The Durant High School art class’ participating contestants with art teacher Jaclyn Bowers (right).

Before Chris Ciulla selected his location for Voodoo Brewing Co. Valrico on State Road 60 in Kings Mill, he knew community involvement would be something he wanted to embrace.

Looking to foster this relationship, Ciulla approached local high schools, asking if they were interested in participating in an art contest where the created artworks would be displayed at Voodoo Valrico for the entire year. The idea was to present each student a blank door as their canvas, with the assignment being to express their visions of opportunities beyond the door through their artwork along with a written narrative of what the artwork meant to them.

Durant High School art teacher Jaclyn Bowers immediately thought this would be a great idea, but only for students willing to put forth the time, energy and effort needed to complete the two-month project.

“The contest gave students a chance to express their dreams through painting and allowed them to explore and reflect what opportunities lay ahead,” said Bowers. “It showcased the talent of our students in the most heartfelt way possible. When the students presented their artwork and told their stories, it brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t be prouder of what they have accomplished.”

Principal Gary Graham added he was “blown away with the talent,” reiterating that those chosen “had to be the right student with the right work ethic to complete the task.”

Out of the 210 students enrolled in Durant’s art program, below is the list of the 10 highly dedicated students across all four grades selected to participate, along with the titles of their artworks:

  • Emerald Gottfredsen — “Opportunities — a self-portrait.”
  • Raley Wilson — “Justice 2024.”
  • Livia Mendonca — “Ocean.”
  • Isabella Davila — “Dwell on Possibility.”
  • Quiarra Cooper — “To the Crib.”
  • Asia Gil — “Paint Your Future.”
  • Madison Willoughby — “Dreams in Motion.”
  • Aiden Clark — “Work to Riches.”
  • Alyssas Knecht — “Cosmetology School.”
  • Jackson Smith — “Remember When.”

“Voodoo Brewing is our pride and joy, and we can’t contain our excitement to be part of the Valrico community,” said Ciulla, franchise owner/operator of Voodoo Valrico, better known by locals as the large red building under construction on the north side of State Road 60 between Mulrennan and Dover roads. “Valrico means ‘valley of god’ or ‘rich valley,’ and after visiting over 75 properties, I stood on this one in Kings Mill and knew immediately this is where our pub belongs.”

“Our doors symbolize opportunity, inviting you to step into a brighter future,” Ciulla added. “Partnering with Durant High School and Mrs. Bowers to engage and empower students to express their visions through art on these doors creates a meaningful connection between our restaurant and the local community. We are incredibly grateful for the chance to collaborate with such talented young artists.”

Each one of the doors, along with the stories behind them, will be on display at Voodoo Valrico for an entire year and available to purchase at the one-year anniversary celebration, with all proceeds going back to the Durant art department. The contest will be repeated again next year with a new group of talented young Durant High artists displaying their skills and keeping the collaboration going between community and business.

Prizes awarded include $1,500 for first place, $500 for second place and a gift certificate for dinner-for-four given to the third-place winner. The three winning contestants will be announced at Voodoo Valrico’s grand opening celebration, which both Ciulla and his general manager, Mandi Hand, anticipate happening before the end of this summer.

For a preview of all doors entered into the contest along with information on the opening date, please follow Voodoo Brewing Co. Valrico Facebook page at Voodoo Brewing Co. Valrico is located at 3434 SR 60 in Valrico. More on Voodoo Brewing can be found on its website at Ciulla is also the founder of WeCulture Brands as well as the author of the book by the same name.

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Brian Bokor
Brian Bokor has lived in the Valrico area since 1997 and started writing freelance for The Osprey Observer in 2019. Brian (appraiser) and his wife, Sharon (broker), run a local real estate company (Bokors Corner Realty) as well as manage the Facebook page Bokors Corner, which highlights local-area commercial and residential development.