How a Cultural Project Helped the Homeless


A two-year old interactive arts project in Sarasota pulled a complete surprise recently as it provided not only a venue for promoting the county as an arts and culture hub. Additionally, this project, called Sarasota Keys initiated in 2015 by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, has also helped bring awareness on various local mechanisms set in place to solve issues on homelessness and thus foster better communities to live in Sarasota.

Widespread attention came to the Sarasota Keys project early in July 2015 when an online video of homeless Donald Gould went viral. Gould’s video, which generated over 5 million views, showed him expertly playing the piano at the sidewalk of Clasico Café Bar in Main Street, one of several sidewalk pianos that were set up in the downtown under the Sarasota project.

The other project locations include the immediate vicinity of the bistro Louies Modern, Mattison’s City Grille, Herald Tribune, and The Women’s Exchange in Burns Court. Local artists were commissioned to paint each piano with unique themes to further encourage pedestrians explore their musical interest or cultivate their budding talents and at the same time engage and potentially delight passers-by.

Community spirit at work

How a Cultural Project Helped the Homeless

Gould’s sidewalk piano playing brought more than praise from passers-by and instant Internet celebrity worldwide. Subsequent coverage from traditional media for this ex-Marine who fall prey to substance abuse enabled him to link up with a local Christian life coach from the One Way Ministries and Outreach, an organization which among other things helps the homeless.

Through the support from this organization and others in the community, Gould not only has gone on rehab and raised some money. He also reestablished contact with the son he lost to social services and hence has been adopted. Gould likewise found a temporary home and may try out as a pianist at the Surf Shack on St. Armands Circle.

Another homeless musician, guitar player Paul Lonardo who was once a Las Vegas performer, has also joined Gould in turning a new leaf for the better under the wings of One Way Ministries. Both are now well on their way away from the streets and planning collaborative music compositions, which should bring plenty smiles to folks at the Arts Alliance.

Other agencies pitching in

For others still homeless, there are many institutions and community organizations advocating for their welfare and a better quality of life in Sarasota County. One familiar organization is the Salvation Army which undertakes a Community Recovery Program at its Center of Hope.

This program is focused on detox and rehab for free to homeless persons, in addition to other social services. More than helping the homeless, the group is also cleaning up the streets in the center’s home in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, a joint initiative with the city staff and the police department which should help further boost property values here and may even encourage an extension of Sarasota Keys project in the district.

Progress on government initiatives

Even more important is the firmer stance that both city and county have taken in response to homelessness. For instance, government services to homeless families and children have been laudably expanded. And as a result, the number of homeless families and children living in cars has dropped dramatically to zero from 145 in 2013, according to the latest progress report.

The only initiative now left still hanging is action on several proposals to address homeless adults. One of this is the construction of a new shelter to be located within a quarter or mile of the city in an unincorporated part of the county, notably still within easy reach of other ennobling programs like Sarasota Keys.