| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
NORTH PORT – For more than five weeks Laura Pommier and Reggie “Tuk” Wanza have been transforming the east wall of Quality TV Sales & Service here into the largest mural of Pommier’s art career, aptly titled “Swing Out Into the World.”
The piece, featuring a joyful child swinging out of a storybook and surrounded by five colorful birds and a playful rabbit clutching a heart-shaped balloon is one of three such pieces meant to showcase First 1,000 Days Sarasota, an initiative funded by the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation dedicated to providing resources for families with young children because those first 1,000 days are so critical to a child’s development.
“Swing Out Into the World,” as well its sister mural, “Bubbles,” by Truman Adams, which adorns a wall at Forty Carrots Family Center, 1500 S. Tuttle Ave., in Sarasota; and a traveling artwork, “Making Roots,” being created by Traci Kegerreis, are designed as gateways for young families to learn about resources available.
“Making Roots” will tour Sarasota County libraries and be showcased during different early learning program offerings.
To learn more about the entire program, visit first1000dayssarasota.com.
The initiative includes 70 organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of families.
“Oftentimes, the families know there are services available, they know they need help but making that connection is the challenge,” said Kelly Romanoff, Innovation and Impact Manager at Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. “That first step is so hard.
“So if we can evoke feelings of joy, of empowerment, of playfulness – people want to engage with those kinds of feelings,” she added. “The artwork gives us feelings that make us want to connect.”
The murals also highlight five “Basics” that are key to raising a young child: maximize love, and manage stress; talk, sing, and point; count, group and compare; explore through movement and play; read and discuss stories.
For the most part, the murals were paid for through the First 1,000 Days program budget, though the North Port mural – the first mural of any kind in the city – was sponsored by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which contributed $10,000. The North Port City Commission also approved adding up to $10,000 to the project.
“It’s a great collaboration and it’s a very fun, whimsical way to share the message: We love our families and we want them to thrive,” said Jennifer Johnston, senior community investment officer with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and also a member of the First 1,000 Days steering committee.
Johnson noted that over the last two years, they’ve talked about how to celebrate families and create a culture in the county that would celebrate that.
Meanwhile, though families prioritize prenatal care, it becomes harder to do so in postnatal care.
A day care in unincorporated Sarasota County was originally eyed for “Swing,” but the county only allows murals on Siesta Key. So the owners of Quality TV Sales & Service, a long established family-owned business in the city, offered their wall as a canvas.
As a result, the mural Pommier created is about twice the size she planned when she answered First 1,000 Days’ call for entries.
“It was supposed to have been a smaller building and all of a sudden it switched to this building,” said Pommier, who admitted that she thought about backing out.
Wanza, whom she met through Facebook Dating shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, talked her out of that and pitched in to help.
“He was like, ‘we can do this, you’re not quitting this mural,’” Pommier said.
“We’re both here most all the time,” she added. “That’s pretty common for a big mural; you have a team, a lot of times, for safety.”
Their skills, both artistically and logistically, complemented each other.
Wanza, who worked for Alcatel-Lucent in communications, put everything on a project plan to keep things flowing smoothly and follow a best practices model.
“As an artist, I feel like Laura is a much stronger artist but we have different styles,” he added. “As far as art we bring the best of both worlds together.”
Pommier received her bachelor’s degree from Murray State university and a master’s in fine arts at Indiana State.
Wanza studied at the Atlanta College of Art and danced with The Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C.
“Anything that’s art related – martial arts – that’s what I do,” he said.
Though three of the birds in the mural look like a blue jay, oriole and cardinal, Pommier noted that she took plenty of artistic license, so they’re not species accurate.
The birds stand for singing, the arts, the rabbit with the balloon for love – among the program’s “Basics” needed to nurture growth.
“All this is supposed to lead into learning,” Pommier said. “I envision a powerful vantage point for a child swinging into the world.
“It almost looks like a storybook come to life.”
While the foundation and the city helped underwrite the mural, there have been community donations, too.
PPG Paint in Sarasota donated the paint, Home Depot helped with pressure washing and Sunbelt Rentals donated use of a lift, so they didn’t need scaffolding to reach the top of the two-story Quality TV Sales & Service building at 14212 Tamiami Trail.
“When we get up here, we can see over the building,” Wanza said.
“Actually it’s so much fun to paint way up there, I really like it a lot,” Pommier added.
“Serene,” Wanza said.
Organizers of the First 1,000 Days initiative hope the mural will spur community interest.
“Our hope is we can activate the mural with some lesson plans and fun things to encourage families to go see it,” Johnston said.
Romanoff added that they hope the art makes families happy and “curious about the initiative and that they go to the website and take advantage of the tips that are on there to promote early childhood development – that they really feel empowered to be the best parent possible for their child.”
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at email@example.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.