The ringtone on Rob Canton’s phone plays the familiar opening bars of the Green Acres theme song.
Canton identifies with that vintage 1960s TV show because he, like the fictional Oliver Wendell Douglas, traded the corporate rat race for the molasses pace of the countryside. Douglas went to Hooterville, of course, but Canton relocated to someplace real – Thonotosassa, east of Tampa on the outskirts of Hillsborough County.
There, he and his wife Debbie enjoy 60 green acres of their very own, tending to a menagerie of horses, pigs and goats. A lot of goats.
“It’s a full-time job,” Canton said. And very hands-on, for both of them. Debbie not only gets milk and other products from the goats, she directs a weekly goat yoga session on Saturdays, with all proceeds going to charity.
“She went from owning her own business, a hair salon in downtown Tampa, to being a goat farmer,” he explained. “If you asked her if she wanted to go back, I think she’d say no way. She’s loving the farm life.”
Canton’s other point of focus is the A+C Foundation, a philanthropic umbrella organization for athletes and artists he founded during his five-year tenure as executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before that, he spent 25 years with Price Waterhouse Cooper, as sports consultant.
The A+C Foundation works with sports and entertainment industry figures to help them create and administer their charitable organizations. There are currently 10 charities under Canton’s umbrella, including the Grady Goat Foundation, based in Thonotosassa, Florida.
Canton has combined two of his favorite things, philanthropy and goats, for a Feb. 6 art auction to benefit charities dedicated at stopping human trafficking. Fifty-five artists, from both sides of the bay, were given an unpainted copy of Scott Joseph Moore’s goat “statue” – weighing 75 lbs., standing 48 inches tall (including the base height) with a total length of 60 inches – and instructed to paint, draw, embellish or decorate, however they saw fit.
There are, surprisingly, less than six degrees of separation between goats and the scourge of human trafficking.
“I had read an article that Bill Gates wrote, talking about how goats are empowering women in the poorest parts of India,” Canton explained. “Which meant, in a lot of cases, keeping them from a life of forced servitude – forced labor or sex trafficking. So it just clicked – Project GOAT, Global Offensive Against Trafficking.
“I’ve had experience in my previous careers working with art as economic development and tourism tools. With Super Bowl coming up, and it being such a magnet for sex trafficking, we decided to launch this with the goal of a finale at Super Bowl weekend with 55 goats – in commemoration of Super Bowl 55.”
All well and good, but goat statues? Will art lovers go for them?
As an experiment, Canton asked an artist to deck out a Moore goat in Houston Astros colors and ephemera (Astros pitcher and World Series champion Lance McCullers, Jr. is an A+C client).
When the goat sold for $15,000 at auction in Texas, Canton knew he was on to something.
Among the St. Petersburg artists who’ve “done” goats for the project are Zulu Painter, Dee Perconti. Jabari Reed (iBOMS), Frank Strunk III, Bekky Beukes and architect Yann Weymouth.
All 55 are viewable here, and available for early bidding. The Feb. 6 finale, at ZooTampa Lowry Park, will feature a final, silent auction.
Including the 55 goats, the auction will include some 200 works, from 175 artists. Canton expanded the auction to include paintings, sculpture and other pieces that don’t necessary include caprines (goats). Half of the sale prices of these artworks will go to Project GOAT’s human trafficking charity, the other half to the artists.
“As I was getting to know them, I realized the challenge they faced by having all their festivals canceled and art galleries closing and so forth,” Canton said. “In a lot of cases, these artists that are doing the ‘other,’ the non-goat art, are really struggling to get their art out there.”
For information about the Grady Goat Foundation click here.
For information about goat yoga click here.