SAFETY HARBOR — Hundreds of patrons packed Syd Entel Galleries downtown last Thursday night for the sixth annual “Special Art By Special Hands” event.
The show was a benefit for Harborside Studios, a UPARC facility located nearby at 175 Fifth Ave. N., and the fundraiser brought out local notables including Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and restaurateur Dan Shouvlin.
While members of the crowd admired, and purchased, more than 250 pieces of art created by the Harborside students, officials spoke about the importance of the exhibit.
“What an awesome event. Each and every year it just keeps getting bigger and better,” UPARC Associate Executive Director Brian Siracusa said.
“Events like this that bring people out in the community continue to go a long way towards dispelling the myths about what people with special needs can accomplish.”
Shouvlin, who in addition to overseeing his restaurant interests Clearwater Beach and Dunedin, also is a member of the UPARC board, explained why the cause is so important to him.
“I have a special needs nephew, but I’ve been involved with UPARC for more than 30 years, long before my nephew was born,” he said.
“It’s something I’m passionate about, because I believe there isn’t a better organization out there to endorse and support.”
Harborside Studios Director Michelle Ault said the annual event, along with a recent renovation of the facility, has gone a long way toward attracting attention to the studio.
“Because of this show, plus the studio renovation, we’re getting a lot more recognition, more foot traffic and retail sales, and the community’s awareness of what we are doing has increased,” she said.
“It all goes a long way towards growing the studio and putting smiles on our students’ faces, which is what it is all about.”
As the guests mingled and munched on hors d’ oeuvres supplied by Shouvlin’s new Clear Sky Draught Haus in Dunedin, Cretekos enjoyed attending an event outside Clearwater city limits where, dressed in casual attire, he could blend in with everyone else. But he was more than happy to offer his thoughts on the evening.
“UPARC is trying to help people be independent, and sometimes they just need a boost,” he said. “And that’s what this event is all about.”
For more information on UPARC and Harborside Studios, visit the organization’s website at www.uparc.com.