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Catalyze 2022: Ya La’Ford

Bill DeYoung

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We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.

Asking Ya La’Ford to anticipate and predict what her 2022 might look like results in a list – already pretty much set in stone – of public art projects, commissions, paintings, murals, sculptures and other artistic endeavors. All of which will keep the bay area’s busiest artist as busy as she was in 2021.

Foremost on La’Ford’s mind is the creation of an enormous, wrap-around artwork for the façade of the renovated and expanded St. Petersburg Museum of History.

An overlay of abstract geometric patterns cut into aluminum, “Intersections” will be based on an 1891 map of Florida, depicting the roads and railroad lines that led to St. Petersburg.

“We are so excited that that’s going to be the entrance to The Pier, and deeply rooted in the transportation history of Florida,” La’Ford says. “So outside of it being beautiful, and being lit for certain events during the year, it also has a lot of symbolism there.”

A first-generation Jamaican who grew up outside New York City, La’Ford’s self-proclaimed “gypsy lifestyle” led her to the Tampa Bay area a decade ago. Here, she is raising two young children – and has established an artistic identity so strong that she’s able to pick and choose the projects she takes on.

La’Ford’s works are characterized by their use of geometric designs and patterns.

The short list of her 2021 projects:

Seventy-five custom art pieces, commissioned by the NFL for Super Bowl 2021;

Love Shines, a community mural and light installation under the auspices of the SHINE Mural Festival;

An immersive installation, “dis·tance,” for Gallery221 at Hillsborough County Community College;

Installations for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Player Development Complex in Dunedin;

A unique geometric bus shelter sculpture in West Palm Beach’s “Cultural Corridor”;

A huge canvas commissioned by the St. Petersburg Grand Prix; La’Ford also painted an indie car, live, during the event;

“American/Roots” at Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. Images provided.

A room-sized sculpture/installation, “American/Roots” at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. “We’re going to bring over 100 kids to the Ringling, where they’re going to actually plant a tree on the museum campus,” the artist explains. “Which will root them to the community, to thinking about how space has different trajectories, how you could travel, and what happens, and thinking about that moment. I really enjoyed that install.”

That intersection of art, history and community – of the roads that brought us here, and those that will take us into the future – is key to Ya La’Ford’s thought process. She’s keen on “patterns that link history to us today, to humanity. From humble beginnings to our present state.”

La’Ford believes her time in law school – before she switched gears and got her MBA – was a pivotal period of personal growth. “I went through what it meant to kind of explore different parts of my brain,” she explains. “Which I think is what gives me the capacity to work very hard, and implement how we can take this metaphysical experience that can come only from art, and stretching the boundaries of the mind of each person.

“I stand on the backs of many, many others that built a solid foundation for me to continue that journey in creativity. To my core, I believe art can be a catalyst for enhancing accessibility and a progressive dialogue within our immediate neighborhoods.

“And I don’t separate Tampa from St. Pete – this area all together is my heartstrings. And the bridge is the most beautiful of all. It connects us. That’s how I see it.”

Yes, 2021 was challenging for everyone, including Ya La’Ford. But, she insists, art endures. “I have no complaints. Because we get to use every moment that we have as an historical moment. Where we get to see it through a different lens.”

Coming in 2022, along with the massive History Museum project, is a statue of the Courageous 12 – the Black St. Petersburg Police officers who in 1965 sued the City to gain the full rights and authority of their white counterparts.

It took three years, but the officers succeeded. “I’m excited to be working with Leon Jackson, the last survivor of the Courageous 12, and our new mayor, Ken Welch,” says La’Ford.

Her dance card also includes a 30-foot business mural, and more work, on Beach Drive, and several statues depicting the life and work of Thomas Edison for an attraction in Fort Myers.

Then there’s the interactive park/sculpture piece called “Boulevard Flow” for the West River Development in Tampa.

And the year hasn’t even begun.

“I think,” she says, “artists have the responsibility of changing people’s outlook, and how they can engage in further self-reflection. And how we all can become better humans through inspiring each other.

“Trying to be authentic as an artist, but also being able to help people find their truest selves, and instead of thinking about what art can do for one person, I’m thinking about how it can truly take you on a journey.

“I think that’s why I’m busy, because people want that. They want to feel that there’s a physical connection to them. I work really hard to capture humanity in these artworks.”

A rendering of “Boulevard Flow,” Ya La’Ford’s installation at Tampa’s West River Development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

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    Kari

    December 31, 2021at7:52 am

    Incredible! I can’t wait to see the wrap around mural at the St Pete History museum, I’m a big fan of historic maps and the history of the Tampa Bay region.

    Ya La’Ford has installed art work at some incredible historically significant Florida locations, I can’t wait to see the Ford/Edison installation in Fort Myers and the art in the Ringling museum.

    And I am fascinated by this concept of rooting children through space and time with the art collection at the Ringling museum, adding their own contribution and observing it through the passage of time.

    “We’re going to bring over 100 kids to the Ringling, where they’re going to actually plant a tree on the museum campus,” the artist explains. “Which will root them to the community, to thinking about how space has different trajectories, how you could travel, and what happens, and thinking about that moment. I really enjoyed that install.”

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