out what I wanted to do as a person to contribute to the world,” she said, adding that the reactions of people who visit Floriopolis are always positive and personally satisfying. “That might be the best thing that happened to them today.”

(Heather will teach art classes at the Panama City Beach Senior Center on Jan. 20, Feb. 17 and March 17.)

Heather’s husband, John, doesn’t like attention, she said, but she credits him with keeping her on track. Not only does he do a lot of the heavy lifting around Floriopolis, as owner of Patriot Tax Solutions he does the books. John’s “a numbers guy,” and each time Heather comes up with another event, project or mission to tackle, John asks her what the plan is.

“I know how far out of his comfort zone I push him,” Heather said, such as when she decided to “bomb” downtown with 500 Styrofoam monkeys, or create a transparent plastic giraffe and photograph it visiting locations all over town.

Okay, he’d say, what’s the plan?


“We are the plan,” she said. “As we do it, the next step will reveal itself.”
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